Mind Your Manners in Tunisia (Or Pay The Ultimate Price)

TunisiaTraveling to other countries can be a harrowing experience. When you are unfamiliar with the culture of a particular area, you will often find yourself questioning everything you do. You will constantly ask yourself "Is the action I am about to take offensive Will it upset my host?" A simple gesture like stroking the mustache of a man you've just met, or sitting on the lap of a wheelchair-bound child might be perfectly acceptable in one country, while in another it might be grounds for a knifing.

This is the sort of thing you have to worry about in Tunisia. Danger lurks behind every corner. Many of its residents would sooner hurl an unpeeled pomegranate at you from behind a parked car than say "good morning". So please, read on for my tips for surviving a Tunisian vacation.

Never Ask Where You Are

More TunisiaWhen visiting Tunisia your first instinct may be to stand in the middle of the sidewalk outside the airport with a disgusted look on your face while saying aloud, "Where the fuck am I?! Is this Morocco or something? Unbelievable." Sentiments such as this, while common, are actually considered to be extremely rude in Tunisia, and by expressing them you risk death, or worse.
So play it safe: If you DO find yourself in a place you suspect may be Tunisia: keep quiet. Root through a dumpster for a newspaper or discarded matchbook which might reveal your true location. Also: Do not go to the police (unless of course you fancy being sold into white slavery).

The Giving & Receiving of Gifts  

GiftwrapThe giving and receiving of gifts is strictly prohibited within the borders of Tunisia. This is an ancient custom stemming from a time when the first King of Tunisia (King Tunis) was given a present which contained firecrackers and pastries. When he opened the present the firecrackers went off, burning the pastries in such a way as to render them inedible. So Tunis declared that from that day forward no gifts of any kind should be given. The breaking of this law was to be punishable by forcible sodomy and/or horse trampling for the duration of the day.
So those Tunisian visitors who feel it necessary to present someone with a gratuity (or those who wish to accept one) would do well to step over the border into Algeria. Tunisia is quite small so normally it's only three or four steps anyway.

Greetings & Salutations  

The DukeWhen greeting a resident of Tunisia (be it opium smuggler, corrupt politician, or duchess) "Sir" and "Madam" just won't do. The Tunisian government has established a number of very specific titles you are to utilize when speaking to a Tunisian. They are as follows:

Younger Men: Consulate

"If you would, Consulate Armhiem, I can hear the showhorses gasping from here, be a dear and open the stable doors immediately to allow them some air."

Older Men: Directoriat

"Directoriat Hamzapour, I notice you've grown quite a large mustache, it accentuates your figure immensely."

Women: Mistress

"Ah...I am so very pleased to meet you Mistress Jiszwale, I will now kiss your navel and the surrounding areas, if your suitor should allow it."

Dealing With The Help 

Street UrchinSurprisingly, even the poorest of people you meet in Tunisia will likely have their own servants. These people (commonly known as Warf Rats are the lowest of the low in Tunisian society; a lower-LOWER class, if you will. There is a separate set of 5 rules you must abide by when dealing with Warf Rats, so listen carefully.

Rule 1

Never look a Warf Rat in the eye.

Rule 2

Never offer a Warf Rat food from your hand. If you must feed a Warf Rat, you should do so by making a clucking noise with your tongue while flinging leftover food off your plate and onto the floor. Warf Rats are notorious scroungers, and large numbers of them will quickly scurry into the room and begin fighting over the scraps while you and the other guests look on with bemused detachment.

Rule 3

Contrary to what their names may implicate, Warf Rats hate the water! Don't get a Warf Rat wet; bad things will happen. Have you ever seen either of those Gremlins movies? If not, I would advise you to watch them right away. It doesn't have anything really to do with the Warf Rats, I just think they're neat. In number 2, one gremlin gets killed in a paper shredder.

Rule 4

Sexual advances towards a Warf Rat are strictly prohibited. However, if a Warf Rat approaches YOU with the obvious intent of bedding you, feel free to break yourself off a tender piece of rat-bone. Hell yeah.

Haggle With The Shopkeep  

Shop TunisianIn Tunisian shops, you must haggle. There is no way around it. If you attempt to pay the full marked price for an item without haggling, the shopkeeper will suddenly fly into a blind rage. He will shout classical Tunisian curses at you. He will swat at you with a rolled up newspaper or magazine. He may even drive you out by glancing around his store, saying "This floor must be swept. Never have I seen such filth." and then aggressively swishing a ponyhair pushbroom at your feet until you have been driven backwards out into the streets, at which point he will then close and lock the door. If this occurs, stay out of the shop and do not come back. Being driven from a Tunisian shop in this manner is considered to be a lifetime ban.
But thankfully all of this can be avoided if you simply agree to barter. It is not so difficult, really. Here's a sample of the type of conversation you might encounter when bartering.

Customer: I find this ancient stone tablet quite lovely, and would like to initiate the purchase of it.
Clerk: Indeed it is a wonderful item.
Customer: How much would you be willing to accept for an item such as this?
Clerk: I would be willing to accept no less than fourteen dinar for that particular piece.
Customer: This price is outrageous. I would no sooner pay fourteen dinar for this than to place my head into a waste receptacle which had recently been filled with fresh droppings. I will offer you 10 dinar, and no more.
Clerk: I reject it. I reject your offer categorically on the grounds that it is offensive to me.
Customer: You will issue no counteroffer?
Clerk: I say once again that this item's value is 14 dinar. This piece holds much sentimental value for me; I would be greatly pained if it were to go for less.

Customer: I find your failure to yield to reason to be even more repulsive than your appearance. Even now, I can feel the bile rising in my throat. I will increase my offer 13 dinar, which is the whole of what I am willing to offer.
Clerk: I find your desperation to be endearing, however, as I had previously stated I will not allow this piece to cross the threshold of this shop for less than 14 dinar. I will discuss it no more.
Customer: If this is the way you are choosing to behave, then you may keep this worthless trinket. You disgust me, you worm.
Clerk: Begone from this shop, half-caste. Crawl out and back into the gutters in which you were spawned. I step deliberately on the graves of your long-dead ancestors, and if your harlot of a mother were here I would expectorate in her eyes and mouth.
Customer: I bid you good day, Consulate.

So that should give you some idea of how bartering works in general. The most important thing to remember is that not every attempt at bartering will end in a sale. Anyway, I think you'll find that sometimes the reward is in the experience itself!
Thank you for reading this guide on Tunisia. I wish you good luck your travels.