The Point of the Fulbright Program

So I’m walking back from Maarif, the fun neighborhood, Saturday night. I was bored, so I went walking and got some DVDs as well as ate fried fish at a little stand. Here is a partial list of things I find delicious: fried fish.

Anyway, I’m standing on the corner waiting for a cab, and this car pulls up next to me. In it is a young man, probably my age or so, in a djellaba, and a young lady. She’s all gussied up. He asks, in Arabic, if there’s a music festival today.

Now, I don’t really keep up with the Music scene in the US, much less in Islamic North Africa, so I don’t have a clue. Seriously: my MP3 player is full of episodes of Dragnet, and one time when a professor told me she listened to Tool, my first thought was those singing saws that you see at the county fair. Look, suffice it to say I didn’t know if there was a music festival.

So in Arabic, I tell him I don’t know. He repeats the question in french, and I reply in Arabic that I understood the question, I just don’t happen to know if there’s a music festival in town. I thought about it, and then told him there was some sort of fancy new theatre with a stage out front up the street, maybe there’d be a band or something on tonight.

He looked very surprised and asked if I speak French, and I said yes. Then he said “but you’re not french, are you?” I think the fact that I was trying to speak a foreign language pegged me. I told him I was from America. If I had told him I was born on Pluto he wouldn’t have been more surprised. “really? But you speak Arabic?” I told him yes, I mean, in Morocco I at least try to speak arabic even though I’m not good at it.

Of course, the next question was the stock question: are you a Muslim? I think my exact response was “not yet, but if God wills it.” And he and the young lady both looked like they were ready to plotz. We shook hands vigorously and he introduced himself and his lady, and I introduced myself as Haroun, they invoke a wide variety of blessings on me, and they drove off.

Anyway, I get the impression that for the rest of his life, any time anyone says something about Americans, he’s going to say “Dude, one time I met an American that spoke some Arabic!” I like to think that’s the point of the Fulbright program: startling the crap out of foreigners by not being that American  they see on TV all the time. You know the one I mean.

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One Response to The Point of the Fulbright Program

  1. drew says:

    Howie Mandel?

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