Happy 2 Month Anniversary, Tunisia! It really feels like I’ve been here a lot longer than two months. I am feeling pretty settled and comfortable. And I’ve checked off so many items on my Tunisian “Bucket List.”
- See Roman Ruins
- Visit Bardo Museum
- Walk around Sidi Bou Said
- Take pictures by fancy doors
- Start decorating our house (buy/make art)
- Buy authentic Tunisian rugs and pottery
- Go to the beach
- Participate in social activities
- Try traditional Tunisian food
I’d say I’m still in the honeymoon phase. I feel happy and inspired. Even when I stumble across inconveniences and language barriers, I don’t get overly upset (majority of the time). I’m used to the sights and sounds, but still appreciate the beauty and quirkiness of this place. I’m not shocked when I see a camel head hanging in the butcher shop or when I see a motorcycle driving the wrong way down the highway.
I’m not surprised when I go to a store during regular business hours and they have a sign on the window saying they will come back in 30 minutes. In fact, I’ve come to expect it. Things that should be quick and easy are not so quick or easy in Tunisia. Two months in and I still don’t have a bank account yet. I’ve tried to hire someone to mow our lawn for over a month and I think (fingers crossed) someone might show up on Wednesday. We called to order takeout a couple weeks ago, and they said they decided not to open. And my finest example of “classic Tunisia” is the fact that my mom mailed a letter to us on August 10th and I just received it yesterday on September 29th. The postal service seems to be close to nonexistent. Living here is a practice in patience.
The exception to this rule is the pharmacy. You can walk into a pharmacy with some hand-written doctor’s note and they start taking things off the shelf. There’s no waiting 30 minutes to get your prescription filled. They give it to you immediately, you pay, and you leave. And half the stuff in there doesn’t even need an official prescription. They will hand you some antibiotics, charge you next to nothing, and you’re on your merry way!
It’s hard to explain, but it feels a bit like Tunisia is just making up the rules as they go. If you like strict order and efficiency, this probably isn’t the place for you. But if you can relax, enjoy the pace, and have a sense of humor about it, it’s not so bad. Go ahead and hop that curb, park your car on that sidewalk, and throw your trash in that empty lot! You’re in Tunisia now!
In our 2 months, we’ve learned a few things. If you are an explorer/ detective at heart, you’ll do great here. There are no websites. (Yes, there are a few, but that is not the norm.) If you want to find a place to buy a pool table or a stuffed animal or a patio chair, it’s going to require some serious investigation.
Sometimes you can find things on Facebook, but mostly it’s word of mouth. It’s like these people don’t want you to find them! And after you “discover” the item you seek, good luck finding it. Don’t expect a parking lot, sign above the store, or an accurate address. Directions from friends sound like, “You know that place where you got your haircut. Go past that, around the roundabout and take the 3rd exit. Then go down the 2nd alley on the right until you see a blue awning. Park there and then go in the orange door, up 2 flights of stairs and the place you need is the 3rd door on the left.”
The interesting part about this is that you discover hidden gems. You can be on a rough street, with litter and stray cats and graffiti on the walls, walk through some sketchy, barely lit hallway, and then you open a door and all of a sudden you are in this posh, upscale little store or a pristine office.
Now, let’s talk food. It’s no secret that getting used to Tunisian food has been a bit of a tough adjustment for our family, but it’s gotten soooo much better!
We like trying new restaurants and we haven’t even scratched the surface. But here’s the thing you need to know about restaurants in Tunisia.
1) Smoking (cigarettes…. Or hookahs) is allowed… ugh! (Remember, rules are for suckers when you live here, so there are no policies about smoking vs. non-smoking sections.)
2) It would be considered impolite for a server to assume you are finished and leave the check so if you want to go, you are going to have to hunt for your waiter and ask to pay. Otherwise, they will let you sit there all day. I think some people do. There are lots of men who hang out in cafes like it’s their full time job.
3) Bring cash, or rather “dinar.” And this is not just for restaurants. Some places take credit cards, but there are a large percentage that don’t.
4) Spaghetti is spicy! I have ordered this as a kid-friendly option at multiple places, and every time it sets my mouth on fire. Why, Tunisia, why?? And speaking of tomato-based things, the ketchup here tastes like the sauce from canned Spaghettios– no joke! It took me a while to figure it out. I kept thinking, “Where do I know this flavor from?” and then one day it dawned on me- Chef Boyardee!
5) Mint tea is very sweet (like Southern sweet tea) and often comes with pine nuts floating at the top. I’m not sure if the pine nuts change the flavor of the tea or maybe you are supposed to eat them? They serve this tea in a glass cup even though it’s steaming hot. Get back to me next month. Maybe then I will have solved the mysteries of the mint tea.
In conclusion, Tunisia is great. There is so much to see and do. I find the “Tunisian way” charming, if not a bit cumbersome at times. But there’s never a dull moment, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. I may not always find the store or the food I want, but I’ve found something much better: adventure!