Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cultural personalities

I saw today that I'm two people: the Arab me and the non-Arab (American? British? not sure what culture to define here) me are almost entirely two different people. I'm probably more than two people, but today I witnessed two versions of myself.

Background: Here in the capital city, we have what is called a "duty driver" who is on-call from the end of one workday until the start of the next. He's at our beck and call. Some days, he's harried and crazy-busy with airport runs, the boss's kids, and keeping up with out-of-town visitors. Other days - and today is one of them - he sits in the office and does nothing for the bulk of 16 hours. So I asked him to take me to the gym - a 5 minute drive, but not an appropriate walk for a respectable girl. He dropped me off and I asked him to pick me up at 8:00. I gymmed until 8:00. Then I went out to meet him and he wasn't there. So I called and he said he was delayed by a colleague's request. The street of the gym is a very, very dark and isolated dirt road. Since I am trying my hardest to be a respectable girl who doesn't stand alone in dark streets, I walked up to the main street and entered a supermarket. Long story short, the driver was urged by the colleague to come pick me up faster than he'd intended (he would have dropped her off and driven around a bit, leaving me waiting a good 1/2 hour), but it took a few phone calls to convince him I'd walked up the street - he waited outside the gym for me for several minutes even though I called to say I left! Finally, driver and colleague drove down to the brightly-lit supermarket and I got in the car.

It was at this point that my two personalities emerged:

1. In Arabic, to the driver, I started babbling and practically yelling, saying: "Of course I was going to walk somewhere else! PLEASE, if you're going to be late, I need to make an alternate plan: I can't wait alone on a deserted dark street! I'm a respectable girl! If I were your SISTER, would you leave me there waiting on the dark street? So I had to think of somewhere to go, and you have to understand that if you need to be late, I'm scared because I think like a girl from here, not like a foreign girl. So you have to inform me and we make another plan!" He replied and we went back-and-forth a bit, and it ended in laughter, and we are probably better friends because of it. But I did shout.

2. In English, to my co-worker, once I was done having it out with the driver, I said in a much quieter voice that I was sorry for the confusion, it's just that we had agreed that he'd pick me up at 8:00. She said she usually calls him and waits inside for him, and I explained that I felt uncomfortable doing that because the gym was already closed. We had a quiet little conversation. She subtly told me out me for shouting, and I subtly told her out for delaying the car in the first place. But very subtly, both of us, and we're still friends, maybe even better friends because of it.

On one hand, I'm proud of this little reminder of how Arab I've learned to be, demonstrating passion over subtlety, stating opinions rather than hinting at them. On the other, I'm frightened by how naturally I take on an identity with little intention or control.

Dear Fellow Imperfect Ones, Thank you so much for your lovely words last week. Your advice as all so uplifting, encouraging, and thought-provoking. This week, I have another existential question:
What do you do when the decision that seems "right" also seems "stupid"?


10 comments:

Brian Miller said...

interesting the split between teh two...any thoughts on why you raised your voice to the driver but not the friend?

decisions...i try to lean on my past experience, my present circumstances and my future hopes to guide me....for it to seem stupid it must be pinging one of those...

Leslie said...

I wasn't there, but it sounds like you ended both conversations in friendship and better understanding. I'm not sure that's a bad thing...

Sarah said...

I love this portrait of your personality - both parts. What a fine line, between changing yourself to work in the culture and changing more than you're comfortable with.

As to your question . . . maybe you risk looking stupid. I mean, if you're discerning that the decision is truly right, then I think that's where you go. And maybe spend some time exploring why it also feels stupid to you, and see what God brings up in that space.

Carrie Burtt said...

I love the thoughts and honesty you have here Kati....truly lovely....and in answer to your question...if i am unsure about a decision....i take more time to think about it until i feel it is the right thing no matter what. Hope all goes well for you. :-)

LauraX said...

You ask the voice inside that is telling you your decision is stupid to give you reasons why...make a list and then ask the voice that is telling you your decision is right to share the reasons and you make another list....compare the lists. Crumple them up. Burn them. Close your eyes. Sit in silence. Ask the Divine voice within: "now what?" Listen with your whole body, your whole soul, mind, heart...an answer will arise...you will know. Trust the answer that arises. And go with it.

Thank you for sharing your personal cultural diversity story. I think it is true that we all carry many different stories and characters within...and each one is an aspect of our truth.

It always comes down to discernment in the moment. Again, deep, sacred listening.

gentle steps sweet soul

David N. said...

I don't think doing the "right" thing would have been to be quiet and polite. You needed to express that to them, for safety and because friendship demands honesty.

deb said...

I admire that you are able to adapt and be discerning. It shows an intuitive side that is a good thing I think.
You respect everyone by doing this. I seem to have different voices with different people, my children, by inlaws ( who aren't completely fluent in english), my good friends, etc. There is also the voice I use on the computer, which changes even, from the casual email to my running partner, to the quiet reverent comment to a sacred blog love like Ann V.

emily wierenga said...

i love how you realized this, and how, in both situations, even though handled completely differently, the relationships emerged better because of it. which shows you did what was right. it reminds me of paul, who became all things to all people...

alittlebitograce said...

i find the cultural complexity fascinating. it's interesting how we can adapt to relate better within the cultural paradigms.

why do you think the decision is right? is it where you are being led? is it right in the eyes of others or God? why is the decision stupid? is it stupid by cultural standards or by scriptural standards? i am praying for wisdom and peace.

Kati patrianoceu said...

Dear alittlebitograce, Thank you for your insightful questions. They really do hit the nail on the proverbial head. Right because it fits my values and understanding of what I believe God's will is. But stupid because it seems to contradict other heavenly values like trusting in God. It's been so uplifting to receive counsel from others... I've pretty much settled on not taking any action for now (not doing what might be "right") and instead beg God to really do something clear. And of course keep praying so I know if and when it's time to change my mind. Anyway, thanks for helping me think it out :)

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