Saturday, July 7, 2012

Complaints to the Chef

Asalamu Alaykom,

While I was growing up, this plaque hung in our kitchen:


I got the message.  I did my best to eat what was in front of me with thanks.

My Brit gal pal has a funny story about a friend of hers when they went out together for lunch in Egypt.  My Brit gal pal is used to Egypt since she made it her home for years.  It doesn't mean that she loves every moment here but she has an acceptance of the place and the people.  Yet, some people, like her friend, can live in a foreign country for months and years and never quite be at peace with it.

Adjusting to a new culture comes in waves and is akin to stages of grief.

First, there is the shock:

"OMG!  Chickens ride the bus here!"

Then, there is the distain,

"Don't they know how unsanitary that is?!"

Then, (hopefully) there is the moment of bemusement,

"I wonder if they have to pay for a seat?"

Finally, there is a moment of acceptance,

"Actually it makes sense to have chickens on the bus coming back from the market day.  I wonder if I should buy a chicken..."

So, back to my story...

My Brit gal pal and her friend walk into the Egyptian restaurant and nothing, NOTHING went right.  I don't mean in reality, I only mean in the friend's over-analytical mind.  According to my Brit gal pal's luncheon companion, the whole experience was an endurance test from hell.  The table, the silverware, the plates, the prices, the food, the music, and of course the waiter were all wrong.  It was completely and unbelievably subpar.  She was critical and complaining of everything possible. 

When the bill came she complained once again, much to the horror of my Brit gal pal.  Afterall, this was one of her favorite restaurants (to which she had made the mistake of inviting this misery guts along).  The friend insisted to speak to the manager.

In Egypt, the customer is not always right, so my Brit gal pal wondered how the manager would deal with this feisty ex-pat.  Who would be the victor in the exchange of words?

The manager came over most graciously, opened his mouth and said, with the utmost sincerity, "I am so sorry."

That was surprising!  A restaurant manager in Egypt apologizing?! 

"I am so sorry, " he continued.  "I had no idea you were being held in Egypt against your will."

Lovely!  That was the best line.  Let's listen to it again: 

"I had no idea you were being held in Egypt against your will."

This story comes to my mind after reading Zeinobia's blog.  There are so many visitors to Egypt who are stuck on stage two of their culture shock.  They are not allowing the people and the place to be a new experience.  They've gotten too used to life being as predictable as a visit to McDonald's.  They complain bitterly for the comfortable connections they miss; as if their surrounding have to be the same as "back home" in order for them to know who they are.

We can't carry our behaviors with us no matter where we roam.  We need to adapt and not force those around us to cater to our needs.  Stop and think before assuming the others are wrong. 

Remember:  if everyone in the world used toilet paper there would be no more trees.  If everyone in the world flushed a toilet after every bathroom visit, there would be no more drinkable water.  In the Virgin Islands, we had a sign, "If it's brown, flush it down.  If it's yellow, let it mellow."  Say, "gross" if you want to but that's life on a Carribean island!  Surrounded by salt water (with only rain water to sustain you) you adjust.

It's a fallacy to think that your routine, in some other place, must be continued at all costs---no matter where you are.  If we change our behaviors, then we just might make room for new beliefs.  Those new beliefs might help us to grow as people with new appreciations for what really matters.

Now, I'll grant you that there are unhealthy behaviors everywhere.  Do we need to ape what's wrong?  No.  I'm only saying that when we enter in to someone else's country we need to allow for the experience to wash over us like so much cleansing water or refreshing breeze.  Let the time play with your feelings; your feelings of joy, of love, of excitement, of peace, of fear.  Find some new parts of your soul before judging that 80 million people are wrong, weird and rude.

Didn't we all read, "Eat, Pray, Love"?! 

Take a look at  Zeinobia's blog.  See what's been written (including my comments) and add to the discussion if you'd like.

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