From The Hippo’s Ears: Tunisia
Contributions by Mariem.
Facts you may not have know about Tunisia:
Tunisia, officially the Republic of Tunisia, is a sovereign state in Northwest Africa, covering 165,000 square kilometers. Its northernmost point, Cape Angela, is the northernmost point on the African continent. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Tunisia’s population was estimated to be just under 11.93 million in 2016.
Tunisia’s name is derived from its capital city, Tunis, which is located on its northeast coast. The country’s official language is Arabic, and other spoken languages include Berber and French.
1. When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?
When meeting someone, it is common to shake hands as a greeting. Acquaintances also generally shake hands, while friends may kiss and hug each other.
2. What languages are spoken in the country?
Arabic is the official language, and Tunisian Arabic, known as Tounsi, is the national, vernacular variety of Arabic and is used by the public. There is also a small minority of speakers of Berber languages known collectively as Jebbali or Shelha.
French also plays a major role in Tunisian society, despite having no official status. It is widely used in education (e.g., as the language of instruction in the sciences in secondary school), the press, and business. In 2010, there were 6,639,000 French-speakers in Tunisia, or about 64% of the population. Italian is understood and spoken by a small part of the Tunisian population. Shop signs, menus and road signs in Tunisia are generally written in both Arabic and French.
3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?
We use a 24-hour clock.
4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?
We drive on the right-hand side of the road. Road infrastructure is fine. Drivers tend to respect the traffic lights and signs, but we have to be careful, as taxi drivers can be reckless sometimes.
5. How important is punctuality?
Punctuality is quite important, although a few minutes of delay is accepted.
6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?
he country is best known for malouf, a kind of music imported from Andalusia after the Spanish immigration in the 15th century. Though in its modern form, malouf is likely very dissimilar to any music played more than four centuries ago.
20th century musicians from Tunisia include Anouar Brahem, an oud player, Jasser Haj Youssef, a composer and a violin player, and El Azifet, a rare all-female orchestra, as well as well-known vocalist Raoul Journo, singer and oud player Dhafer Youssef, singer, guitarist and lutenist Nabil Khemir, Lotfi Bouchnak, Khemais Tarnane, Saliha, Saleh Mehdi, Ali Riahi, Hedi Jouini, Fethia Khairi, Chikh El Ofrit, Oulaya and Neema.
21st century alternative music groups include Neshez, Zemeken, Aspirine, Kerkennah, Myrath, Ymyrgar and Checkpoint 303.
For a taste of Senegalese music, listen to Sonia M’barek, and Checkpoint 303’s Rissala Min Qalandia.
7. Are there any Traditional Dances?
Bedouin dance is popular throughout Tunisia, and is featured at a number of music festivals. Nékhikhe, a dance from the Kairouan region, involves tratidional dress, such as scarves.
Tunisian dance can resemble Egyptian dance, and is distinguished mainly by its dynamic, which is faster with more staccato, and its multitude of forms, each region having its own “style”. The variety of dances performed by the Tunisians may reflect the migration flows that have traversed the country throughout the centuries. The National Troupe Folk Art Center and the National Dance of Ariana continue practice the traditional Tunisian dances.
8. What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?
Due to its cultural diversity, Tunisia plays host to a number of popular festivals.
The Carthage Film Festival is held in October and November of every other year, alternating with the Carthage Theatre Festival. It was created in 1966 by the Tunisian Minister of Culture to showcase films from the Maghreb, Africa and the Middle East. In order to be eligible for the competition, a film must have a director of African or Middle Eastern nationality, and have been produced at least two years before entry. The grand prize is the Tanit d’or, or “Golden Tanit,” named for the lunar goddess of ancient Carthage; the award is in the shape of her symbol, a trapezium surmounted by a horizontal line and a circle.
The International Festival of the Sahara, celebrated annually at the end of December, honors the cultural traditions associated with the Tunisian desert. This attracts many tourists and musicians from all around the world, as well as horsemen who flaunt their saddles and local fabrics and skills.
There are also a number of musical festivals; some honor traditional Tunisian music, while others, including the Tabarka Jazz Festival, focus on other genres.
9. What are the seasons like?
Tunisia’s climate is Mediterranean in the north, with mild rainy winters and hot, dry summers. The south of the country is desert. The terrain in the north is mountainous, which, moving south, gives way to a hot, dry central plain. The south is semiarid, and merges into the Sahara. A series of salt lakes, known as chotts or shatts, lie in an east-west line at the northern edge of the Sahara, extending from the Gulf of Gabes into Algeria.
Tunis has an average of 65 annual precipitation days, with annual average precipitation at 465mm. Average highs and lows in mid-summer are approximately 34 and 22 C respectively. In mid-winter, average highs and lows are around 16 and 8 C respectively.
10. What are some interesting facts about the President?
Tunisia is a semi-presidential republic, whereby the president is the head of state and the prime minister (named Head of Government of Tunisia) is head of government. The president and the prime minister have executive roles, with the executive power being exercised by the president and the government (dual executive). The President is the commandar-in-chief of the military, and does not hold political affiliation while in office.
President Beji Caid Essebsi has served since December 2014. Essebsi is the founder of the Nidaa Tounes political party, which won a plurality in the 2014 parliamentary election. In December 2014, he won the first regular presidential election following the Tunisian Revolution, becoming Tunisia’s first freely and directly elected president.
Tunisia’s Head of Government, Youssef Chahed, serving since August 2016, previously served as Secretary of State for Fishing from 2015 to 2016, and Minister of Local Affairs in 2016. He is a member of the Nidaa Tounes party. By profession, he is an agricultural engineer, researcher, and university professor.
11. What are the country’s major industries?
Tunisia is an export-oriented country in the process of liberalizing and privatizing its economy. Tunisia, which was ranked the least corrupt Arab African-country in 2016, has a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and petroleum products, to tourism. The industrial sector is mainly made up of clothing and footwear manufacturing, production of car parts, and electric machinery.
Tunisia is one of the European Union’s most established trading partners in the Mediterranean region, being the first Mediterranean country to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, in July 1995.
12. How do people spend their free time?
Many people in Tunisia enjoy exploring their cities, finding new restaurants or coffee shops to eat at, or night clubs to go to. Watching or playing football is also popular.
13. What is a popular local drink?
Tunisians produce grapes, wheat, barley and orchard fruits, which are used to create a number of drinks. These include wines, such as the staple Tunisian wine, Chateau Mornag, beers, brandy, liqueurs, and apple ciders. Scented waters with dark rose or blossom petals can also be found in Tunisia.
14. What is a popular local dish?
Couscous, called “Kosksi”, is the national dish of Tunisia, and can be prepared in many ways. It is cooked in a special kind of double boiler called a ‘kiska’ in Arabic, or ‘couscoussière’ in French, resembling a Chinese steamer atop a Mongolian pot.
Meats, vegetables and spices are cooked in the lower pot. Cooking steam rises through vents into the container above. It is layered with whole herbs such as bay leaves and covered with a fine-grain couscous. The couscous pasta is therefore cooked with aromatic steam. During the cooking process, the couscous needs to be regularly stirred with a fork to prevent lumping, as risotto is cooked.
Preferred meats include lamb or chicken, but regional substitutes can include red snapper, grouper, sea bass, hare, or quail.
Thanks to its long coastline and numerous fishing ports, Tunisia offers an abundant and varied selection of fish. Most diners in Tunisia are also content to have their fish fillet simply fire-grilled and seasoned with olive oil, a lemon squeeze and salt and pepper to taste.
Unlike other North African cuisines, Tunisian food is quite spicy. Tabil is Tunisian and Algerian spice mixture, generally consisting of ground coriander seed, caraway seed, garlic powder, and chili powder, which is closely associated with the cooking of Tunisia.
15. What do you pay, on average, for the following? (1 USD = approx. DT 2.60)
3 Course meal: DT 18
Domestic beer (500ml): DT 3
Cup of coffee: DT 1.79
Coca cola (330ml): DT 1.13
Milk (1l): DT 1.14
Loaf of white bread: DT 0.32
Apples (1 kg): DT 3.31
Water (1.5l): DT 0.64
16. Any general safety tips?
Tunisia is quite safe, as a lot of security measures have been taken by the Tunisian government, not only to protect its citizens, but also its important tourism industry. Visitors to the country will notice that there are CCTV cameras and armed police in many places, as well as bag scanners in hotel lounges. Travelling in a group rather than alone will add safety when travelling around.
17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:
- President Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s first freely and directly elected president.
- Abdellatif Kechiche, a Tunisian-French actor, film director and screenwriter. His film ‘Blue Is the Warmest Colour’ won the Palme d’Or (the highest award) at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
- Marc Gicquel, a former professional tennis player, who played for France.
- Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, a poet who wrote the final two verses of the current National Anthem of Tunisia, ‘Humat al-Hima’ (Defenders of the Homeland).
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