Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Algerians in London: Mind the Gap

What is it that makes us so very proud to be Algerian? Is it our exceptional Football? The cult of the flag? The indoctrinated nationalism? The martyrs of the revolution? Rai Music? Chaabi music? CousCous? Or perhaps it’s Cheb Khaled? Or maybe Chaou I wonder…are we candidly and actually proud of being Algerian?

Algerians seem to have a love-hate relationship with their country, with each other, even with themselves and with their nationality, they waver from love Algeria to hate all Algerians, it changes on a daily basis, it’s even instantaneous at times.

Algerians are known for their mutual sense of suspicion and will go to great lengths to avoid, scrutinise, judge each other and flee their own kind as far as Tokyo and Fiji, only to encounter someone there saying “Assatar”(1) when they trip and fall!

Yet their curiosity is far stronger than their contempt and so when a community event is announced, they will flock like moths to a flame, if only to make an inventory of who’s who and who’s here.
And as suspected, a few days ago, in London, there was a rare Algerian event. Chaou, the Dean of popular Chaabi music, performed for us Algerian-Londoners. A much anticipated event that saw a good turnout of Algerians and nothing but Algerians.

The hall was an old Convent Garden building in dire need of restoration, old unmatching (free standing) chairs from the 70’s. A large Algerian flag draped over the back wall, which was being hung during the actual performance, the musicians looked very smart in all matching white shirts and black ties. Chaou was a delight as he captivated the audiences with old Chaabi tunes and indulged the exited crowds in their requests, the crowds were full of joy, sing-alongs and ululations.
Chaou sang in front of an excited and very mixed crowd of diplomats, intellectuals, media, artists, families, and a large number of exited young men who were probably more harmless than they looked.

Although to the naked and inexperienced eye, everyone was having fun, dancing and singing along, a sense of disparity was very palpable. The dance floor was claimed by the same young men who looked very happy to dance and film each other on their phones; they were evidently having a blast, looking around the room however, there was a feel of apprehension and an indecisive look about the young women present, very few were dancing and when asked, one of the young women said “I felt awkward initially but thought we need to get over it, it’s a Chaabi concert and it involves people from different backgrounds, didn’t think anyone was disrespectful. Chaabi is for people to sing along, shout and dance

This made me think, are we thinking too much into it and by refusing to dance and mingle, we are subconsciously trying to maintain the social divide and thus keep the wall up that segregates these two very clearly different social circles this kind of event brings together? And in doing so keeping the pseudo-community weak and divided?

Admittedly it was to be expected, although Chaabi is a refined music, by definition it is a popular music and might not always attract the most refined public, and although the crowds were completely harmless and just there for a good time, what seemed apparent the most was the complete lack of respect for this great artist who was struggling to be heard (even by his own musicians) through the poor sound system available first then due to the noise level emanating from the crowd which was obliterating, and no not the sounds of cheers or ululations but the very loud conversations taking place causally amongst the crowd and the fact the stage was highjacked as soon as Chaou sang “abkaw ala khir”(2).

These young people who represent the stratum of the Society that is often disregarded and blamed for the bad image and poor reputation the Algerians seem to be suffering from amongst host societies are nothing if not lost and in need of a role model, which in social norms would be the Elite class’s role, which we’ve seen here and there focused on restraining their muscles from twitching to the sound of the music or too busy occupying themselves with how much money they can make and who goes to the farthest destination known to another Algerian (I’ve been to Antarctica. Beat that!).

Which brings us to the organisation of such events; although the majority of the audience seemed very grateful for the effort and the opportunity to have a home-like experience in the heart of London, the way this kind of community event is handled and portrayed is very important to the image of the community itself and should not be handled lightly and irresponsibly, which was obviously the case here.

The 100% Algerian crowd choice becomes clearer, with the “hna fi hna”(3) mentality, there is less pressure to do anything outstanding or good enough to represent a community that is suffering an image problem.
Some of the people questioned on the choice of the venue and organisation were less than pleased, Karima said “It’s really at the image of our country isn’t”
Whereas Aziz said “Dzair mlesska bel bzak khti” (Algeria is glued together with Saliva, nothing sticks).

His Excellency the Ambassador (who was least pleased with the venue and was overheard saying that had he known about the venue, he wouldn’t have helped, well he's the one to talk really, with their track records of events organised, it's almost like they insist on maintaining third world status) and Madame la Consul were present and unfortunately for them, were seated on the front row which means under direct dance-move attack from the Chemma(4)-Squad delivered in true Hooligan style.

Meriem: "when I think of the Consul’s face, I can see the same contempt as that of the at Alg government towards the for the rest I think these young men helped clean the hall at the end and that’s the image I want to retain"

On the total highjack of the dance floor, stage and general chaos, Reda said “it was to be expected, I can deal when mentally prepared” and Amir: “normaaal”, a more controversial view from Mourad “We Algerians have a mentality where if it’s just us,
we don’t care, but if there was one more foreign person there, say English, our whole mentality changes, it’s like we can’t be trusted to manage ourselves, we have the mentality and predisposition of the colonised”

Yasmin didn’t dance all night though she enjoyed the music, she had a lot of concerns about the organisation and mentioned “notice how we behave differently when it’s just us, on board an Air Algerie flight we defy the rules and all stand up before the plane stops, aboard a BA flight, we behave according to regulations

It seems the consensus is that by avoiding any foreign observers or outsiders, there is less pressure on the organisers to excel and make it a memorable event, as they say “hna fi hna”, amongst the same group there is less pressure, we Algerians know eachother, we know our ways and have no choice but to accept the low standards or leave. There are no high expectations, only a sense of resignation and acceptance of the low and negative image the Algerian holds of himself and of his fellow Algerians.
The organiser knows this, he doesn’t make a huge effort or maybe he does make mammoth efforts (from the look of him at the end of the evening), they just don’t seem to meet the expectations of the divided crowds. They do however meet the expectations of the group with no sense of expectation, of image that his/her community should have or portray.
He RSVP’ed and he will judge it normal to be able to dance and behave like he always did if no boundaries are set, or indeed standard to uphold.

But who sets the Algerian standard here in the UK? In light of recent discoveries and since the government does so little to help raise the Algerian image or positive visibility, it is up to the people, who take it upon themselves to set the standards by creating community events and calling it “our culture”.

There are many other statements that I will not share with you here today, because it is easier to criticise than it is to do something positive and beneficial for this community we all cry for.
But who’s this “we”, we refer to? Everybody seems to be pointing the finger at the organiser, because the young men, haraga(5) or not, educated or not, are not to blame, they allegedly paid for their tickets as everybody else did, danced when the music said so and sat down when it said so.
We can’t blame the organisers for trying (and failing) we can only blame ourselves for letting this happen. If these pseudo-intellectuals and self appointed elitists want their culture, country or music rightly represented, they need to get involved and cover the huge gap in our culture in the UK stop the cultural highjacking by neighbouring countries that are more business-savvy than they are over-zealously proud.

Nissa: "We can’t blame the guys, they are haraga, some of them have no education, they’re not used to such events, they are nostalgic and for someone who hasn’t been home for over six years because he’s illegally here in the UK, this is the closest for him to feel at home"

Is Mourad right? Do our reflexes change when amongst non-Algerians because we are only image-aware when not in Algerian company? But what about our judgmental and scrutinising stances towards other Algerians? Perhaps it’s time to put theses to good use and stop this socialist mentality, where if you can’t unite for one cause, then by all means do act more like individuals; responsible, respectable individuals, who whether aware of it or not, act as the Algerian ambassadors amongst any group and in any setting.

A thought provoking, emotionally exhausting evening. Where anti-nationalism, patriotism, anger, disgust, joy and love are experienced in an overwhelming simultaneity. I believe I may have acquired my first wrinkles from excessive frowning and laughter. It can be so confusing being an Algerian abroad.

Dz-Chick...has overdosed on Algerians for the month!
(1) if you sneezed we’d say bless you, if you tripped …well that what we’d say.
(2) Song: Bid you goobye
(3) just between us
(4) of the highest repugnance Sniffing tobacco
(5) Illegal immigrant/overstayers


  1. Very good analysis Dz-chick, it brings it too close to home :(

  2. In multi cultural company or not Algerians are VERY concerned about appearances, in general. "what would the neighbours think" should be the DZ motto.

    Do what you like so lo g as no one can see it seems.

    BTW the BA Cabin crew's least favourite passengers are Algiers-LGW route, no one does what they are told. Phones on and unpacking before the wheels hit the ground.

    And they complain about the lack of hot meal (joke).

  3. How true, and reflective of all the feelings I had that evening. Everytime I decide to go to an Algerian event, the trauma starts at home; what shall I wear?! I get there and not sure where to sit, who I should kiss and is it ok to dance being a girl. But I went home happy that I went, felt good to be in pseudo-home, and decided to take a break from DZ events too; till next one that I ll make sure not to miss; even if it's to know who us who and who is there. Thanks for writing this; I wish we could all sit down together, have an open hearted feedback session; so next time we meet in a concert; we all do what "normal" people do, sing and dance

  4. Trust an algerian to go to a gig and come back with a socio-economico-politico analysis :) it sounds like good time was had by the Chemma(I bet you might consider it less repugnant if it was called Swedish Snus !) Posse, bsahtehoum as they say ! it's all a matter of perspective, a positive take would be that it's a success as it gathered all walks of life(including an ambassador !) under one roof. The issue I believe is for it to be a success not all eggs should go in the same basket , they should have separate events for chemma boys and "stiff upper lipsters" (confusing I know as chemma goes in the upper lip for some) for example sa you cannot please everybody all the time :)
    Also I still don't believe we have an "image" or a reputation to defend, just chillax and enjoy yal3adra fin emalik :)

  5. You had a good time in London, thank you to the ambassador. We did not have that chance with the algerian ambassador in the US back in the early 80s. We used to be deprived from our scholarships for 6 months,just for him to get the interest from the bank ... a very sickning mentality, it seems things have changed a lot.

    Enjoy the new Algeria

    -Amine (DownUnder)

  6. Thanks Anonymous – truth often hurts they say
    If we could all sit down and talk about this like normal people do, I don’t think I would be writing “anonymously”
    MalekoLondon I am chillaxed and I did have a good time despite the chemma-squad and the chaos. But you weren’t there!
    It was bad, so bad. And he didn’t sing Yal3adra fin amalik :)
    Amine Thanks to the Embassador? I think not. If the Embassy organised events fit for a country like Algeria then people would follow suit and uphold the standard. It’s like father, like son type of situation.

  7. I am just one of those guys who set in their minds that Algeria is just part of 'History', despite the love i have towards my country and its people but NOT the government and the nepotism.

    Good to be an algerian but bad to live in Algeria.

    -Amine (DownUnder)

  8. I think it's a matter of cha3ban fi ramdan, as we're coincidentally in cha3ban I think :) I do believe you when you say it was bad, but my point is simply that maybe you're a Royal Albert Hall type of gal and they're Camden Town underworld geezers :)we do have a sort of obsession with the "what would the neighbours think" type haunting us that we cannot shake off, it will take time but we'll get there ! I say bollocks(hachak) to the neighbours and get on with it :)keep calm and carry on being algerian whatever that means !

  9. A modern nation-state doesn't define a people, nor their culture. The issue lies in the flawed assumption that what is considered modern Algeria, or any state for that matter, defines the people born in the boundaries of that entity, which in itself was created by a foreign power.

    The idea that some give the rest a bad rap is deeply rooted in this wrong understand of who people are, individually and collectively. An Algerian with whom I might share some heritage doesn't define me any more than a Brit with whom I share a culture and a society. By the same token, I don't define either and neither can hold me responsible for how I might seem to represent them, because, quite simply, I don't.

    The issue isn't in how certain individuals behave, it is in our view of the association. Yes, we might share a couple of things here and there, but that's all it is, especially in our modern days where we are an eclectic mix of things.

    What I can't understand, and no one has been able to answer, is what really makes one Algerian. CousCous? Well Moroccans eat it. Rai? It's a western Algeria thing. Snuff? I don't take it. The language? Well, I sound like some of our neighbours much more than the nearest town to my place of birth.

    Dz-Chick, you have some interesting stories, but we need to get over the whole DZ thing. You're much more than that.

  10. Sorry Maleko and the last anonyous, but you need to read the post again i think! you missed the whole point.

  11. Thanks Dz-Chik.
    I was there that night...Please, can anyone tell me since when during 'kaada' Chaabi people are shouting and jiggling around hysterically during 'el haddi'?
    And Yes it did affect considerably the already poor sound System, and even Chaou himself has been affected.Hopefully the videos will be posted someday, and you'll understand better what I am saying ;)

    I read through the comments in this blog, and I understand when some are almost saying that we have nothing to prove to others .(actually this is another Algerian megalomaniac behavior)...
    BELIEVE ME..we really still need to prove a lot in this world, the challenges have no end.

  12. @malekolondon
    You seem to be very knowledgeable in Chemma and derivatives ;)
    khouya Laaziz, honestly speaking as a nation we've been 'chillax' as you said...for 50 years (since 1962) and may be before. so It isn't the time yet to start improving?
    You are saying above:
    "Also I still don't believe we have an "image" or a reputation to defend"
    My answer: ..oh yeah we do have a reputation to defend. charaf waldina ou jdoudna.

    btw, you are coming cross as the prefect Albert-hall type of guy...:))

  13. Some people read with an open mind and try to see where the author is coming from whereas others read with blinkers.
    Well I wrote the post and I can tell you, you HAVE missed the point.
    My main issue is not with the people dancing or shouting or whatever, it’s more with the divide. Hence the title: MIND THE GAP.
    You suggest we Albert-hall type stick to Albert-Hall and Camden people stick to Camden.
    This is precisely where the issue lies, we’re reading too much into this, I don’t particularly care who is what, I knew what a Chaabi gig would be like and I still went, tough it exceeded my expectations in mediocrity but I didn’t criticise the perpetrators (noise, disorder, poor organisation, bad sound…etc).
    Take things at face value? This is exactly where one of the issues lie: resignation, why shall I accept that with all our brains, numbers and resources, all we could come up with was a lousy concert that resembled a zoo in a hammam infused with Prozak fi n’har el 3id.
    I am also raising the issue of the “Elitists” who think themselves better, they criticise so easily yet they do nothing to help the situation, if you think the standard are not what they should be, raise them.
    And yes there is a huge image problem Algerians face in Europe (and even amongst other Arab nations etc) and if all people do is wash our hands off the issue and turn their back on it, do you seriously think this will not affect you?
    Answer me this: If we Algerians were such exemplary citizens and had no image issue, how come we need a VISA to get almost anywhere in this planet? How come we are always associated with theft, anger, pickpocketing, terrorism and the list goes on….

  14. I agree with DZ Chick and thanks for the courage to say it as it is. I traveled a lot across the arab world and it strike me how "unique" we are. But DZ chick do not try too hard, because with Algerians even when you try to help they can easily be offended ( the overzealous pride). It is hard and sooooo tyring to deal with “us”. But what can you expect from a culture that never developed into a civilization for thousands of years and people still want preserve it. Beside pottery we have accomplished NOTHING.

  15. Hello my fellow countrymen,
    First of all nice post DZChick, even though I disagree with some of your points much in the same way I agree with some.
    It sounds like I have not missed much, though it looks like the chemma squad had a good time, and yes they might come across not elite, but they deserve to have a good laugh, only God knows how much they go through in their situation.
    Yes there is a divide which you cannot cure overnight. You cannot change grown up people who have been mistrusting each other for 20 years to suddenly change. After all, they seem to have assimilated and gone their own ways, not necessarily within other cultures, but perhaps within their own little group they know and trust very well.
    I think the target should be the younger generation, that is coming every year, they need not make the same mistake as we did.
    Young girls should learn from day 1 when they set foot in this country to respect their fellow Algerian young men and never burn their bridges.
    Similarly young men should from day 1 make more effort to understand Algerian girls and how they think, and why they are more comfortable being themselves with other cultures, as you mentioned above, some cannot even dance if it is an Algerian concert, that is rather than complaining all the time that Algerian girls are snobby, and that there is no bent familia in Ghorba
    The gap unfortunately is a manifold. Between gender and also as pointed above intellectually. But also by geography, and ruler and ruled. These should not really exist if we are to have a community that treats each other with respect and humanity and less prejudice.


  16. I thought it was about the Algerian elite not doing anything to show the way than about the unprivileged messing around..
    DZ-chik, hopefully you'll forgive me posting think link here, it is in french..I really believe it is about the dormant offense.

  17. As I grow up a little bit everyday, my position toward my fellow citizen is becoming more and more conflictual. Since I don't live abroad, my position is more neutral than yours, I think. On a side of the spectrum, I can clearly see what the conservativeness of the society has kept in algerian people, especially out of Algiers (sense of hospitality, spirituality, patience, humanity, ingenuity, family values) but... I think that the urbanization is the biggest failure ever since 1962.. since the transition from primitive rurality to big cities left by europeans created a cultural clash and an offending mixture of a not-so-well-assimilated modernity and weird tribalism.. a sort of permanent social disorder that evolves into a kind of informal social consensus of separated classes (even in the ruling "elite").. it's not about a consensus of common good or peaceful cohabitation but more about an inertial force that condemns different parties to a kind of perpetual balance of power ("rapport de forces" is more meaningful in french)... This kind of "social clash" that made you uncomfortable, Dz-Chick, happens everytime we try to connect Algerians between them as a "whole unique organic mass of people".. that just don't work because our big cities haven't yet produced that "homogenic social melting-pot"...

  18. In Algerian there was no pot to start with, there was the turks living in their Daars and pretty much everyone else was either a servant or just lived in the mountains. When the French came, a few co-operators moved in to the Daars and had their children educated in French, and that is about it.
    I am afraid, all Algerians were tribal to start with , it is no excuse for any behaviour that damages the reputation of the glorious Bedouin tribes, or Algeria.
    90% from Chamma squad are probably from “Bab El Ouad”, as we all know.
    The fact that some harragas are by deifinition not so bright people, does not mean it is because they come from Bab Elouad, and bab elouad is full of Kavia turned Algerois.
    It would have been the same if most Harrag were from Oran

  19. Nissa: "We can’t blame the guys, they are haraga, some of them have no education, they’re not used to such events, they are nostalgic and for someone who hasn’t been home for over six years because he’s illegally here in the UK, this is the closest for him to feel at home"

    offff gouli Nissa hadi barka mel tzoukh 3lina za3ma hiya 9arya ou houma lala!!!

    Ana ghir nasma3 wahda moukhnana tahder 3la la9raya tagbadni el lagya.

    Wenti Dz Feloussa mazalak depressi fel ness mata7achmich?

  20. ATO Thanks. And no you didn’t miss much unless you were a lover of the music, though no one could really savour it with all the noise! A video has been posted on YouTube I believe you can judge for yourself.
    I have friends from Beb el Oued! Not everyone from BEO belongs in the chemma squad or those from El Harrash!
    Haraga by definition is an overstayer not “not so bright people” plenty of haraga are lovely, educated (or not), generous, polite and family people, they just happen to be in a haraga situation. Tsk tsk tsk
    Homo Erectus good point about the Urbanisation. Yes it seems to be a generality that people from larger cities have less and less of the qualities you mentioned.
    Social clashing from any culture can make certain people uncomfortable; it is not specific to Algerians.
    Azahf errifi springs to mind.
    GMA She didn’t mention le9raya actually. That’s just your pet hate talking.
    - Yep! Faithful to my mission as ever, as long as “Eastenders” is on, Dz-Chick will live on.

  21. DZC
    Just watched the video on youtube, recognized few faces (now you have to reverse engineer my face lol)
    I like the singer, something I would listen to while having a cup of coffee or a hair cut in Algeria.
    Definitely I don't understand why people are dancing to this type of music!

    Or could it be they had something!!
    In which case I wonna have what they having!

    To be fair to them, if it is normal to dance to this type of music in Algiers, why shouldn't they? But I guess some common sense was needed that stage was too small!


  22. I completely understand your view on few points, and I must say that you are not the only ones out with such dilemmas at all. I come from "developing country" too as well as ex ottoman empire so it seems we have quite a lot in common except religion. So the scene on the plane... all too familiar, as well as the fact we behave differently in our own company but if we have "guests", we are on our best behaviour and in our finest light... You are very insightful and analytical, and i love your sense of humour too. Keep it up please!!!!

  23. Wasn't hard to recognize you in the crowd. Nice brunettem, but way too 'serious'. :)

  24. You're spot on Dz Feloussa the word ' la9raya' is a killer for me, I just hate it, I hate it and I hate it!

    Now; I feel much lighter after I've let it all out!

  25. There is some talk in here, and an underlying assumption is the post, of the uniqueness of Algerian. I have been lucky to see much of the Arab world, and sorry to break it to you all, there is nothing especial or unique about being born Algerian, which I am.

    The issue discussed in here is really one of class. Whether Algerian or not, the presence of two groups from opposing ends of the socio-economic scale, means that the behaviour of one side will seem odd, or unacceptable, to the other. Again, nothing special about Algerians. White blue-eyed folk from Chelsea and their kind from Feltham would react in the same way towards one another. The upper class of East Beirut feels the same about some of their countrymen from the heart of Sabra. I could go on.

    Thinking we are unique and special is not only flawed, but also doesn't help us fix the real issues.

  26. The underlying pattern is pretty universal, I agree.. But it's hugely amplified in Algeria.. Yet the beggining was not that bad.. Sorry I can't find someone else to blame except El Houari for his absolutist politics.. Melt the controversial results with some machism, tribalism and religious fanatism and you'll understand why I'm not sleeping at 4:00 am..

  27. Hi, first of all DZ-chick I recently discovered your blog .. cool posts you've got here, nice work!

    when and where was that concert and how come I didn't hear about it :)

    Since I didnt attend I have no view on the matter, but I do suggest you start a debate on trust in Algeria/between algerians/algerians and non-algerians etc. I think that'll get you to resolve the issues raised in this post, including the GAP issue :) It's sunny for a bit, do have a nice day :)

  28. Maulana from Morris13 July 2012 at 20:18

    Who wants marryet?

  29. Pour ne pas bouder notre plaisir: voici un lien qui illustre tes propos ...

    Have a nice day !

  30. Colombo what's that saying again? Le visage fu moton etc...

    HomoErectus is that the only reason you're not sleeping at 4am? You talk like this at 4am?? C'est du lourd. El Houari is blamed for a lot of things meskine!

    Nadia thanks and welcome to Dzc land. I will try to post all dz events on my Facebook page from now on so nobody misses another circus!

  31. Hey DZ-Chick, I tried to post a saha ramdanek yesterday but there was "lascensour" (=la censure).
    Did you "lift" that restriction?

  32. It's a free reign here! Saha Randanek

  33. non j'ai une tendance à l'insomnie.. Parfois pour de bonnes raisons, parfois pour de mauvaises.. n'khalou el bir beghtah khir.. No Ramadan Diaries, this year ?

  34. Insomnia is for les philosophes and the tormented souls! I prefer staying awake by choice ;)
    No Ramadan diaries this year! Don't think Ivan be bothered frankly!
    Saha Ramdanek HE

  35. No diaries !!! sad ! depressing ! tormenting !!(bon balance quelque chose de temps en temps quand même....)

  36. Popular demand for the Ramadan diaries! it just gives you something to read I guess. ok something coming your way as soon as creatively possible ;)

  37. Crikey..what a moaning lot most of you seem to be!
    Dz-Chick: Since you have proven time and again that you're the moaner-in-chief, it is a delight to see you in your fullest array of whinging extravaganza.

    Hail to the Chief!

    Yours regardless,


  38. Good luck for all, Be happy for being just Human

  39. I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this blog.

    Thank you, I’ll try and check back more frequently.
    How frequently you update your site?
    Stop by my blog post ; King Of Spain Ferdinand


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