Monday, September 09, 2013

Cultural Worries

(Let me preface this by saying that I know nobody cares - and yet, this is what goes on inside my head.)

The other week, the boys and I were kicking soccer balls around outside the university library.  (It had just rained, and this is the only place in town that is all of paved, low-mosquito, well-drained, and mostly flat.)  A professor-looking fellow came out of the library and stopped to chat with my kids about soccer.  Another dude I know stopped and said hi.  The professor introduced himself; he is African and has a very Muslim/Arabic name (think Mahmoud).

So I didn't put out my hand to shake his when he introduced himself, because some religious Muslims (and Jews, for that matter) don't care to touch women to whom they aren't related or married.  He, of course, put out his hand, because he's a university professor in a small town and that probably wouldn't go so well, so then I shook his hand, and then I wondered if I'd insulted him or if he even noticed or cared about any of this.

Dr. S worked in a lab full of devout-Muslim Turks at one point, and at another point I spent a lot of time in the Orthodox world, so I got used to not offering to shake hands with anyone who was male and obviously religious in any way.  But that probably doesn't come up all that much around here, except maybe with Christian fundamentalists.

(It's a weird place inside my head sometimes.)

8 comments:

  1. I don't think it's weird at all and I think having experiences like that only makes life more rich for everyone involved. I, for one, am carful never to make the ok sign with my fingers after a few horrifying mistakes when I lived in Brazil. Sometimes I think I see a weird look when I offer a thumbs up for "okay" but that's their business ;)

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    1. OH DEAR. Now I'm afraid to look up what that might mean in Brazil...

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  2. I'm certain he didn't notice. Your mind may be weird, but it is entertaining!.

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    1. Probably not. I once worried about the Glove Incident for, like, months, and the other person hadn't even noticed, right? The South. It warps you.

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  3. Shaking hands is a disgusting cultural ritual. I think you should do your part to discourage it, regardless of the reason.

    This is totally the kind of thing I'd keep thinking about. Did I offend him? Did I did I did I? For example, I recently had a conversation with a student in which I asked if his parents were letting him settle in okay or were bothering him too much, and then felt like an ASS for assuming that he has PARENTS.

    Uh, he probably DOES. Not unreasonable. OH! I also felt like an ass for saying that a student was male. What do I know about his biological sex or gender identification? NOTHING. I ASSUMED. Which is all just to say that I get the worry.

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    1. I once worried about the fact that I hadn't removed my glove to shake someone's hand (outdoors, in February, in Ohio) for about three months. When I finally mentioned it, turned out the person hadn't even noticed.

      (He probably both identifies as HE and has parents. Play the averages, y'know? But I get it.)

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  4. I would place good money on the notion that, even if he did notice some micro-hesitation (and really, someone has to go first with the whole hand-proffering business), the idea he had about you was "yet another slightly dotty academic eccentric; imagine encountering one of those on campus." Personally, I am made nervous by social interactions on campus that DO go smoothly -- is that person an infiltrator of some kind? What if s/he just sold me something and I failed to notice? ...I hope I like it.

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    1. Plus, distracted by children! I probably got a pass. Academics with social skills: a rare bird. I feel like one could write a very entertaining field guide. (Much like yours on Brooklynites, etc.)

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