Working in Jerusalem, in a multicultural office, I have the opportunity to learn a lot about families who have different traditions than I do - people who eat different foods, sing different songs and travel to different places. One woman in my office has been to Turkey several times, a place I’ve yet to feel comfortable to visit for a vacation. Another person in my office has family lunches every Sunday afternoon. This week, I got a good schooling on a huge difference that I had not even thought about, and I’ve lived in this country for 23 years!
I came to the office with my Thai Pad noodles. I sat at my desk and opened up because I was hungry. Two others standing in my office and discussing work each asked me, “What are you eating?” “Oh, where’d you get that from?”
“Jaffa street,” I answered. “And they deliver, if you want to order some.”
“Good to know,” they said. And we all went back to work.
The conversation returned though. “It’s funny - if I wanted noodles and had some friends with me, I would have to buy all of them noodles. Or, I’d not eat the noodles.”
This was new to me, so I asked some more questions.
My co-worker went on to explain to me that from his experience in the Arabic culture he lives in, when he’s with others, he would either provide for everyone or not eat. Walking down the street, if he wanted ice cream, he would have to first decide if he could afford to buy for all his friends, and then, he would just buy it without asking and hand out the ice creams.
At times, he said, it can be frustrating. For example, in an office in Jordan, he asked a coworker if she wanted coke or sprite and she wouldn’t answer. It was considered rude to tell him WHAT to give her. It was his choice as giver, to decide what he wanted to give. And her responsibility was to respect the choice of the giver and take it gratefully.
Now, coming from the USA originally, where choice is first and freedom along with it, I would never assume to force someone to accept a Coke that I chose for them, when they could just as easily choose the flavor drink they want – and buy it themselves.
Needless to say, I felt terrible and very guilty.
But I ate my noodles.