Beginners Guide: Unexplained Palestinian Cultural Norms

Beginners Guide: Unexplained Palestinian Cultural Norms

 Do you ever wonder why Palestinians have certain cultural traditions that just don't make sense to you? Well,  the same can be said about other cultures too but it doesn't stop us from wondering. Maybe we are asking the wrong question and instead of asking why we should ask what to do. Here is a list of unexplained Palestinian cultural norms to enrich your cultural knowledge, and perhaps bring back some memories from your time spent with us. And if you do have an explanation to some of them, feel free to share with us.  

1. Re-using glass bottles to drink cold water from

I cannot tell you how many times my aunt ended up drinking pure Arak instead of water from the fridge!

2. Adoration and admiration of Michael Jackson

I will just say that my cousin mourned his death and didn’t go to work for a few days.

3. Our infatuation with fire

Fireworks, bonfire, matches, BBQ, etc. You hear fireworks all year-round. We eat BBQ every chance we get.

4. Food in general

When we, more accurately our mothers, ask if you want food, they are not asking you if you are hungry. Just consider it a heads up to make room for food because our mothers do not take no for an answer. When we go on an outing (let’s say to the beach or a resort), we tend to take enough food to feed a whole village.

5. Holy Saloon


In each house you go to, you find two salons (living rooms): one for the family use and the other, usually bigger in space and fancier in furniture, is for the guests - which I call holy salon. As a member of the family, you are not allowed to sit there, play there or breathe there! It is designated for guests and guests only

6. Palestinian Arabic accents and language use 

We may not be geographically large, but we do have a variety of accents and many varieties of word uses. For example, there are several words for a mushroom. If you are from Nazareth you say fo2o3 as opposed to someone from Arra who would say fatareesh or someone from Bethlehem who would say foke3, or someone from Jerusalem who would say mushroom (in an Arabic accent) or someone from Yafa who would say petriot (in Hebrew).

7. Obsession with Brazil.

Every time the World Cup comes around and you ask, “Who do you want to win?,” you can most likely assume we will answer “Yalla Barazil!!”

8. Public display of affection.

You won’t see us kissing in the street or holding hands (maybe newlyweds will do that), but you will see men recite a song full of emotions and yearning, or a man crying out of passion, or men dressed in pink. If you want to see public displays of affection, I recommend that you walk the streets of any Palestinian city on Valentine’s Day. Huge stuffed bears in pink and red with an I LOVE YOU on them being sold left and right, or men giving women a red rose at junctions.

9. Arabic Music

Mainstream Arabic music consists of two types of songs:

1. One type expressing how much a man/women is in love  

2. Another type describing how much pain one is experiencing as a result of being heartbroken


There is also the underground Arabic music, but that is not very mainstream. I have compiled a playlist of only a few for you to explore (it is not inclusive by all means)

10. Greeting/kissing culture.

Though we certainly do stare at kissing couples when in a foreign country, we are still conservative and, as mentioned earlier, do not endorse public displays of affection. We keep a distance. We are a shame oriented culture. BUT when we greet each other, we give one/two/three (it is hard to tell) kisses on the cheek. The repetition signifies the closeness of the relationship.  

11. Fashion choices

I will keep this short because fashion does change. Thank God mullets are out (mostly). However, I can’t say the same for hair gel. Also, some Palestinian men like to wear tight pants. And both men and women love to wear gold, like thick, gold, shiny necklaces.  Women too love to wear tight clothes... like really, really tight! And use lighter shades of makeup foundation than their skin color.

12. Mercedes, BMW or just CARS

Have you ever taken a picture next to a car that is not yours? Well, we have. Almost everyone of us. I can’t explain this phenomena but it is definately cultural. If people stand next to your car and take pictures, take it as a compliment!

13. Inshallah

Literally, it means “If God wills.” It has many meanings though and we use it so much. For example, if you invite someone over they would say Inshallah. He could mean ‘yes, that would be nice’ or ‘not a chance.’ It is the common answer to any question you don’t really want to give a final answer to.  

14. Penguin Dance

Imagine you are at a wedding, and everyone is dressed in fancy and shiny clothes. All of a sudden, to the sounds of the Penguin song, the bride, the groom, the family and guests make a snake row and start dancing - or walking - like a penguin. Where did this tradition come from? How did it evolve? And why? What do Palestinians have to do with penguins? Most of us haven’t even seen one in real life…

If this doesn’t validate us as a nation, I don’t know what does.

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