As I approached the plane after work, I was thinking to myself, “What am I doing?” I had no idea of how to respond or react with the Arab culture. I had no life experience interacting with a Middle-Eastern culture other than what I had learned in school or seen on television (not a good representation at all), or movies like Indiana Jones, Aladdin or Sinbad movies. Let’s just say, my knowledge pool was very slim.
Can you imagine what a Jordanian C-130 Hercules looks like? It is an American cargo plane. Well, the inside was decked out to the hilt and the greatest mental image for those who have not seen it is the Taj Mahal. Although the Taj Mahal is Indian, it will give you an excellent mental image of the inside of the plane. Nothing was spared in the tour of the C-130, experiential learning at its finest. Prince Hussein was sitting under the wing upon Persian Carpets; the surroundings were royally decorated with silk pillows, brass fixtures, crystal and other exceptional pieces. The military C-130 was a little home away from home. I approached the carpet, removed my shoes and greeted the Prince. After the greeting exchange, I was asked to sit, so I did. I sat as we were trained in Kindergarten with my legs crossed and soles facing up (criss-cross applesauce). Someone yell STRIKE-ONE! After a few minutes of idle chit-chat, I was offered some fruit dates. I politely refused the dates. In my mind, I was thinking about the Indiana Jones movie with the poison dates. I was too young to die. Did someone yell, STRIKE-TWO? Final pitch came in the form of hot tea, which I refused in a final swing: STRIKE-THREE! The Prince politely excused me. I walked slowly back to the bus thinking, thank God that is over, or was it? I would have been given a Strike-four for being anxious to leave. I was very impolite, out of ignorance and fear.
Here is an Instant Recap of my Cultural Faux Pas!
The sole of the foot is considered unclean because it touches the ground. It is considered impolite to point the sole of the foot at an Arab when sitting together. This does not mean that when sitting people cannot cross their legs, but the legs should be with soles facing the floor. American men sit with their legs crossed and the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other, this is perceived as being uncultured because of the sole issue. The custom is more applicable when sitting on cushions or mats at a traditional Arabic feast. Then, if seated with legs extended, the soles of the feet could point at another guest and cause insult. Generally, Arabs kneel or sit cross-legged at traditional dinners.
It is assumed that guests will accept at least a small quantity of drink offered as an expression of friendship. It is considered rude to decline the drink altogether.
Note: Never use your left hand! When you accept, only do so with the right hand. The left hand is unclean and inappropriate.
It is considered very rude to decline a host’s hospitality!
(To be continued in part 4)