Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Ambassador's Ball

This past Friday evening, nearly all of Tunis was celebrating in one way or another. Most people were cheering the country's victory over Niger in the Africa Cup of Nations, an annual soccer tournament that seems to have the stature of the World Series. Friday night also happened to be the date of the U.S. Ambassador's Winter Ball, one of the two big events sponsored each year by the Embassy. I was one of the lucky ones who attended.

U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Gordon Gray and me
It was at an elegant hotel in the nearby suburb of Gammarth. Everybody seemed to be ready for a good time. And Ambassador Gordon Gray was no exception. I had a chance to chat with him a bit. He's an approachable guy with an easy sense of humor. He was also the face of the U.S. government when it criticized the way Tunisian security forces treated protesters during last year's revolution. Other criticisms expressed by his predecessor helped stoke the flames of discontent when Wikileaks revealed his remarks late in 2010.

The ball was my first encounter with such a large gathering of U.S. nationals. Most of the ones I spoke with could carry on a conversation in French or Arabic or both. Yet it was remarkable how many of them said they had a hard time understanding the frarabic that people speak in Tunisia. That was reassuring to hear, because I was beginning to think it was just me.

The language situation may be changing. Ever since the revolution, English seems to be coming into vogue at the expense of French. It remains to be seen whether Tunisians will get better at English, or whether the current blend of French and Arabic will simply start to incorporate elements of English. If that happens, future visitors may have to cope with having to understand something you might call fraraglish!

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