Tuesday, 15 November 2011

6 Things Arabs Could Do Without

1. Lateness
Punctuality used to be my thing. If I was supposed to meet someone at 5pm, I would be there at 5pm – no more, no less. But then suddenly, one day, Arabness took a hold of me. It seized my soul and crushed all the punctuality and respect for time there was inside of me. It chewed it up, spat it out and then stomped on it a thousand times over. 

Okay, so I'm not that bad with time, but running late is an endemic among the Arab people. There's a long-running joke among Arabs about "running on Middle Eastern Standard Time". Running on Middle Eastern Standard Time does not add some kind of exotic dimension to being fashionably late. There is nothing hip about arriving an hour and a half to two hours late to a wedding reception. While the bride and groom anxiously wait at the back for what seems like a century before their grand entrance, Arab guests are still filling in seats. They’ll tell you that their car broke down, that they had to finish prayers, that they were sick, the traffic was terrible, they were catching up on Home and Away to find out which character was killed off this week, a game of rugby was on or they still had coal burning on their apple-flavoured shisha and inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled, until the coal was no longer of use to them.

Parties, appointments, meetings, gatherings – you name it, we’re late. If your Arab friend tells you that they’re on their way and that they’ll be over in a bit, chances are they’ve just rolled out of bed or haven’t left the house.

To make your life run a little smoother, give an Arab about an hour leeway beforehand. Meeting for dinner at 7pm? Tell them to be there at 6pm.

2. Speaking loudly

You think techtonic plates move because of convection currents in the Earth's mantle? No. They move because Arab mothers and fathers and aunties and uncles and grandparents and cousins and great-aunts and great-uncles and their neighbours and their family friends and their cousins and their cousins’ cousins children’s Arabic school teacher’s mother-in-law compete to speak over each other. Every gathering. Every time. What ever happened to enjoying tea and scones on a quiet Sunday afternoon together? What ever happened to indoor voices? (Note: Arabs don't 'get' indoor voices. Nobody does. It’s something that apron-clad mothers call out to their mischievous children in movies about a white middle-class family and their pet dog.) Anything will inflame a group of Arabs – a game of cards, politics, washing the dishes (as in, everyone offers to wash the dishes and not one of them will take no for an answer), what so-and-so did last time, how dare so-and-so do such-and-such, etc. If you ever overhear a bunch of Arabs yelling and you’re worried a brawl might break out – don’t worry. They’re probably having a friendly chat about unicorns and rainbows and stuff.

3. Force-feeding family, friends and guests

It’s customary to make sure your guests are comfortable. Arabs want their relatives and visitors to be well fed. A little too well fed, though. When your grandmother or  aunty dramatically heaps food onto a plate and then presses you to have seconds and thirds when you haven’t finished the first, you know shit’s about to go down and there’s no escaping it. Things can get ugly if you refuse to eat more food when it's offered to you, even if you’re about to explode. You might have a healthy build, but older Arab women will see a miserable bag of bones, a person battling anorexia, and they will do anything to beef you up. They are delusional and you must play along with it. They will win by guilt tripping you with “Why? You don’t like my food, ha? You don’t like the food I make? Look at my poor old body, look at it!” or they relentlessly nag you until you give in.

4. Speaking forever at the door

You and your family are visiting friends. Three hours later, it's time to leave. The hosts offer to walk you out. Suddenly, the moment you all step foot outside the front door while saying your final goodbyes, your parents and the hosts break into a super long conversation. It's as if they haven’t seen each other in years and they're eager to update each other about everything and anything. And so they talk. And talk. And talk. The three-hour stay clearly wasn't long enough and the conversation continues outside. It goes on. And on. And on. It's as though doorknobs on Arab homes release a magical lets-have-a-deep-and-meaningful-conversation-at-the-front-door agent once turned. Older gen Arabs spend more time talking at the front door (and then by the car) than they do the entire time they're inside the actual house. And if you happen to be with them, you're left standing there shifting your weight from foot to foot, waiting and wondering and eyeing your parents with a look that says “Hurry up!” 

And when you think it's all finally over, the hosts invite everyone back into the house to finish the conversation over several more cups of coffee. You just can't win.

5. Crappy sitcoms

Arabic sitcoms (mosalsalat) are bad. There are about 1000 episodes in one season and the plots don’t move anywhere during the first 999. Arabic sitcoms are dramatic, sensationalised, full of somber music and everyone’s crying (close-up shots of tears rolling down faces are included every so often). There are love triangles (hexagons, decagons even), a woman who never fails to wail every episode, a man who loses his shit every episode, an evil mother-in-law who's always plotting something, several arranged marriages, and hit-men who, almost always, kill the wrong person. Yet older gen Arabs here in the West are hooked. They sit on the edge of their seats as if to nostalgically reach out to a poorly represented homeland. And if Arabic sitcoms weren't bad enough, Arabic channels are now outsourcing their shows. Goodbye Arabic sitcoms, hello Turkish sitcoms with out-of-synch Arabic voiceovers?

6. Nationalism and pride

This is something the whole world could do without. Dear proud Arab, what are you proud of? Love, understand, appreciate and conserve your history and culture, but don’t be a blind flag-waving patriot and jingoist. After all, no-one chooses their cultural and ancestral background. Racism and a sense of superiority over others is needless and mindless. Overt pride, the 'pRo0uD 2 b3  aRaB' business, the defensiveness and the divisiveness all belong in a trash can. You are better without it. Promise to hummus.


Gavin said...

Hahaha I love everything about this. Partially because you write really well, and partly because it's nice to know that it's not only my deranged Sri Lankan/Portuguese relatives who do pretty much everything listed here (except maybe 6... you'll rarely find someone actually proud to be curry unless they're delusional). I miss you!

jedielf said...

Hahaha, most of it so very relatable! 2-5 would be for Cantonese people too :) I think we could be slightly more lax about punctuality, though, or maybe that's just my parents. You get grilled if you are five minutes late. And nationalism, well there's kind of patriotism for China, but I reckon there should be something more for Cantonese culture and language, rather than all China, which is really a whole lot of different cultures.

Anonymous said...

I don"t wanna go so jumpy
but I'm an arab and I have to be proud(not too proud...but proud)
as what everybody should be of their selves
Anyway I really like what you have written about Arabs
It's a little bit brutal,but true and realistic
thanks for telling everybody about us I'll think of that as a promotion

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