The Arabic guide to living in the US: The 4th of July

One of the most prominent Arab poets, Al-Mutanabbi, said once “Man achieves not all he hopes for, Winds blow contrary to the will of ships.” It seems my Arabic guide series is going slowly. Sorry for those who were exited and encouraged me to write it. Summer session for me is no fun. I am teaching a course and working on my research. But I will try to write whenever I can.

I will skip my second part speaking about the law in the US and talk about what is going on here this weekend.

Next Monday, is a holiday to celebrate the independence day(A.K.A the 4th of July) which is the day USA declared its independence from the Great Britain. “Happy 4th” or “Happy 4th of July” are the common greetings among Americans at the beginning of July.

On the first week of July and on the 4th, two things Americans do that are very noticeable to any newcomer; BBQs during the day and fireworks at night. Almost every city, small or big, celebrates the event by fireworks display.

During my stay here, I noticed that Americans LOVE their country. They are proud of her and take pride in what she became. Therefore, they waste no time or effort in criticizing their country when they feel it is taking a path that is not of the citizens’ full interest. Individuals who criticize the government are considered heroes not people with “a foreign agenda” as they call them in the Middle East. Here, I have never heard the term “foreign agenda”. I even doubt if any Americans know what that means. Take Michael Moore and Glenn Beck for example they both criticize the other party to an extreme level. One called Bush a liar the other called Obama a racist. Yet, for many Americans they are both patriotic who criticize harshly for the sake of the country.

In the spirit of the 4th of July, it is worth mentioning America’s other face. That is, the American peoples not their government or its anarchic foreign policy. America like any other country in the world has its share of bad apples. Unfortunately, like in the Middle East the good at heart people remain nameless. Here are couple of stories that I experienced:

A simple gesture counts

Every mega store, like Wal-Mart for example, has a huge parking lot. At each lane, there is a small space allocated to returned shopping carts for the customer to use instead of going all the way back to the store to return his cart. One day, I was in a hurry, rushing to put the bags in my car. The woman parking besides my car maybe noticed I was in a hurry. When I was done with my cart she was done as well. So, she offered to take my cart along with hers to return both to the carts’ allocated space. And we were both parked a little bit far from that carts space. This small gesture made my day.


One day after many failed attempts to start my car which was parked in front of a coffee shop, a young lady who was enjoying her coffee with friends outside saw me and came to ask if I wanted a battery jump. My car’s problem wasn’t because of a dead battery so I thanked her and explained that the problem was mechanical. Of course, this small gesture might not worth mentioning since it is done all over the world. But for me it was huge because of its timing, it happened only 7 or 8 months after 9/11.  I experienced what foreign tourists talk about when they talk about the Arab hospitality. When a young American lady offers to help an Arab looking man only 8 months after the big mess I felt I am welcomed regardless of what happened.


Three years ago, I was this close from being forced to quit my PhD program. I had thousands of dollars of unpaid tuition fees. And because of this big debt, the cashier office put a financial hold on my account which meant I can’t register for classes unless I pay the debt. The big problem was foreigner students who don’t register for classes (12 hours minimum for undergrads and 9 hours for grads) are considered out of status. I was terrified because if it would happen that I am out of status, the FBI will come knocking on my door and deport me in the most humiliated way they could think of (It happened to someone I know, I will talk about it in a different post).

Anyway, when all communications with the cashier office employees failed I scheduled a meeting with the Cashier’s office director. I explained to him my financial situation and the consequences of not registering for the next semester. We had I think more than 30 minutes meeting. I told him I need to register and that I will try to come up with the money but I need time. Fortunately, he let me register. It was a big relief. Even with America’s many tough strict regulations and policies sometimes knowing how to ask is all what you need. I believe in Allah who in His outmost wisdom sent me a non-Muslim American to help me during that tough time.

These are just couple of nice gestures or favors among the tens of nice stories I encountered here. In America, one finds that neither the White House shameless and anarchic foreign policies nor Hollywood immorality and derogatoriness of other nations are the best when it comes to representing the average people. Those who welcome foreigners and share with them their wealth. Those who consider the citizen and the immigrant are equal in front of the law.


12 thoughts on “The Arabic guide to living in the US: The 4th of July

  1. very nice post, I really enjoyed reading it a lot, thanks for sharing both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

  2. This is a timely post, and a good topic for your series.

    Regarding the discussion with the director of the cashier office, you were wise. It is better to address these financial issues, show commitment to pay, explain circumstances, and do it with the person who has the authority to make an exception. Often the underlings want to be helpful but don’t have the authority to do so. They tend to be reluctant just to say, I can’t make an exception but maybe you could speak to the director.

    Barry Levinson’s autobiographical film Avalon (1990) is a good one in terms of the general immigrant experience (as well as the specific ones), and following the US holidays. It begins and ends with the 4th of July celebration. In between, the series of Thanksgiving dinners over the years are hilarious, and yet a metaphor for assimilation.

    The film Steel Magnolias (1989) is chronologically ordered around American holidays and so gives an idea of their importance and usual activities. The 4th of July is one. Easter stands out as particularly funny and poignant, while showing the typical American egg roll.

    Very good and poignant post! Separating Americans from their government and their media is a key. Also they criticize their own, but don’t necessarily like others doing it–as is true for most peoples.

    1. Thanks for the movies recommendation. I hope they are on Netflix. Both sound interesting.

      I agree with you that one can criticize his own government but may find it hard to accept it from others. As a foreigner it is not my business to criticize the American government regarding issues related to local issues, like education or health care. My criticism was restricted to its foreign policy which affects me personally since I am from the Middle East and my country has borders with Iraq and Israel. Both have huge American impact.

      To my amazement, David Letterman and Jay Leno quite often repeat the phrase “If you think the world hates us wait till you hear this…” or something of that sort when they prepare a set up for a joke. You don’t hear this anywhere else. To the Americans bad luck they are judged, sometimes, badly because of their government’s policy overseas.
      Thank you for the nice words 🙂

  3. Nice post…there are good apples everywhere. And when it comes down to it, we are all the same. Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.

    Have you gone to a baseball game yet?

    1. Treat others like you would like to be treated is my motto. If we all did that I don’t think there would be that much misunderstanding in the world.
      Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the post.
      Never been to a baseball game, yet. I know many Americans think soccer is a boring game but I have the same feeling toward baseball 🙂 I would rather watch an American football than a baseball game.

  4. Worth waiting for!!! Very very sweet, thanks for seeing the best in my homeland.

    Sub7an Allah on the financial issues!!!! To think you came that close to losing it all is a little scary.

    (I keep meaning to mention that the Jordanian IIT student was named Amjad, his wife’s name was Suha. Did you know them? WOW, what a small world!)

    1. Thank you, Kinzi!
      My goal is to convey to Arabs what I see and experience here during a normal day. Especially, the majority of the people I converse with who are nothing like the ones in the reality shows. I hear in the Middle East we imitate such shows as well. I am not sure what people finds in such brainless shows.

      In the early 90s I knew at least 8 Jordanians at the IIT. But I am not sure if I know Amjad or not. I may though but I can’t seems to remember him at the moment 🙂

  5. Thank you Jaraad for such a beautiful post. Being so far from home on the 4th of July makes me terribly homesick, but this truly warmed my heart. Americans are some of the nicest people in the world – most of the rest of the world don’t realize that through the news, propaganda and the belief that Americans are well represented in Hollywood movies. You did the American people justice here. 🙂

    1. I can imagine how you feel being away from home on the 4th of July it is really a fun day especially for children. But even for adults I don’t think any one get bored watching the fireworks display 🙂
      I am very glad you found this post making some justice to the American image. Thanks for your comment.

  6. I saw this post linked on Chiara’s and had to check it out. I enjoy reading your thoughts on Americans and our love for The Fourth! 🙂

    Thank you for taking time to share your experiences. I am planning to read more of your posts because I find it interesting to see what others notice about the US and hearing their perspectives on things.

    1. Isn’t Chiara sweet? Her blog is a must read for everyone who wants to learn about MENA countries and North America.
      I am happy you got to read what one Arab has to say about living in America. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

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