Thursday, December 13, 2012

Khaliji Night

Yesterday, a few of my students invited me to attend an activity sponsored by the Saudi Club called Khaliji (Gulf) Night. Jeremy met me after class and together, we "stopped by" the event for "a few minutes." Well, we ended up getting escorted in by one of my students, for free, to what was basically a VIP seating area. And then we stayed for quite a while, because it's awkward to leave in the middle of an event when you're in front of everyone in the VIP seating area, but also because we were enjoying the cool weather and the performances and the ambiance.

This semester has been a little low on cultural outings since I've been so busy. It was nice to "get out" a little by staying on campus and hanging out with hundreds of GCC + Yemen nationals for a while. I was struck by some impressions.

1. The abaya and kandura are soooooo normal to me now. In fact, Jeremy and I are both getting quite good at being able to distinguish Saudi styles from Emirati styles from Omani styles from Yemeni styles, etc.

2. Another thing that is normal to me now: male students standing to greet each other solemnly, leaning close into each other's faces to touch noses or kiss cheeks. That was going on all over the place last night and it's actually really neat to see.

3. It was fascinating to see the Khalijis all hanging out together. They were at once more alike and yet more distinct than I've ever seen them. Let me explain. When you put a bunch of Arabs in a room together, you tend to group the Khalijis into one unit, at least in your mind. They might even group themselves together. They are alike, in that they are all from the Gulf. But it's not long before differences become apparent - in behavior, in dress, in beliefs, etc. (And don't ever get a Saudi started on the differences between east/west coast and central areas in that country alone...except do, because it's totally interesting.) Last night, those hundreds of students were a cohesive group because, well, it was Khaliji Night. But one of the major activities that was going on when Jeremy and I were there was a game in which the nationals of each GCC country set themselves apart, by way of calling out differences in each other's dialects. I'd never seen anything quite like it before, not in all the time we've been here.

I continue to be amazed at how my understanding of the Arabian Gulf changes over time. I find myself so energized by the cultural diversity here - I learn or experience or see or try something new every day just by stepping out my front door.

4 comments:

Liz Johnson said...

Re: #2 - Although men usually greeted each other with a hug (and women were greeted by both genders with the cheek kiss), I miss this about Mexico. I wish we had a more affectionate culture in the US.

Have you ever been to Yemen?

Crys said...

I don't miss it :). I just have a really large personal space bubble. Yesterday at young woman's the girls came in and gave the other leader a hug. My mind started screaming, "ahhh, when did we start doing this, please not me, please not me." But it was me as well. And then middle of activity hugs, and post activity. Where is a country where people don't touch each other or stand close? Japan? This is where I need to go. Did it make you feel old to be escorted to the VIP section? I remember the first time that happened to us and the student said to dr. J, "professor S...." We have a seat up here for you. I almost died :)

Abu Halen said...

Nice. I'm getting started on my love affair with the Gulf, which can surely coexist with my love affair with the Levant. Two-timing isn't an issue when it comes to cultural love affairs.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

This is a fascinating experience.

As for personal affection, I figure that Americans aren't as physical as other parts of the world because our colonial rulers were English. Except in the southwest where Spain and then Mexico ruled. Westerners are more outgoing and physical. Does this make sense??

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