THE ONLY ALGERIANS unbothered by the lettering in Arabic are the young who learn it as their principal language beginning in the first grade - with French taught as a foreign language in the third or fourth grade.

Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis are among the foreigners called in to teach literary Arabic since few Algerians can speak it.

"The small children do not understand French and have trouble reading and writing it or even speaking with any ease," a grandmother complained, "but it's a pleasure to listen to them speak elegant, literary Arabic which few people in my generation understand."

Critics claim that young Algerians learn neither French nor Arabic - or much else - properly in schools nowadays, but she contrasted the situation with her own youth.

Her father was a poor illiterate and wanted a son, but nonetheless sent his only child to school until she was 14. "Aside from the children of the Caids and Bouchages [Algerian disnitaries] I was the only Moslem and the French kids disdainfully called me the Moorish girl," she recalled.

Today she has become a bit of a snob, turning up her nose at the poorer country folk who have swarmed into the rich Mitidja villages like her own since independence.

She treats them much years ago when she was one of the first Moslems tolerated in the village by the then all-powerful French.

"We went too fast, too fast," she told an old foreign friend who hadn't seen her for six years.

"Our own people are not competent. Before the grocery store had to give credit for as long as five or six months. Now even the peasants pay cash and there's no meat left they've got so much money in their pockets," she tut-tutted.

"The young want it all without working. Now we have half a dozen taxis because the young work in the new factories in and around Algiers. They want everthing - cakes and parties, the motorbikes and cars, school, high school and university.

"Maybe in 10 years it will be better," she said, as if she were trying to convince herself. "You cannot make a country in 15 years."

Then she cried, thinking about the men and women in her own family who had been tortured and killed during the war. "The young don't know about the war, although the schools try to teach them patriotism," she sobbed.

"When the movies or television show a film about the war, the young claim it was all made up phonied," she said. "But we know, that was exactly what we went through, and for them."