After my stop at the American Cemetery, I continued my walk toward the Roman ruins, hoping to take a walk through them. Instead, I enjoyed a 30-minute conversation with a Tunisian man in German and walked away so impressed at polyglots like him that humble me and my limited foreign language skills.
Polyglots Of Tunisia – A Great Conversation
Sometimes those unexpected conversations when traveling are the most rewarding, or at the very least offer a great window into better understanding the people of another country.
On my walk to the Roman ruins near Carthage, I was met by many men hoping to sell me on a guided tour. Their pick-up lines were all the same: “Where you from?” (Always in English). My response is usually Germany, not so much to mislead (it is my ancestral home) but in hopes they will just leave me alone. If I can greatly overgeneralize, Germans then to be direct and quick to say NEIN while Americans tend to be more willing to engage, having a different conception of what it means to be polite.
Anyway, all these guys responded in the same way, exclaiming, “Ah, Deutschland” and began to ask me questions in German, which I generally ignored since I was trying to make it to the ruins before closing time.
It has been a very difficult two years for tour guides in Tunis – I cannot imagine what it is like to depend upon tourists for survival when there are no tourists (for many months, they were not even allowed and for many months after, still did not come). In that sense, the desperation for business made sense.
While stopping near the old theatre, an older gentleman came up to me and asked me where I was from. He was wearing a suit and hat and I decided to have a chat with him. It was all in German. His German had a Tunisian accent and he may have recognized my American accent when speaking German, but we had no trouble communicating.
Over the next 30 minutes he told me about Tunis, its history, what to see, and of course mentioned several times that he would love to spend a few days showing me around (even though I mentioned often I was leaving the next morning). He told me about the 2010 Revolution and about his career as a professor and tour guide and then asked about the politics in Germany.
We ended our conversation by him telling me everyone around me is crooks and not to buy any souvenirs, because every “historical artifact” is fake. He then pointed to my wallet in my pocket and I thought he might ask me for some money, but instead he told me not to be a trottel (idiot) because pickpockets are rampant. This gentleman also speaks Dutch, French, Italian, and Russian (at least he told me that).
I bring up this conversation and my (much shorter) conversations with several other tour guides because it struck me as all the more ironic that not a single flight attendant on my Tunisair flight from Tunis to Montreal the following morning was willing to speak in English (German would have been asking a bit much), even though English is an official language of the destination. It is too bad I cannot speak French or Arabic.
I greatly enjoyed the conversation I had and really look forward to returning to Tunis. It is a beautiful nation with intelligent, lovely people (as we find everywhere, if we just take the time to engage). It’s just a short flight from most major cities in Europe – I was thankful for my brief time an humbled by the polyglots (I wish I could speak so many languages…even just conversationally).