Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Someday your Prince really will come: You Stupid American (Final Part 4)

The next day, it was business as usual, until I came across one of the Jordanian air force crew. This Jordanian guy actually came up to me and says, “You are a very stupid American.” My first instinct is to roll-up my sleeves and come to blows with this Arab guy. In my culture, an individual using strong negative words is looking for a fight. Although livid about the “stupid American,” comment, I held my outburst. How dare he insult me with words, he doesn’t even know me.

I calmed down pretty quick and began to question in my mind why this guy said what he had. The best way to find out is to ask the source, so I did. I asked what the individual meant by his comment. I was informed that I had saved the crew from the embarrassment of social stripping (removal of status) and possibly even death.

Believe it or not, the crew was somehow indebted to me for helping them and had gifts prepared to bestow upon me. The member of the air crew mentioned gold. He also mentioned royal palace visits to Jordan. I was to receive a hero’s welcome for telling the truth and having the crew let off the hook. The Jordanian then went on to explain my three major faux pas (3 Strikes). The insults were enough to make the good null and void. In his words, “I get nothing.”

Correction! I hit a home run. I received one of the best life lessons ever. I received a lesson worth far more than silver or gold. I received a life changing event that led me into intercultural communication and the study of people.

Three cultural strikes and I was “Out-of-there…”

We can’t play the game unless we know the rules. My recommendation to all, is to do your homework, research, and explore other cultures before you interact, unless you like to strike-out. Find out what is expected before you have an intercultural faux pas like mine.

We interpret the world through our personal experiences – beware of U.S. centric view points. Be open to new experiences. If I had not asked the hard question I would be none the wiser.

In conclusion, the Arab people are very hospitable and courteous. Although some of the Arab social conventions are rather elaborate, they will generally “not” be offended by social mistakes stemming from ignorance. However, saying this, my Jordanian Prince experience caused me to self-reflect, seek out knowledge and study other cultures with a passion.

Ignorance is not bliss!

1 comment:

Daniel F said...

I just read the 4 part story about you meeting Prince Hussein. Cool, man. Not many people can say they've had an experience like that.

Having experienced certain cultural faux paus myself (though not at all like the level you are describing), what I find really interesting now is how there are still core aspects involved in any cross-cultural interaction: respect, politeness (various levels and can be shown very differently) etc. etc..

The trick is being aware enough to pick up on different components of how these core human aspects are displayed or demonstrated. That can be tough, though. Even if you do all the studying in the world, one can miss certain aspects of what's considering a faux paus.

I'd be interested to see you write about that subject, about the various components of cross cultural human interaction that you've seen in common throughout your travels. For example, all cultures serve food to their guests, correct?