Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cultural Diversity

It's been a bit of a strange week. Culturally speaking.

My husband had cause to travel to Saudi Arabia this week, which just happens to coincide with half the rest of the world who travel there to attend the Hajj (no he hasn't converted to Islam - not yet anyway). So, I try to check him in for his emirates flight and it is 'temporarily suspended'. Hmm. So I call Emirates who tell me that everyone just needs to check in at the airport. At the airport it is discovered that the A380 has a headache and can't fly today and is being replaced by its older brother the 777 which means that 150 passengers won't be travelling to SA today. Hmm. The ensuing crush around the Emirates check in desk says a lot about Middle Eastern and Far Eastern culture. In the Uk you get signs in such places which ask you to queue this way or that. Here, you imagine that if there were a sign, it would simply say 'queuing strictly prohibited'.

My husband apologises to his 'not-experienced-in -the-middle-east' travelling companion for the rudeness he will now embark upon in order to ensure they get a seat on the plane. By the time they get on the plane, the travelling companion is well versed, and indeed able to engage in, the kind of rudeness expected on such occasions.

So, the plane now consists of a handful of business travellers and 298 hajj attendees. This becomes evident as soon as the plane takes off and five Imams walk up and down the aisle chanting from the Quran. It is reminiscent of that song we used to sing as children, 'you can't get to heaven in a biscuit tin', as all of the passengers repeat the chant after the Imam. All we need now is a guitar and a quick round of Kum-By-Ah and the nightmare will be complete. The cabin crew adopt the necessary glazed expression, as almost every passenger presses the call button repeatedly to ask for food or a drink, or an extra pillow, or...

You see in my culture we queue, we form orderly lines, we communicate in hushed tones using terms of endearment and polite words. We have manners. Out here, these things just don't exist. And what's horrifying is how quickly the manners you are accustomed to dissipate like smoke in the wind. Before you know it you are as rude as everyone else. But isn't this part of the integration into another culture? The ability to blend in - a bit like switching from speaking one language to another. The dialogue of cultural expression in our body language and mannerisms becomes attuned to those around us.

Cultural diversity makes for an interesting life (and interesting blog entries) and these things are chalked up to experience, good or bad. Living out here enriches those experiences, and I'm grateful that I have been given this opportunity. Let's hope that the journey continues for sometime to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment