Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Touching!!

A word of warning for the gentlemen: if you don't like other people touching you or touching other people, do not come to Saudi Arabia. I've mentioned before how shaking hands here happens with such regularity that I have become totally awkward around westerners...but really, that's just the beginning.

The other day, one of my students went in for the cheek kissing greeting. I want to clarify that this is something they do to all the teachers, but have not done it with me because I have expressed my discomfort with it. For those of you that aren't aware of the mechanics of the cheek kissing thing, you shake hands (optional: bro grabs) then touch cheeks together and make the kissing noise. Those of you at home who know that I get uncomfortable even being too close to other people will laugh at the very idea of me engaging in this form of greeting. But it seems like it's something I'm just going to have to get over. One of the teachers that I've been working with here had to return home because his father-in-law passed away. When he got back I went to offer my condolences and went in for the bro grab/handshake that normally goes, but then I think he was expecting the normal greeting. I know he was fine with the not, but it turned my sharing of an experience with him kind of awkward. So I feel that I must overcome the weirdness. As I become better and better friends with my Arab colleagues, I need to adapt a little to make myself more open to them and this is one way I guess I can do that.

As another example, I went to get a haircut today. Getting haircut here isn't just a SuperCuts or Heads Up! kind of experience. It's like a for real barber shop. I opted to get a shave which was wonderful, but then after the shave comes the steam bath, the facial/scalp massage, and the shoulder/arm massage. I feel great afterwards, but the man-handling that I received was pretty brutal. The gentleman who was cutting my hair was also new and didn't really speak any English, so after an awkward moment when I learned his name through the other barber and some joking about the karate chops he was giving to my back, he kissed me on the head. Another form of greeting that is just...well...totally weird to me.

All of this together is just another thing that I'm getting used to about living in the Kingdom. Sometimes its okay, sometimes it makes me feel like this...

Sidenote: I shaved my beard off in a tragic accident at the barber's.

Vicariously yours,

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