Friday, 29 July 2011

Les Marrakechinas - pourquoi parlent-ils anglais?

I love Marrakech. I think it is one of the most interesting places in the world. Sitting on a cafe roof terrace overlooking the main Square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, at dusk is simply mesmerising. The sights, sounds and smells have remained the same for decades, if not centuries. It exists for the locals and not for the tourists and long may that be the case.

But Marrakech is changing, perhaps not around the Square, but it is becoming more Western. Sure, there has always been the colonial French influence, but it was at the exotic Foreign Legion end of things and far from Parisienne high chic: French is spoken universally and there are vestiges of French cuisine (BTW we found some excellent Creperies in Essaouria).

As Marrakech has grown in population and size, it has embraced those aspects of a modern city with which we are familiar the world over. Zara and other world brands have moved into Gueliz - and this part of town is becoming increasingly fashionable with some excellent restaurants and nightclubs. New oases in the form of golf resorts are springing up in the desert beyond the suburbs of fashionable villas. But all these developments appear not to have impacted on the heart of the city, in particular the old world charm of the Square and the Souks.

But this year I witnessed the first signs of a challenge to the old world order - and I suspect that Ryanair and EasyJet are to blame - the locals are all beginning to speak English.

Three years ago, it was not all that easy or popular to go to Marrakech. I had to fly Royal Maroc Airways - in fact I flew their low cost version, the now defunct Atlas Blue - and no one but no one spoke English. This was not really surprising given they all speak three other languages anyway: Arabic, French and one of three Berber dialects in the home.

But cheap flights have made Marrakech a great weekend city break or a holiday adventure. Now Brits and Germans are flying in as well as the traditional French. This week (my fourth visit since 2009) I found nearly every trader and taxi driver trying to engage me in English - or at least a caricatured version of it - "lovely jubbly", "cor blimey" "innit?" - where do they learn this stuff? One taxi driver allowed himself to he haggled down on the price of the fare only to turn the ride into an English lesson which continued for minutes after our arrival at our destination.

While in Marrakech I finished reading Niall Ferguson's Civilization: The West and the Rest, in which he argues that consumption and consumerism were key factors in Western domination of The Rest. He documents the long history of the World simply wanting to adopt Western fashions and values to appear civilised and on a par with Westerners. With these ideas ringing in my ears, I fear that the wider use of English is the first step that will open up Morocco to the wider influences of Anglophone society that culminates with everyone wearing jeans and a MacDonalds on every street corner [there's already a KFC right next to the Square]. Morocco has a rich culture and history - I hope that it has the moral courage to remain different.

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