Friday, November 18, 2005

The Script

I’ve found that most of my daily interactions with Syrians that I don’t know – ranging from barber shops, restaurants, taxis, shops, etc – tend to follow a specific protocol, a very loose but predictable script. The following is my attempt to summarize all these interactions into one basic ‘script’ . . . obviously, every conversation is different, often times depending upon the person’s stats: religion, class, gender, etc . . . . as well as the 'location' of the conversation. This does not include Syrian folks that I’ve befriended or know fairly well. So, dear reader, I offer you a translated (from my broken Arabic) approximation of my daily conversations:

Syrian: Hello* (this includes a litany of longer greetings that seem to never end)

Me: Hello* (this also includes a long series of replies and counter-greetings)

Syrian: Are you from Germany? (Or, where are you from?)

Me: No, I’m from America – from Seattle. I’m a studying Arabic here . . .

Syrian: OOH. American. Welcome to Syria.

***I’m very straightforward about my nationality in Syria. I’ve never had anyone attack me personally for being an American. In my experience, Syrians appear to make the distinction between the actions of a government and her people. Actually, I haven’t felt restricted by my American status, but rather I’ve found that after telling them where I’m from, they grow noticeably more interested in talking to me***

Also . . .

*** At this point, the conversation can take several different paths – depending upon various factors. But since this is creative non-fiction, let’s pretend that these conversations all move in the same chronological order****

Syrian: How long will you be in Syria and do you like it?

Me: I’ll be here for the year. And I love Syria. The people are very nice, the food is excellent, and I love the culture. I eat all the time and I will be very fat but very happy when I return to America (This and other ‘stock-jokes’ almost always provoke laughter from the Syrians – they are very serious about the food here and it is amazing)

Syrian: Are you Muslim? (or) Are you Christian?
(Sorry folks - only two choices for this one)

Me: I’m Christian – Latin/Roman Catholic.

Syrian: Are you married? (This question comes up every-once-and-awhile and tends to be asked by older folks more than younger people – also, foreign female students often get asked more often)

Me: No, I’m not married. (I don’t really like marriage talk, so I often deflect this question by asking a question I already know the answer to . . . namely, ARE Syrians getting married much later than their parent’s generation, as is the case in the States? (and the answer is yes) Other times, if a younger guy asks me this question, we tend to congratulate each other for not being married.)

At this point, with basic introductions out the way, my conversations tend to move toward one of two topics.

1. Movies and Music. These discussions tend to be the best in terms of not being ‘touchy’ . .. thus not requiring me to carefully navigate language, culture, politics, religion, and the government. The Syrians I’ve met have often consumed more American films than most folks in the States, learning bits of English from them. Actually, I’ll do a separate post on the ‘pirated’ DVD/VCD industry in Syria – pictures and examples included – sometime in the future. Assuming, of course, that the store clerks will let me photograph their massive load of copyright infringement. Anyway, music is also a good subject – however, this also deserves it’s own post.

2. The Political Discussion: occasionally I discuss politics with people, but very carefully. For politics to enter the discussion, one of four things must occur:

a. They bring up Bush or politics.

b. They specifically ask me why I study Arabic and/or what I want to do for a living. This prompts me to tell them that I want to be a professor who studies the history/politics/culture of the Middle East – of course I’m most interested in politics, but adding these things tends pad my interests a bit. Anyway, this often prompts a political discussion.

c. I can tell from the look on their face, after I say I’m from the States, that some reassurance that I’m anti-Bush might be helpful. So I attack Bush – not that difficult here. I have many stock-jokes and statements that go over very well here. I also find it helpful that I believe in what I saying as well.

d. Finally, if a television is present and the news is on and covering war in Iraq, or replaying Bush saying something totally inappropriate and or threatening, etc. . . . then I tend to call the war a shame and a huge problem.

I don’t, however, introduce the political when the news features UN reports or assassinations of, say, major political leaders of neighboring nations; nor do I discuss the political when the President of Syria (hence forth known as the Lion II) is speaking or being spoken about on the TV. Finally, it should go without saying, also, that as a rule I don’t discuss the pieces of land lost in 1967 nor the broader conflict with the New Kids on the Middle East Nationalist Block (1948) . . . (cough)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I LOVE reading these posts. hope you're having a FUN and interesting time. jen

4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"New Kids on the Middle East Nationalist Block"? I like it! I'll have to remember that...
Sounds like you're having a wonderful experience out there, man.

the military brat from LaCrosse

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a voice from your past calling to you. Here is the hint: Look at the poster on the English classroom wall.....add a statement to complete its true intent. I found out about your BLOG from NC, who recently stopped by my house for a visit. I have really been enjoying your commentary from Syria...especially the typical conversational topics one.

12:11 AM  

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