Guest Visits In Jordan
“As I was living in Mexico, I was thrilled to have moved to Jordan for my gap year to study Arabic. About a month in, it was Ramadan and I was excited at the prospect of spending this holiday with Muslim families who would all gather to break their fast together.
I had gotten a job at a tutoring center and my boss’ wife invited me to their house for iftar (breakfast). This was my first time having iftar at an Arab household, so I expected to try traditional festive food. I was not disappointed.
The thing was that, in Mexico, you must finish everything there is on your plate, out of politeness, especially when you are a guest at someone’s house. So when my boss served me a huge plate of rice, lamb, salad, and pastries, I surely made sure to finish it. But then, he served me again. I protested, but he insisted (as the etiquette of Arab hospitality demanded). Slowly but surely I forced myself to eat, and after I finished the second serving, I begged them not to serve more. I was stuffed. They reluctantly agreed to move to the living room to watch the Ramadan TV shows.
There, I was greeted with coffee, which I tried to decline with no success. Again, Arab etiquette of shoving stuff down your throat to prove they’re good hosts did not balance well with the Mexican way of politely refusing things you did not want once (the giver was not expected to insist) but take them offered more than once. Then came really sweet tea and, as much as I hate tea because (also a Mexican custom), we only drink tea when we are sick, while Arabs drink it almost every day. I swallowed that tea and patted myself in the back for having been such a grateful guest.
I excused myself because it was already past nine pm and my dorm’s curfew was at 10, but my boss’ wife stopped me and said she had prepared qatayef for me. Now, qatayef are sweet empanada-looking dumplings that are stuffed with sweet cheese, walnuts, and cinnamon or pistachio. They are then coated in honey and served hot, and their contents come oozing out of the pastry in a heavenly way. It sounds good, but not when you’ve been stuffed with lamb, rice, salad, pastries, and overly sweet drinks. I tried to explain that I was already very full, but the wife said that she made those from scratch and made them for me.
As the Mexican I am, I surely tasked myself with finishing the three qatayef. I could not really take it slow because I had to make it back to the dorm on time, so I had to forget about how stuffed I was and force them down my throat. I did, and I don’t think I have ever consumed more food in my entire life. I remember saying goodbye, thanking my hosts for the lovely evening, and leaving the building to catch a taxi. Then I remembered feeling physically bad; dizzy, nauseated. I felt I would pass out and considered going to the hospital. Fortunately, I made it to the dorm on time, barely able to move and feeling disgusting.
The next day, I mentioned my experience to a Palestinian friend, who was obviously aware of this ‘stuff your guest till they explode’ practice. She could not stop laughing and explained that that’s the Arab way, that’s what people usually do is just stop eating when they get full and leave some leftovers on their plates. She explained that when a guest has an empty plate it means that they are not full and the host must provide more food, which the guest will obviously decline at first because they are shy, which is why the host must insist until the guest complies.
That was my first culture shock and the day I almost died of a food coma.”
English Words Used In England Is Not The Same In The United States
“Although I have traveled to some rather remote places, a big culture shock came when I moved to England. Having grown up in America, I thought I spoke English, but apparently not. Not only was I unable to understand many of the local accents and dialects, but the difference in vocabulary made for endless confusion. I soon discovered that I could point to nearly any object and the British word for it would be an entirely different word that I never could have guessed.
Even more surprising was the English response to some of my common American vocabulary. They often would say, ‘Well, I knew what you meant, but it’s such an old-fashioned word that we haven’t used for hundreds of years!’
I was amazed to discover that we Americans apparently speak some sort of Shakespearian English, albeit with an American accent.
One day I went to the meat counter in a grocery store where I asked the butcher for a pound of ground beef. His face scrunched up quizzically as he encouraged me to explain further. My first try was ‘beef that is ground up,’ but that did not clarify anything. After several further botched attempts to explain what I meant by ‘ground beef,’ he held up his finger and asked me to wait. I saw him head to the back where he huddled with several other butchers in an animated discussion that went on at length.
Finally, he returned with a triumphant smile, ‘Miss, would you be meaning a small animal that runs around on the ground?’
While making running motions with his index and middle fingers. I’m afraid I burst out laughing. We weren’t able to resolve our language differences on that occasion, and we had chicken for dinner.
This was typical of nearly every conversation for quite a while. Eventually, I became more adept at replacing my quaint, antique American words with updated modern English ones. One day, after about a year, I was leaving a car park (parking lot in America) and asked the gentleman at the exit booth for directions back to the motorway (highway). This caused a blizzard of instructions accompanied by the vigorous circling of the arms, first in one direction and then the other, punctuated with swift jabs to the left and right, all delivered at lightning speed in an incomprehensible accent. I listened with extreme concentration as the blizzard intensified. Finally, I thanked him and realized that I had actually understood about half of it. This was a moment of quiet satisfaction with my progress in the English language.
“Can’t Trust Anyone” In The Philippines
“I was born and raised in America. Because my mother is Canadian, we made many summer trips there and I saw no difference between that country and our own. When I was about 32, I went with my Filipino girlfriend to visit her family. On our last connecting flight, which was heading to Manila, almost, if not all, all the people on board were Filipinos.
At some time during the flight, a Filipino came up to me and asked, ‘Where are you from?’
I said, ‘The United States.’
He then said, ‘Have you ever been to another country before?’
I said, ‘Just Canada.’
He then said, ‘Don’t be upset by what you are about to see. The Philippines is a third-world country.’
I said, ‘I know.’
And boy was I shocked at what I saw. Here in America, you might see a homeless person just every once in a while but over, there they are living all along the roads, living in steel shacks, and there are children coming up to me all the time asking for money. Adults too. I was told not to give anything but I did. I was told not to go anywhere without protection or I could be robbed or worse yet, kidnapped.
All of the middle-class homes were right next to each other and each home had a yard that was a fortress. Steel wire running along with an average wall height of ten feet. They said that a person needs to be in a home at all times or the people will eventually find out when no one is there and they will not only take your stereo or jewelry but will take all your appliances and anything else they can take.
My girlfriend’s family said, ‘The police and government are corrupt and you can’t trust anybody.’
My girlfriend’s mother once had a fire at her large home. The fireman showed up and said they wanted 1,500 dollars or they were going to leave. She paid. But her home was connected to other people’s homes, which meant it could have spread to their homes. I always wondered if the fire had spread after they left and burned down a whole block or worse yet, people died or were injured, would her mom have been responsible for not paying?
Next, my girlfriend’s brother-in-law was driving a new Toyota RAV 4. A jeep with four men in military uniforms got him out of the car, pointed their M-16’s at him.
They said, ‘Give it up or we will shoot you.’
And this was right in front of his mother-in-law’s home. He gave it up. Nothing he could do about it.
I was told, prior to leaving, not to drive. Reason? Because in many poor countries, if an accident occurs, they will pin it on you because you have the money no matter who’s fault it was. I did not drive.”
School In Asia
“When I was nine, my parents thought it’d be a great idea to send me away alone to learn a second language. Because in the United States, it’s quite difficult to learn a second language. They wanted me to learn their native language.
My parents dropped me off at JFK airport in New York City, flying to Asia. I had very limited knowledge of the spoken language where I was going. I knew extremely basic stuff like, ‘I’m hungry’ and ‘I need to pee.’
On the first day of school, I brought a chicken sandwich. Because in the United States, it was normal to eat a chicken sandwich as lunch. I was greeted by the teacher, she said some gibberish (at least to me it was gibberish) but she pointed to the podium. Obviously, she meant self-introduction. I went to the podium and I did not know what to say besides my name. After some awkward silence, the teacher smiled and said I could come down.
She took me to my seat and purposely sat me next to the class leaders. She then asked where was my lunch. I pointed to my chicken sandwich.
She said, ‘That’s not lunch. That’s breakfast.’
She asked a fellow classmate to show me what lunch is. The classmate went to the front of the classroom and retrieved a metal lunchbox from a cube oven-looking thing. Wow, hot food for lunch! That was something not seen in the US. It’s always a paper bag or your lunch box with cold foods. You can buy hot lunches at the cafeteria. The food in Asia for lunch is definitely a proper lunch (even when bought at the cafeteria) than a pizza and chocolate milk at the school’s cafeteria in the United States.
My classmates laughed at me a lot because I was illiterate. One day we had gym class. We all wore uniforms. After gym class, this boy ran up to me and asked me to read the words on my shirt. I stared at him blankly.
He quickly yelled, ‘Everyone! She doesn’t know her school name.’
Coming from New York City, our schools were numbered so I didn’t even know there was a school name. I was embarrassed that I did not know what my school name was, regardless of being illiterate.
I was ranked 40/40 on my first midterm exam. The student who always ranked last was so ecstatic. He told everyone that he was no longer last in class. Furthermore, beating by teachers was allowed. I was probably the last generation to get beaten. I’m not talking about beating your butt but more like beating your palms with a bamboo stick. One mistake equals one beating.”
“When I moved to the United States, I could not believe how privileged their dogs were. In my country, owning a dog pet is kind of a luxury thing. However, the majority of the people own their dogs for protection reasons at night. Only a few minority own dogs solely for the purpose of playing with them.
I remember it took me a while to get used to this. One time, my American friends and I were walking downtown Chicago enjoying the summer. We passed by a homeless guy, who looked like he was hungry. He also had a hungry, skinny dog, that looks like it was about to die.
One of my American friends looked at the guy and said something like, ‘Look at that dog! I feel so sorry for the dog. The dog is about to die.’
In my mind, I thought, ‘Why the dog first though? The homeless dude looks like he is about to die of hunger too. Is the dog better than a human being? I will never understand.’
Another time, my college club decided they were going to donate our club surplus money to a dog shelter nearby our school. We used to do it every semester. Now, imagine when I heard that and told them there was no way I was going to give my money to dog causes. I explained my reasons. I told them that, for the same money, I could pay for some kid’s primary school fees back home and help them build a better future for themselves. Some of them were shocked when I said that, but there was no way I was donating my money to dogs. Nope.
In my dating days, before going to my girlfriend’s house/apartment, I made sure that they did not have a dog at home. Lucky for me, most of them had left them at their parent’s house before coming to school, so I was good most of the time. Otherwise, It would have been a nightmare for me, trying to fit in and looking like I was okay having a dog around me.
For the record, I really don’t dislike dogs at all. In fact, I like them. But don’t tell me to pet them, do not make them sit on the same couch with them and all other stuff. I come from a very different culture and we don’t do that kind of stuff. I don’t own any pets and will never. It’s just not my thing. I know they are cool and nice to play with, but I try to keep my distance.”
Beggers In South Korea
“I was in Seoul, South Korea on a hiking trip back in 2013 and to get to my hiking destinations, I had to travel for about an hour on the subway. Korean subways only have seats along the side, so if you are a male like me, it’s very hard to get a seat, and even if you do you will always have to give it up for a Halmoni (Korean granny) because there are grannies everywhere.
Anyways one day, I decided that I would be polite, and instead of taking up a seat on the subway, I bought myself a small folding stool so I could sit down on the train without taking up a seat whenever the trains weren’t crowded. Makes sense doesn’t it?
So there I was, sitting in the middle of the train just minding my own business, and soon after that, I noticed something was wrong. Nobody said anything but I could feel that I had broken some kind of taboo. In South Korea, you can feel the social pressure even if nobody says anything to you. It’s a very strange feeling.
After a few minutes, a guy got on the train and started speaking to me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying because my Korean was not very good, he then offered me the groceries he was carrying. I politely refused, but he insisted that I take his groceries. I refused again and then the entire train carriage started clapping.
I thought this was the strangest thing I had ever seen but then it suddenly dawned on me. You see in Korean Culture, it is extremely impolite to ask people for money so the beggars don’t ask for donations. Instead what beggars do is sit down in front of people and look poor and ragged, hoping that the people will give them some money. Since I had been hiking all day, I looked dirty and worn out. And since I had sat down in the middle of the carriage, people thought I was drawing attention to myself and begging for donations.
When they saw the guy offering me his food, they thought he was being kind but also telling me off for begging on the train. It was certainly one of the most memorable culture shocks I have ever had and I will certainly never ever bring my stool onto the trains in South Korea again even if my legs are about to fall off from hiking for nine hours.”
A 12 Year Old’s Birthday Party In Brazil
“I’m American and lived in Rio de Janeiro for about four years. A month or so after moving, I met a guy who invited me as his date to his friend’s daughter’s birthday party. It was about 100 degrees that day, and humid.
The apartment was dark with some colored lights like you’d see in a club, with some chairs around the perimeter of the room with mostly older adults, family, and friends. The hosts were really excited to have a foreigner (me) there and kept bringing me things to try. One of the things I was served was a hot cup of split pea soup on a hot humid night. It was good and all, but I was definitely only eating it to be polite.
Then the Brazilian funk music started. The birthday girl was wearing a little tube top and short shorts, and she and her similarly-dressed friends were dancing in the middle of the room, these typical Brazilian funk dance moves which are like twerking but dirtier.
The mom stepped in and I thought, ‘Oh thank goodness! She’s stopping this.’
But instead, she hiked up her tight dress and joined in a ‘Let me show you how it’s done’ kind of way. I’m not a prude but it was really uncomfortable. Finally, they brought the cake out and it took about 45 minutes for everyone at the party to pose with the birthday girl and the cake and take pictures. I guess it’s customary because when it was our turn, they wouldn’t take no for an answer even though I was pretty sure I’d never see this girl again in my life.
We got up front to the cake and I saw the candles. The girl was turning 12. I had figured her for 16 or 17 based on how she was dressed and dancing. I later learned that not all Brazilian birthday parties are like that, in fact, most aren’t, but man, definite culture shock.”
A Mexican Family
“I come from a small white family, while my wife’s Mexican-American/Native American family is huge. At our wedding, I had 15 people attend, which was nearly my entire family, while she had 200 people attend, which is only a small fraction of her family.
When I first met her extended family I was overwhelmed, there were like 50-60 people at her grandma’s house on Christmas. Some of her uncles didn’t like how quiet I was being and started telling my wife (girlfriend at the time) how she needed to be careful of the quiet ones, and several of them took me aside to threaten me.
Then of course I made a major faux pas, I refused food from her grandma. I’ve since learned that it would have been better to just slap her in the face. It took me 10 years to undo that damage. I didn’t win over her last Uncle until I got absolutely tanked at his daughter’s wedding reception, at which point he decided I wasn’t just a stuffy white guy.
Once my wife coached me on her culture I was able to fit in better, asking for food, allowing the women to serve me and clean up after me, taking plates home when I leave, and being more outgoing. Now grandma calls me ‘Mijo’which means ‘my boy’ and introduces me to everyone as her grandson, which earns her a lot of confused looks.
Since her grandma has accepted me everyone else has too and according to my in-laws, I’m Mexican now. All in all would do it again, but it would have been nice to know that what’s rude on the white side of my family is endearing on my Mexican side and vice versa.”
Children In Nepal
“I’m an American who has been living in Nepal for some time now, working with a population of kids who work in the street, don’t go to school, live in a slum, and generally do not have the easiest lives. On my first trip to Nepal, I was walking in the street with a group of these kids. A boy about seven years old was carrying his two-year-old brother around on the streets, begging tourists for money.
While walking back to their house, the baby started fussing and the seven-year-old boy dropped him. At the same time, a motorbike was flying up the street and nearly ran him over when I scooped him up in my arms. What was completely shocking was the reaction from the crowd. People were absolutely stunned and almost fearful or offended, but not by the stupid driving, but by me picking a child like this up in my arms. This was the first time I really began to understand the class and caste disparity in Nepal.
Living in Nepal, I have to say Nepali people are good and loving in a way I have witnessed few other places in the world but encounters like this still shake my understanding of the way this country works.”