All who experience cultural shock cannot fully escape the notion that life is truly of divine provenance, though is compiled from conventional people. However, this compilation is staggering.
I was not ready for this. The whole affair took me by surprise, and my first reaction was vexed irritation (now I clearly remember it!). My girlfriend/boyfriend received a message from her family that they would be ‘very glad to invite us that evening for a dinner,’ and as she/he was dropping the bombshell, I began to feel more and more confident that the visit would not be an easy one. Having spent most of her/his adult life in Western civilization, my girlfriend/boyfriend comes from Morocco. Her/his family moved from Rabat and only recently got our citizenship. I only knew that they were well educated and had four other children, among which my girlfriend/boyfriend was the oldest. Moreover, she was the only one who left the family nest to enter a foreign college.
A ride to their suburban house lasted for more than several-hours. Their house looked as plain as an ordinary suburban house. Nothing seemed to be “not-OK” on that stage of our journey, apart from my obvious anxiety, dismay, tiny trembling, and a bit of fright. OK. Maybe it was not “a bit”, but rather a big intimidating feeling I could not subside, and I was loathing myself for that feebleness. Things did not improve when I was introduced to the family in some sort of an unnatural demonstration (‘freak-show’ – thought that crossed my mind at that time), except I was the freak to be exhibited by the public. I was surrounded by a genuinely smiling small group of brightly dressed short people, and somehow felt that my own smile apparently looked tight and unnatural. Still, they greeted me warmly with their thick accents and unfeigned kindness, and then father invited me inside with a familiar gesture of a hand.
Samuel Huntington’s suggestion about “the clash of civilization” came to my mind as I crossed the threshold and stepped inside to face the unknown people (Huntington, 1993). The most common view of the corridor, followed by the most common parlor persuaded me that nothing was amiss. Although, why would it not be? It would be a complete absurd to expect a modern family to live in Moroccan tent of Bedouin marquee in…(Your State). However, for some incomprehensible reasons, I partially believed that they would. I was not certain whether ethnic housing of Sahara tribes would amaze me more at that moment than ordinary Georgian Colonial.
We had all settled on a long L-shaped sofa where the father introduced me to his children – two boys fifteen or sixteen years old, and two ten year old girls – whose names I still struggle to enunciate correctly. They all were encouraging me to feel at ease, but I kept insuring them that I was. Mother spoke more often, giving instructions in Arabic to her smaller children not to fidget (if I am not mistaken), and managed to get as much information about me as she could. Since her inquisitiveness was well-grounded and her tone quite dulcet, I, though reluctantly at first, found myself speaking about my biography without compulsion. Nothing what could be called as ‘cultural shock’ happened to us at that first innocent conversation.
From our private conversations with my girlfriend/boyfriend, I was already well acquainted with the cultural specialties and traits of his/her motherland. However, before that dinner I was not able to fathom them.
Firstly, since it was holy Ramadan, we were not able to drink or eat before the sunset. Well, technically I could, but that would be considered very rude, and since I had no intention to spoil that evening neither for my girlfriend/boyfriend, nor for myself), I was obliged to strictly follow Ramadan (except for that small sip from the tap in the bathroom).
At sunset, we sat for a dinner around a small circular table laid with white cloth, which was full of dishes. An abundance of food could only match its multitude of savor. I had never tasted such a peppery a rice cake with shrimps and such a sweat chicken pastille. I had, however, more entertaining matters at hand than food. It seemed that nobody was going to provide me with a fork or spoon, being too busy devouring their meals with bare hands. Situation was not ameliorating when one of the brothers, Tariq or Taamir, grabbed my glass (the only glass on the table) with fingers still full with sauce, and having it filled with milk and then successively drained, placed it back in front of me with a smile. Although, I did not show it, I felt disgust. At that moment I was squeamish and could not help but feel nauseous that came from the discomfort in my head rather than in stomach.
I could not help my girlfriend/boyfriend resolve brief crossfire in Arabic with his/her siblings. Being unable to understand the meaning, I suspected that it was nothing more than a squabble, a siblings’ bickering. Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortably disjointed from my girlfriend/boyfriend. At that time, I felt strongly irritated with him/her for abandoning me at the most inappropriate time.
Moreover, it was rather inconvenient for eight persons to sit around such a small table. However, no-one seemed to be troubled with this matter. On the contrary, it was cozy for them to live in such small space as mother would toss food to her children’s plates (even to my girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s and mine occasionally) and they would undoubtedly eat. I was perplexed and discouraged with such ‘manual handling’ of my food, though continued as nothing wrong had happened. I caught few surreptitious glances of the father at me, and recognized mockery in his eyes, though not spiteful and venomous, but rather risible. I felt relief when I finally comprehended that fact.
We spent the rest of the evening in pleasant conversation, and I never felt like a fish out of water any more. That was probably due to our mutual convergence as I kept noticing some distinctive cultural differences (for example, when father forbade his daughters to address me directly), but they did not make so much effect on me.
Despite the fact that, as a general rule, life of an average individual is not what you might call ‘enthralling’, however, in society, where cultural juxtapositions occur, there is a place for something that is astoundingly unusual, frightening or even exciting. Imperishable words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have not lost their relevance to nowadays definition of life, with all its “strange coincidences,” is still “infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent” (Doyle, 1891). Thus, complexity of our lives due to different cultures can create unthinkable patterns and schemes; eloquently saying “Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days, where destiny with men for pieces plays” (Poole et. al, 2011). It is a fairly complex chess game. Albeit, if one could change the rules, who knows where it could lead us?