After a full day of work at CEMAT, I found myself ravenous by nightfall. Having consulted my guidebook and cross-referenced its recommendations with some online travel guides, I made my way onto the streets of Tunis.
I was slightly wary to venture too far, as a leisurely stroll to survey the nightlife the previous evening had resulted in me being accosted twice in a half-hour by Tunisian 20-somethings who wanted to be “friends” – read: I was asked to buy goods and/or their services after a few minutes of introductions.
This night, I encountered the most creative and opportunistic solicitation I think I’ve ever experienced. Within a few feet of the doorway to my hotel, a crowd bottlenecked, and I bumped less than gently into a Tunisian guy and his friend, who both appeared to be in their mid-20s. Instinctively, I said in English, “I’m sorry,” to which he replied, “It’s okay. You speak English, where are you from?” “Canada,” I said.
As we passed the crowd, the two young men began to turn in the direction of my chosen restaurant, and we talked a little about our professions and Tunisia’s nightlife. They offered to take me out for a beer, and I declined politely, telling them that I had to do work over dinner (a true, if slightly exaggerated, statement). When I said that I was going to The Andalusian, they told me that it was close by and that they’d take me there.
We entered a restaurant that was slightly shabby, and they sat down and ordered beers. I was confused, thinking that we had miscommunicated and that they had taken me to their chosen destination rather than my own, so I bid them farewell and began to leave. They gave me chase and asked if they could join me at The Andalusian, where they assured me we were. I looked at the sign over the door and pointed out that it read “Fountain Bleu.” “No,” one of them responded, as they both laughed. “That’s the building’s name.” I marched into the restaurant and asked the waiter if we were at The Andalusian. “Oui,” he confirmed.
So I sat down again. My companions began to tell me how bad the economy in Tunisia is, and asked if I would buy them beer. Offended, I made my way to the door, and they gave me chase once more. I told them that either they could leave or I could leave. So they stood at the doorway while I went back in and sat down.
I ordered the couscous and fish, supposedly the specialty of the house, and the waiter brought out two pathetic looking things, quoting me 25 dinars for the pair and asking me if I’d like pasta with them, since they had no couscous tonight. My internal alarm went off for the third time, so I leaned over to the couple beside me: “What is the name of the restaurant?” I asked in Arabic. “Fountain Bleu,” they said. I thanked them, got up, and left.
The Andalusian was two doors down. It was quiet and elegant. Arabic music played softly in the background, and French couples peppering the restaurant were taking full advantage of the romantic ambiance. The couscous and fish was fantastic.
Photo courtesy of the author