Monthly Archives: May 2012

Do you know how to treat a Muslim to Pizza?

Last week, my new American adviser ordered Pizza for his students during our meeting with a new faculty candidate. He told me that he ordered vegetarian and turkey pizza in addition to the common pepperoni pizza that Americans love. Although he knows me for couple of months only and without asking me he figured out that I don’t eat pork.

On another occasion, while with some graduate students at a restaurant an Asian student who I have worked with for six years acted surprised that I don’t drink alcohol, mind you we have been out many times and we discussed this matter many, many times.

I don’t assume people to know that because I am a Muslim I don’t eat pork and don’t drink alcohol. I actually like it when people ask me about my religion or culture. It tells me that they want to know something about my culture, religion or my background. But I find it strange that some people don’t put effort to learn about other people’s common culture habits no matter how many times they were exposed to that particular culture.

Some people, especially those who have travelled a lot, have a high Cultural Intelligence. From the above two examples you can easily figure out who has a high cultural intelligence and who doesn’t. Cultural intelligence is a learning process and hence we are not assumed to have a high cultural intelligence. But ignoring to advance our cultural intelligence rate is called Cultural ignorance or Cultural Intolerance depending on the reason for not caring to learn about other cultures.

Cultural differences between different nationalities or races are so extreme it can range from minor unharmful custom like smiling to strangers as Americans do or heterosexual men walking hand in hand like Arabs do to braking the law or even putting oneself in danger like I did.

In my first year in the U.S., I once was shopping at Walmart (mega shopping center) very late at night when I noticed a group of teenagers, three boys and one girl, whispering and trying to approach me as if they want to talk to me. I stopped just to confirm my hunch. Three of them stepped away a little bit and one [brave] boy came closer to me with a $20 bill in his hand. He said “Sir, can you please buy us beer?” I of course replied “Sorry, I can’t.” I then heard the girl shouting at him “You can’t just ask a stranger.” Although, there is only one reason that made me say “no”, which is because it is against my religion to drink, buy or sell alcohol, I felt it is wrong because those kids were really young, not even 16 or 17. Also, thanks to my addiction to American sitcoms I know a lot about American culture even before I came to the U.S. I know that serving or buying alcohol to minors is illegal (21 is the legal drinking age in the U.S.).

Next, I am going to share a story that was the stupidest thing I have done because I acted out of kindness. My cultural intelligence at that time was definitely ZERO.

to be continued…

Fair and maybe lovely?

The latest news around here in the United States is about the woman who has been accused of taking her five-year-old daughter into a tanning booth, burning the girl’s skin. But soon enough the focus went from a story about child abuse to making fun of the deeply bronze-colored mother when people saw her picture (see below).

Obsession with skin tone among women is everywhere. Americans spend long hours tanning under the sun or pay weekly or monthly visits to tanning salons. Arab and Indian women use skin-lightening products like there is no tomorrow. Many Malaysian women wear long white gloves in the summer while driving or riding their motorbikes.

Americans look at bronze women as sex symbol while Arabs are fond of white women.  Alas, some women exaggerate when changing their skin tone. In the U.S., I saw orange color faces like a basketball. In Jordan and Malaysia, I saw brown and olive-skin women with faces as white as baby powder.

I am not sure if “Fair & Lovely” skin-lightening creme is still the number one product in Jordan but I remember it was very popular, ten years ago. Their ads where everywhere and all were about sad, ugly and dark-skinned woman before using “Fair&Lovely.” Here is one from India. You don’t need to understand the language but watch till the end and you will be shocked:

These ads were stupid and demeaning to women implying that only light skin women can have a successful life. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about the product:

Hindustan Unilever’s “Fair and Lovely” is the leading skin-lightening cream for women in India. The company was forced to withdraw television advertisements for the product in 2007. Advertisements depicted depressed, dark-complexioned women, who had been ignored by employers and men, suddenly finding new boyfriends and glamorous careers after the cream had lightened their skin. [source]

Women are very sensitive about their skin tone I no longer use it to describe someone because I learned my lesson the hard way. Here is why:

During my study in Malaysia, I rented a room from an Indian-Malaysian woman who lives with her mother in a big two story house. One day, I was alone in the house when a woman  came asking for the land-lady. I told her the land lady is not at home and she left. Later, when the land-lady came here is what happened:

Me: A woman came asking for you when you were out.
Land-lady: Oh…I think I know who she is. Did she tell you her name?
Me: No.
Land-lady: Does she have a fair skin? [she wanted to double check that she knows the woman]
Me: No!

Of course the embarrassing moment for me was when I found out that the land-lady’s friend is considered to have a fair skin compared to Malaysians and Indians. It was not a pleasant moment for.

Nothing wrong with women wanting to make themselves look prettier but the process should not be overwhelming. Satisfaction about ones self is the key.

A note about behavior and attitude

In U.S. each state has its laws. One reason is because not all Americans have the same attitude, behavior or belief. In her book “Ten Interesting Things About Human Behavior“, Suzanne L. Davis explains how you can change your attitude by changing your behavior:

Here is how it works. I used to live in Chicago, where it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon. Nobody I knew owned a gun, and most thought that guns equaled crime and the fewer guns in the streets, the better. When I moved to Houston, I learned that most Texans had very different feelings toward guns, associating them with personal safety, defense of the home, sport (e.g., target practice, hunting). The first time I visited my next-door neighbors, I was introduced to their gun collection, which was displayed in a quite impressive gun cabinet.

I was puzzled. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that my neighbors and many other good upstanding citizens owned and enjoyed guns. I was in conflict over what I came to Houston believing (guns equal crime) and how I was behaving (interacting with nice gun owners). Over time, I became more comfortable with the idea of citizens being able to carry guns. My attitude about guns changed to be consistent with my behavior.

This is a wonderful example about how we can change our attitude about something once we change our behavior. My attitude about Americans changed when I came to the U.S. and meet with many nice people. Some Americans I meet told me how their attitudes about Arabs changed when they visited the Arab world.

Isn’t hypocritical of us to feel normal to pick our nose but we feel disgusted when we see someone else do it. I know it is an ‘Ewww’ thing to write but don’t say you have never picked your nose.