Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Cultures Collide

Maybe “culture clash” is too strong, maybe it’s more like huge continents that kind of bump into each other and send a reverberation through both continents, more a slow grinding than a crash? And maybe, like rough stones tumbling in a barrel, as we rub our rough edges against one another over time, maybe we become smooth, polished gems?

I have a dear friend, one of those friends that when you can grab some time together you never run out of topics, and when they leave, you remember “Oh! I forgot the point of that story was . . . and I never got to it!” or “Oh! she was starting to tell me about the . . .. and then we segued off into something else!” This friend delights my heart; when you see her face, you can see her lively soul in her sparkling eyes.

Those eyes were looking at me in utter puzzlement.

“What do you mean you couldn’t find any celery?” she asked. “Didn’t you go to the grocery store?”

“Yes! I spent hours there! Big mistake, shopping just before Ramadan, me and everyone else in the village.”

“So why didn’t you just buy some celery?” she persisted.

“There wasn’t any celery! It was all gone!” i responded.

“How could it be gone?” she asked, incredulity in her voice, “Don’t they always have celery?”

Something is wrong with this conversation. We look at each other.

“Have you ever been grocery shopping just before Ramadan?” I asked her.

“I never go grocery shopping!” she replied.

(Can you hear those continents grinding?)

I sat down. I looked at her. I believed her; I don’t think this woman is capable of lying, she is innocent and straight-forward.

“You’ve never been grocery shopping?” I asked her, knowing that if she said it, it is true, but trying to figure out how this could even be possible.

“Well, a couple times, like when I was making that pie, but only for a few little things, not like food to feed the family.”

She has staff. They’ve always had staff.

So I explained to her that just before Ramadan, like in western countries just before Christmas, some items just disappear.

“One time, in Tunisia, olive oil disappeared! And eggs! And even tomato sauce, and these are all products made in Tunisia!” I explained. “Here,” I went on, “you know how it is, sometimes even when it is not Ramadan, things will disappear, but when Ramadan is coming, if you know you might need something, you have to plan way in advance. Your Mom probably has taken care of all that. ”

“I don’t think so,” she said, two little tiny worry lines creasing her brow.

“Your Mom doesn’t shop, either?” I asked.

“Not for groceries.” And she’s looking at me like I am from another world.

And I am. This friend is so patient with me, with my little ignorances. When you are a stranger in a strange land, you expect some of the big differences. Like Ramadan, that is a big difference, when the whole country becomes more religious and for a whole month the focus is on God, on fasting during daylight and gathering with family and friends and feasting at night, reading the Qur’an, submitting your sins and begging forgiveness. . .

It’s the little things that catch you up. You kind of assume that everyone lives life a lot like you do, and it can be a real shock to discover that in small, everyday things you take for granted, you do things very differently.

Some of my earliest memories are in the kitchen, cutting dates and prunes to help my Mom make fruit cake. I can remember stirring chocolate pudding as it cooked on the stove, making jello, simple things before I graduated to chopping nuts and onions, etc. And I wrongly assumed this is everyone’s experience.

I know I have shocked my friend, too, sometimes. I asked what I thought was a very simple question once, and watched her face become a mask of horror at the very thought. God bless her for her patience with me!

I bless all my friends today, my Tunisian friends, my Kuwaiti friends, my Saudi friends, my German friends, my French friends, my Qatteri friends – all the friends who have endured my chauvinistic mistakes, assuming all the world thinks as I do. I bless my American friends, because even though we are from the same nation, we, too, are from different areas and different family cultures (tribes!) and we don’t see through the same eyes, our views are colored by the culture through which we observe the world. Today I am thankfully amazed that we manage to get along as well as we do!

September 12, 2007 - Posted by | Communication, Community, Cooking, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Ramadan, Relationships, Shopping, Spiritual


  1. Yes THANK YOU! We connect on vertain basis bas some people JUST CANT LET IT GO! Tell your friend tough luck! They should’ve done that earlier – bas after a coupla days it would be ok though….

    Ramadan is beautiful… Happy Ramadan dear 🙂

    Comment by chikapappi | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  2. LOOL 😀

    Hun you are being a little too culturally tolerant in this case. Your friend being a little spoiled is one of our negative attributes and not our good ones. I was embarrassed when I lived in the dorm in the US and didn’t know how to use the laundry machine at first. I wish I did know how to cook better and I wish I had the patience for it. But the celery thing is just weird. I mean of all the things that could run out! Celery? Who eats that much celery anyway? I think of it as something you usually eat with some dip when you’re dieting!

    Aside from that I notice that you’re always very concerned about offending someone here and you really appreciate people’s patience with you and what have you. I have to tell you something, you really really really don’t require anyone to be patient with you. Your blog shows an incredible level of acceptance and a genuine yearning to understand people. Why would anyone need to be patient with you, you don’t have the slightest shred of arrogance mashalla 😀

    Comment by 1001 Kuwaiti Nights | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. btw .. dying to know what the question that horrified her was 😀

    Comment by 1001 Kuwaiti Nights | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. Chikapappi – Thank you, and come on by anytime with your observations! And thank you for your sweet heart, and your Ramadan wishes – I wish you the same, a holy and spiritually satisfying Ramadan.

    1001 – We were talking about teenagers roaming the Marina Mall, and how they looked, and how sexually enticing they appeared. I asked her if they just looked slutty or were they really putting out? My friend was so shocked, she couldn’t even respond for about 30 seconds (not like her at all!) and I felt like I had crossed a line I didn’t even know was there. I was horrified at myself!

    I could see that the idea of being sexually active before marriage was so far from possible in her world as to be literally, UNTHINKABLE. And I had crossed that line.

    Lucky for me, she is so sweet and loving and didn’t just kick me out of her life for being so crass and insensitive. 🙂

    Comment by Intlxpatr | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  5. Wow..I never met a person who’s never been inside a grocery store before.

    Comment by Я | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  6. LOL Yeah ok now I understand why she was horrified. HAHAHA

    Comment by 1001 Kuwaiti Nights | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  7. R – I know she has been, but only like in and out, not like you and me and people who shop regurlarly and who know where things are in every store!

    1001 – Thank God she is a patient soul.

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  8. You forgot to mention the most patient friend of all: Qatteri Cat! 😉

    Comment by 3baid | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  9. Oh no no no, 3baid! If I let his food dish get empty, he will bite at my little toesies. He is all MALE. He wants it and he wants it NOW!

    Comment by intlxpatr | September 12, 2007 | Reply

  10. Hahaha, can’t blame a cat! XD

    Comment by 3baid | September 14, 2007 | Reply

  11. […] Here is one of my favorite stories about what my friend Donald Rumsfeld calls those “unknown u… It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that gets you into trouble. […]

    Pingback by “You Go Into Southern Belle Mode” « Here There and Everywhere | June 6, 2016 | Reply

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