Life in Tunisia for western spouses

money - work - family - neighbours - household

Not only when a couple, after marriage, wants to live in the west, there are problems - they also exist when you, instead, choose to live together in Tunisia.

Although the problems there are of a different kind than in then west, they arise from the very same reasons - the different societies and their ideas.

The Money

The economic side looks quite pleasant, when the European spouse has property, rental income or pensions, so that the family does not depend on the income earned in Tunisia.
Although a family of 4 can have a very pleasant life in Tunisia with 1000 Euro per month, this sum is, if you are not "wealthy", and you must work in Tunisia, hard to earn.

The minimum wage in Tunisia is about 200 Euro per month and even well-trained workers in "modern" occupations and with an high education rarely earn more than 500-750 Euro per month.

For a work in Tunisia, a good command of French and Arabic language is almost always required, which is for most immigrants quite a problem. A job with a western company who pays an european salary is very hard, almost impossible, to obtain.

In most cases, the couple will, therefore, live on a monthly income below 500 Euro, often less than 300 Euro, which will yield a modest, average life in Tunisia, but one has to miss out on many things he was accustomed to in Europe.

A normal "tourist" won't notice the many costs of a permanent residence in Tunisia,  starting with such simple things as electric bills.
The price of electricity in Tunisia is indeed cheaper than in many western countries, but one earns also a lot more. Even when electricity costs only half as much in Tunisia, it can become a problem when living on a tunisian salary.

Most households in Tunisia consume much less power than in western countries, many families do not have washing machine or air conditioning, no electric furnace, no vacuum cleaner and what else we think is indispensible in the west - or what is, in Tunisia, even a neecessity (like Air Conditioning).

When air conditioning runs in the summer half of the day, then even at the most reasonable prices in Tunisia the electricity bill will reach similar heights as in the west.

And in the winter, it is not much cheaper, because Europeans are not accustomed to sit with a thick pullover or jacket in the living room or wear use wet damp clothes.

Of course, you need to run the heater in the west in the winter months, too - but even with gas costing half as much in the west, you will need double and triple the amount, when you live in a house where the roof, walls and floors are not insulated at all and doors and windows will shut tight only in rare cases.

And so it goes on with many other things of everydays life.

Those who move to Tunisia and want to live as they lived in the west, will need the same amount of money - and they will very soon say "GoodBye" to the assumption that life in Tunisia ist inexoensive.

Only if you live as the locals do, only then you will be able to live on less money in Tunisia than in the western countries.

This is certainly a source of marital problems - namely, when the money is not sufficient to maintain a certain standard of hygiene, comfort, food and medical care that one is accustomed to as normal in western countries.

But, let's assume that the money not scarce - or the couple is capable of suffering - then they still have more fences to jump in front of them.

The love family

It is often said that "one marries not a single Tunisian, but always a whole family". While this is true in principle, it has, if you live in western countries, only insofar any impact as that it results in long and frequent phone calls to Tunisia, money transfers and taking large amounts of gifts to every family visit.

Because of the great distance and the difficulties for Tunisians to obtain a visa, a couple living in western countries remains mostly unaffected by the embracing attempts of the Tunisian family.

But this is very different if you live in Tunisia. Daily family visits are normal for many Tunisians (and in between they will talk on the phone...) and family members visit and stay with others lots of times - sometimes only for minutes or hours, but in some cases, for days and weeks.

The European partner has a tough time, because it is expected that she functions the same way as, a Tunisian woman - and those are experts for planning in household matters and for the accomodation of visitors.

They are being supported when it is necessary (unfortunately, even when it is not necessary) by the active help and good advice of the female members of the husband, which, as you can imagine, because of the different lifestyle, knowledge, habits and ideas, can quickly lead to conflicts.

In the direct confrontation between mother and wife, the Tunisian man often takes the side of the mother, causing a more or less strong, permanent, influence of the Tunisian mother on the daily life.

In addition, in Tunisia, a permanent and immensely strong and effective control of all family members is being maintained.

Westerners are often amazed that most family members are always aware of where the others are and what they are doing (and even if not, then it does not take long).
This generates, for Westerners, an atmosphere of constant observation (and justification), surveillance, and this is especially true for women - because a simple and circumstandial conversation with a man in a sidewalk cafe will almost certianly guarantee for a (sometimes real-time) storm of communications amongst the family.

The Tunisian Neighbours

Not everyone is used to the family and the neighbours knowing almost every detail of what you are doing, including the list of what you have purchased and the amount of time that you have spent for the cleaning of your apartment.

What is often said about single elderly people in western countries, that they spend the whole day in the window or behind the curtain and watch what there is going on, in Tunisia, it applies to almost anyone, especially your neighbors.

They rest in the window or sit in front of the house or in the courtyard, the men sitting in the cafe and their preoccupation seems to be to observe what is going on around them.
The smaller the town and the simplier the family situations, the more watching and gossiping takes place.

One really must become used to that!

Westerners who are, in their countries, accustomed to the idea that the neighbors should kindly take care of their own business ad leave you alone, won't be very happy in Tunisia - or must own a house in a good uptown and possible even keep the family away.

The Tunisian Husband

In Europe, it is considered particularly desirable that the husband is involved in housework and child rearing.
Since men and women work equally and are usually being educated and socialized similarly, this makes sense - not to mention emancipatory goals.

But not so in Tunisia.

In Tunisia, is common that the man goes to work and earns the money, while the woman spends her day with housework and child rearing.
Cleaning, washing and cooking alone can take several hours every day, especially when modern kitchen and household appliances are not being used.

And just, as some times ago, western workers after work often stopped by in the local pub, almost every Tunisian man lands sooner or later in a sidewalk cafe.

If the man is alone to take care of the children, he is more likely to call a female members of his family to help than to take matters in his own hands.
The same goes even for most Tunisians who have lived abroad and had behaved differently there.

For, in Tunisia, the family, friends and neighbors are watching, whether each person is behaving as it is expected of him or her, if his social behaviour is compliant with the social rules, and if strange behavior is detected, it will cause an immediate and eager
discussion and it will be retold.

Therefore, if a couple is living in Tunisia, it is inevitable to adapt to the environment (and yes you even need to do that in the west, but the social control and the pressure is much lower there) - and that means, in most cases, a great adaptation barrier for the western woman.

This often leads sooner or later to stress feelings to thoughts about a "golden cage" (for lack of social contacts outside, beyond the family) and a general dissatisfaction with life.

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