Sunday, July 03, 2011

Things I learned from watching Arab TV

Well, the Bridgetcation came to an end on Thursday. It was lovely while it lasted, and I admit that when I walked in the door and gave hugs to my family, tears came to my eyes.

Now I'm left with memories of 48 hours of solitude to draw on anytime I'm feeling overwhelmed. I also have memories of the quirks of a "five-star" hotel in the Middle East. I'm telling you, these things are gems. I mean, there are places like the Mövenpick in Doha, Qatar that actually earn their five-star status. But mixed in there in the same star rating are places like the Cham Palace in Lattakia ($54/night for a room on the Mediterranean Sea, no joke) and the Radisson Blu in Sharjah, where I was staying. The price was great. The hotel...not so much. It was the little things, like how the bathroom faucets leaked, and some of the electrical outlets didn't work, and there was an oil rig RIGHT next to the hotel obscuring the view of the Gulf, but it didn't matter because you could hardly see out the windows because they were so dusty, and the TV remote didn't work from a reclining position on the bed, so anytime you needed to change the channel or adjust the volume, you had to creep up and perch right on the edge of the mattress to press the button.

Despite the challenges (ha), I still managed to enjoy some quality television time. We don't have TV at home, so it was a brave new world of shows and commercials for me. The best Arab channels are MBC 2 and MBC 4. I watched Emma (the 1996 version) on MBC 2 one of the nights I was at the hotel, along with bits and pieces of other movies and shows. It's been a while since I've watched Arab TV for any length of time, and I found myself learning some things.

1. The commercials they run on those channels are absolutely hypnotic. Maybe it's because everyone is wearing kandura and hijab. Maybe it's because the Arabic is spoken in such a ridiculously upbeat manner. All I know is, I wanted to BE that wholesome veiled wife serving a Baskin Robbins ice cream cake to my kandura-clad husband watching the soccer football game with his friends in the living room. I also found myself craving various Galaxy chocolate products, but what else is new?

2. Shampoo can make my hair beautiful. I gazed in wonder at all the "after" shots of long, shiny, gorgeous, shampooed hair. What's interesting is that these commercials are aimed at a market of women who cover their hair when they go out in public. Huh.

3. The more obscure the US single-season-run television show, the better. I had never heard of most of these shows: The Doctors? Eastwick? A movie called Crossroads that had Britney Spears in it? The Talk? Jake 2.0? Point Pleasant? All of them are fair game for TV here, and have even been painstakingly subtitled into Arabic. Impressive.

4. Violence is OK to show on TV. Kissing is not. They even edited the kiss out of Emma, for crying out loud. Then again, MBC 2 is what gave me a beloved viewing of Shakespeare in Love in a PGified format, so I shouldn't complain.

(But seriously, the kiss at the end of Emma? Come on!)

Now that I'm away from the TV, my inclination to buy Puck brand cream cheese and spread it on Lebanese bread is fading...

...but only just. And only until the next time I'm drawn into MBC's spell.


Susanne said...

I remember we tried watching TV once or twice in our room at the hostel when we visited Damascus. It was an adventure just going through the channels due to all the porn (or it was porn to me.) But then when we finally found something we recognized - Forrest Gump - we watched the last 15 minutes or so only to find the movie ending before the part where Forrest and Jenny have sex. I kept waiting for the ending of the movie and then realized it must have been deleted.

About #2 -- well they want their hair beautiful for the get togethers with other women. I've heard they often like to show off their hair, fashionable clothes and makeup amongst women. Oh and also for their menfolk. Isn't that part of the point of hijab..saving your beauty for your man and not for every other man on the street? So different from the West. :)

Liz Johnson said...

I have often wondered if there is much of a hair-beauty market in the Middle East, given that it's almost always covered in public. Apparently there is!

I could go on and on about the double standard of violence/sex in movies/TV/books/etc., but I won't. But it bugs me.

Sherwood family said...

Ok, I admit that I've seen Crossroads. In the theatre. On the Sabbath. Now you know one of my deep, dark secrets.

Nancy said...

My most memorable commercials (from Jordan):

Maxwell House

We'd always sing, "Beitina, beniyat jaridat al-Dustour!"

And I can't find videos for these two but I can still hear that guy saying: Philadelphia!

Oh, and...

Kreme Karamel! افضل وصف

The most memorable one from Egypt was this commercial about halal food and it was like REALLY creepy. No...really, really, really creepy. Like, hole-burning-in-your-cheek creepy.

Little boy eats cotton candy...FIRE!

Dad takes money from work...FIRE!

There are tons of them.


Also, we once watched Shrek on the family channel and they cut the kiss in their wedding. Just sayin'. :D

Aw, I kind of miss watching Middle Eastern TV.


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