I was in the bus, looking through the window, wandering from one thought to the other. At one of the bus stops, climbed in a group of teenagers, 3 girls and 2 boys. Like all teenagers, noisy and careless about being noisy – most of people here in Switzerland consider this as being misbehaved, and from the angry looks they gave them one could easily say that they were highly bothered. As for me, this ‘annoyance’ is always most welcome to me, as I consider noisy teenagers perfectly embodying life; it is the only period of life where one have an organic reason to be stupid and in the same time to be enugh aware of things to make sharp observations. Should I mention also that they were obviously Arabs, given the mix of some Arab words in their french talk and that were Muslims given the veils the girls where trying to wear – they looked quite unexperienced to it though – and the qamiss the boys were wearing? It might be by experience or maybe am I paranoid but I think I could say that the other people in the bus were not looking at “noisy teenagers” but at “noisy Muslims”.
As their loud conversation was ongoing – they were mostly talking about the celebration they were going to attend in the mosque – one of the girl said a joke, half in arabic half in french (this girl was quite witty in fact), her friends couldn’t help to laugh – so did I. One of her mates told her “look even the Madam is laughing at you“. “I was laughing at the joke. And if the jokes are going on like this all day long, I wonder how funny must be school.“, did I reply. We all went laughing, and then started talking. They apparently wanted to talk about school; proud to list all the jokes and tricks they did to the teachers and other students. As I learnt they were living in France (the scene was taking place in a bus in Geneva, which is next to the French border), in an area I know a bit.
One of the little stories they told me was about one of their teachers that apparently was punishing them everytime she was hearing an arabic word in class. The problem is that her allergy to any mention to a foreign language was even extended to their private conversations during break; it seemed also she never missed any occasion to emphasize on the fact that French rules only have effect on their lives. As a consequence, the young teenagers – that were after all like so many of us here, born in Europe from Arab migrant parents, and do not want any of the two parts that constitute their identity and culture denied – began to “outbid” about their Arabic identity. One of the boys explained me that for the yearly class picture, they took Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian flags they waved just at the moment of the picture. When the teacher received the picture, she told to the class “We are in France here, it is shameful that none of you took a French flag“. The boy replied “La France aux Français Madame” (“France for the French people”, according to a famous moto of the Front National, the french right-wing party). She dismissed him, and before leaving class he told her “A demain, Inshallah“.
The witty girl then told me that they were going to re-shoot the class picture, as asked by the teacher for it was too unacceptable to have those foreign flags on it. I asked them: “And how do you feel about it?“. The other boy just told me “We won’t have the flags, but we will be scowling on the picture.“. To that they all went laughing – again so did I.
Their bus stop arrived are they noisily left the bus – a relief to all other passengers for sure – waving at me “Salam Alikoum Madame“. And while I was seeing them crossing the street through the window, I was thinking: we all understood that it would be helpless to complain to the principal – after all there is certainly something in the highschool rules and regulations against waving foreign flags or speaking foreign languages at school – and sometimes racism takes so subtle forms that only the targeted person can get it deep meaning (the teacher would easily dismiss all allegations, if she was asked), that still the best way to resist is symbolic: using humor, for sometimes a joke can be a weapon against hatred.