Thursday, April 19, 2012

5 Things I Just Cannot Get Used To No Matter How Hard I Try

1. Greeting everyone individually when I walk in a room.
Here, whenever someone enters a room, they are expected to say hello to everyone who is there, individually. This is often done by greeting everyone by name ("Sabah al kheir [good morning] Anita, sabah al kheir Meredith, sabah al kheir Ghadeer"). Other times, it's just done by making eye contact with a different person and repeating the same greeting over and over. Sometimes, it's done by kissing on the cheeks, although often that is only gender specific (so men will kiss men and women will kiss women).

2. Bargaining for every good or service.
"Oh, you want to charge me 15 shekels for a cab ride home? Well, I think your time is only worth 10." "You want me to pay 100 shekels for that handmade scarf? Well, it's not that great. I'll give you 50." That is basically what I feel like I'm saying every time I try to haggle with people. I feel so rude. SO RUDE! Of course here, it's not rude. It's how things are done, and if you don't haggle then you are hugely taken advantage of. The general rule for market items here is that you are supposed to end up paying about 30% of the sticker price (or of the first number that the seller offers you), but you have to bargain your way down to that number. Cognitively, I know this, but it doesn't make it any easier for me when I'm trying to haggle my way down.

3. A phrase for every occasion!
In the West, we basically say "thank you" whenever someone does anything remotely polite for us. Give me a ride in your taxi? Thank you! Wish me a happy birthday? Thank you! Refill my water glass? Thank you! Hope that I get well soon? Thank you! Say you like my new haircut? Thank you! Tell me to enjoy my meal? Thank you! Here, there is a unique response to each different phrase. There are a hundred of these phrases that I can never keep straight, and they each mean something that, in my brain, doesn't at all correlate with what is being said. For example, when someone says "sahhtain," which roughly translates to "enjoy your meal" the correct response is "ana qalbek," or "on your heart." Huh? I usually just end up saying "shukran" (thank you) at the same times as I would in the US. People look at me a little funny, but at least I don't feel rude when I can't remember the correct response.

4. Shame Culture v. Guilt Culture
I was raised in a guilt culture, which means that if I do something wrong, even if no one else knows, I generally feel guilty about that and it eats at me until I do something to atone for my wrongdoing. In the same way, if people think I have done something wrong but I have not, then I defend myself, fight against these false accusations, and I do not feel guilt. In the shame culture in which I now live, what I have done does not matter, what matters is what others perceive that I have done. If I do something wrong, then I shame my family (or tribe) and it is a public thing, not a private thing like guilt. This might explain it a little better:
Basically, shame is a holistic feeling: I am bad. Guilt is much more specific: I have done something bad. Therefore, guilt does not generally overshadow your life the way that shame does. All that to say, that I am not used to living in a shame culture. Having to worry about things as mundane as making sure not to come home after dark (because my neighbors will see, assume I've been doing something inappropriate, and it will bring shame on my host family) is something that has been a challenge. Having to think about the way that my actions will be perceived by outside observers, not just whether they are right or wrong, is something that I have never encountered before. Growing up, I was always told that "as long as you know that what you're doing is right, then it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks," but here, it is essentially the opposite: "it doesn't matter what you're doing, if people think that you are doing something shameful, then that is what is important."

5. The constant presence of soldiers.
That's pretty self-explanatory. It doesn't matter how often I see them... every time I turn the corner and run into a pair of teenagers with AK-47s slung over their shoulders, my heart starts racing.

For the most part, I've adjusted fairly well to living in Bethlehem. I've gotten into the rhythm of life here, and I very much enjoy it. As I begin to wind down my time here (I only have three more months!) it really hits me how much this place has become my home, and how most things that seemed to strange to me when I first arrived have become totally normal. I can only imagine that when I return to the US, everything is going to seem incredibly bizarre for the first few months!

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