pet peeves


I’ve been having a lot of different conversations or reading commentary on various things that have opinion and not fact as their argument.  Some of my comments have been heard and in others I am asked for the burden of proof, and other times people just dig their heels and stick to rumors and gossip. I am really tired of having arguments with people when there is no factual proof for them to argue from and they are using opinion as fact. Yes you have a right to your opinion but then make it clear that it is so… I will give an example of one such discussion I am having right now.

 

A couple of days ago Future DVD Store in Amman was attacked. A physical and violent assault on the owner, his son and their property (their new store) took place. On camera there is record of four men assaulting them with what looks like bats. A criminal investigation is still taking place. No official statement of who the attackers are and why this attack took place. Yet, boycott calls and allegations against one of their competition started immediately. It is are all over the social networks, on and offline.  I find this very disturbing. Gossiping and rumor spreading, and action to hurt another business are the first response when really there is nothing factual to back it up except broken glass.

 

I think that if you are going to make an allegation against any entity you have to have the proof to back it up. The burden of proof lies on you, not me. If it is opinion then say it is so and do not word is as fact. I like hard evidence- not opinion!

 

Going back to the Future DVD store. Boycotting the competition doesn’t help Future as much as supporting Future would. The owner is in need of both moral and financial support after the attack and so if you feel that you want to do something- do something positive. Go to the store, see Zaki, buy a DVD. And when the truth about the incident comes out… then take the appropriate action and back up what you say.

 

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Since I’ve moved to Beirut not a week goes by without someone telling me they hate Amman. It invariably happens when I first meet someone new and within seconds of them knowing I am from Jordan.  And I don’t know why they have to make that definitive statement. It is not endearing in any way, shape or form. I don’t want to know how bored you were in Amman, how hostile you found it, how bland you think the buildings are, how unsmiling the Jordanians are or how much you hate the food. That is your experience and if you hate it so much, just don’t go back. And if you hate it and are still there then leave. But what I really don’t want is a 15 minute tirade about how you found Amman to suck and why you think it is so.

There are many reasons I don’t like being put in this situation and one of them is I am not sure how to respond to these statements. Am I supposed to agree when I don’t? Am I supposed to offer advice and tips on enjoying the city, when clearly this person has made up their mind? Do I go into attack mode and tell them why they are wrong? Or do I tell them what I really think about Beirut and enumerate all the things I hate about it and make it a pissing contest? I’ve tried all the above strategies, and because of them I have been asked why I take it so personally, why am I so defensive. I guess the appropriate response is to smile, shrug and if possible walk away?

I’m really tired of hearing people crap on a city I love and miss and it gets more tiresome when you are trying really hard to integrate and live in a city you don’t.  I’ve been accused of romanticizing Amman and painting such a glowing picture of it. Well, guess what, yes I confess I love that city, and I loved my life there. I had numerous wonderful experiences and I was part of a movement that was involved and engaged in making that city and that life better. It’s not that I am blind to Amman’s shortcomings and its problems but rather I was able to do something about it, and that has made all the difference!

I think it is completely insensitive and rude to tell someone their home is ugly, boring, retarded…etc. especially to someone you barely know. And at this point I would like to remind everyone of the sage old advice handed down over generations “If you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything.” Because really I didn’t ask you if you love or hate Amman, so spare me. We will not bond over Amman hate. And please don’t get me wrong, Amman is not an easy city to navigate as a stranger, it took me years to become a part of the city and understand it, and everyone has a right to their opinion and a right to hate the city.  This is their personal experience. But what I am saying is if you meet someone from a place you hate, and they don’t ask you, there is no need whatsoever to tell them their home sucks. It’s their home.

I used to belong to the smokers club. I carried my own pack and worried about where my lighter went. I sucked on the stick and hung out in the herd of other smokers. But I stopped 11 years ago. And in those 11 years I have not only cleaned my system from that toxin, but my lungs became so sensitive to the smoke that hung in the air that I would spend nights hacking away and coughing up all that second hand smoke when I was exposed to it.  And so my home is a smoke free place, as is my work space. But what that has meant is that I have committed social suicide to some extent. I have definitely died socially when I get stubborn about attending or being present in social gatherings with smoke.



My friends are all very considerate when it comes to smoking around me, they remove themselves or are very conscious about which hand the cigarette is in, or make sure to blow out their fumes away from me. When I would throw a party everyone respects the rules and goes outside. I also had a group of non smoking friends who would also love the nonsmoking policy around me.  But these days I am finding myself more and more in the minority. Sometimes even a minority of one. Let me put it in context from my perspective. Beirut is a night time city, social life revolves around bars, restaurants, clubs. Eighty to ninety percent of people (conservative estimate) who frequent these establishments are smokers, ventilation systems and air conditioners are plentiful but I dread the thought of looking at their filters and find them ineffectual when these places are full beyond capacity and every nook and cranny has a lit cigarette with a passionate sucker on its end.  So unless you have a gas mask on you are going to inevitably inhale all that fabulous second hand smoke, your hair is going to stink and you clothes are going in the wash immediately, even your underwear. And this is not unique to Beirut, Amman has its fair share of smoky entertainment venues.


And it’s not just when you are out and about. Visiting with friends zis a nightmare for me because not only am I slowly forming these relationships and so am still a guest rather than an “insider”, but again I am a minority so I don’t feel I have the social space to say “please stop smoking”. And so, through peer pressure, and because I want social inclusion I am forced to deal with the smoke or be excluded. Even in their consideration, smokers fail to realize how isolating and exclusionary it is when there is one nonsmoker and they all go out to the balcony or kitchen to smoke. And since they are all hanging out there what is originally a 3 minute smoke easily turns into a balcony party without thought to the person left behind. Its as if there is this expectations that as a nonsmoker I have to deal with this, it’s my problem and so my options are to open a window, or stay and breathe the smoke,  or sit apart from the group, or not attend in the first place, or be the asshole that says no to smoking.


I am pissed off at how inconsiderate smokers are, even when they are trying to be “considerate”. I am sad that I am always sitting on the edge, outside the group so I can breathe some clean or less polluted air. I am tired of being left out or behind or not even considered. Your considerations are isolating, exclusionary and antisocial; and this binary of either join the club at the expense of my health or be on the social fringe is unfair. I really don’t understand this sense of entitlement smokers have about their “right” to pollute the air.


So dear smokers, your body is yours to do what you wish with it, but to think that you can spew poison out for all to breathe and then say to me either breathe my smoke or be left out is to me one of the most isolating things you can do, its is selfish and inconsiderate. And as a people person who likes to be in the middle of the dance floor I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this majority who enforces upon the minority its exclusionary practices especially within circles of so-called inclusion.

The perfect guest is to some an elusive concept, but I disagree I don’t think the perfect guest is impossible to find. Trust me I should know, I have a revolving door in my house with a constant stream of guests, I’ve also spent five years of my life placing others in people’s homes. Some of the people that have stayed with me have been fantastic and have become lifelong friends, whereas others have left such horrible lasting images in my mind, that I cringe at the thought of them. Most people fall somewhere in between. So I was thinking what are the things that make you a good guest in my home? Here is a list, it’s not exhaustive or objective- I am sure we have different ideas of what makes a good guest and it will differ based on who is the guest.

1-      Replace the toilet paper and fill the ice tray! It’s as simple as telling your host she’s out or do just it yourself! And if you have stayed for a while buying more TP!

2-      Wash your dishes- really your host is not your servant.

3-      Pick up after yourself- this applies to gadgets, clothes, plates, papers…etc. Again not your servant.

4-      Ask before using- things maybe special have a special way of working or just not for your consumption!

5-      If you break/ damage something fix it, replace it or offer to!

6-      Offer to cook for your host or take them out to dinner or something – it’s always nice.

7-      Spend some time with your host, even if its just a morning coffee.

8-      Try to be considerate of cultural norms, and by that I don’t just mean different regional cultures but also home cultures, things like wearing slippers, meal times and such.

9-      Always leave the place as you found it or in better condition. I really hate picking up other people’s trash and cleaning up after them!

10-  Finally, try and leave a thank you note- they always put a smile on my face and I have kept each one that was left behind. It reminds me of the good times and makes me forget the not so good times.

So, if you are staying at mine, do remember these little things, it will make not just your stay more pleasant, it will mean that an invitation will be extended to you again and again and again.

Ahlan wa Sahlan!

How many times have you stood and waited for someone to show up for a meeting, or event of some sort? Or better yet, how many times have you started to set up a meeting only to be asked is that English time or Arab time (actually replace Arab with the appropriate nationality depending on ethnicity or location or both)? How many times have you been to some government or semi government facility and left cursing Arabs and their disorganization? What about raised voices and heated discussions that are symptomatic of our cultures and are considered uncivilized by some? Or, or, or … the number of incidents, scenarios, or what have yous that we seem to be unhappy with, and attribute dismissively to our backward Arabness are numerous and uncountable if you ask me. Yet every time I hear that excuse I start to boil!


I hate it when people make these sweeping statements, Why? Because we perpetuate this stereotype simply by continuing to use it. I am punctual, I will stand in line and ask others to do so, I will try to apply some sort of organization to what it is I am doing. I hate raising my voice (despite being loud) and so I refuse to accept that this is how Arabs behave because I too am an Arab. And attributing this insult to me is not acceptable – even by other Arabs.

For too long we have been selling ourselves short by setting the bar for ourselves so low. When our expectations are all those negative attributes then that is where we stay and yet when we travel or are asked to maintain a different expectation (like “English Time”) we comply. I am a firm believer in setting high standards and expectations. Communicating those expectations and setting them early on means that most likely they will be met regardless of ethnicity and culture! Many people may disagreae. But you will be surprised how you can with persistence, consistency, clear communication and time how things may change.


If I make an appointment with someone then I make it clear that I will wait 15 minutes. Once those 15 minutes are up I am gone. My time is just as important as theirs. If I set a meeting to start and end at specific times then out of respect to everyone there then it should start and end on time and if it doesn’t then I will leave – just ask my mates at Toastmasters how many times I have left on time despite the meeting going on even if for another 5 minutes. If I expect everyone to line up then I tell them that and if they are out of line so to speak then they get asked to get back in line- this happened at the duty free at the airport a while back when this woman tried to jump the line at the cash register, she pretended not to notice the line and ignored it. She approached the desk from the other side despite the line that was forming with about 5 or 6 people in queue already, I was third in line. She very clearly ignored us all and very importantly tried to interrupt the already on going transaction. After observing her for a short while I decided to say something; and say something I did I was polite but assertive. She was very unhappy about being caught out and tried to say she had been there before and refused to move, she then turned away to ignore us further and placed her items on the counter as soon as the previous transaction was completed. The cashier then refused to take her purchases and asked her politely to join the queue that had formed. Everyone involved was Arab! So the excuse that we as Arabs are disorderly and unorganized is not true. There was a clear system and we all followed it.


When I talk to people about this and try to find out where this chaos, this lack of respect for time, these behaviors come from we theorize about many a different things. Mine view and I stand by it is colonization. We were considered inferior, heathen, uncivilized..what have you by the wonderful white man that came and tried to impose their views of what is better. What ensued was very complex and the residual effect of all of that can still be felt today; just think of how we view someone with a degree from white country vs a local degree, or better yet the views of someone living in the west with no degree vs a person with a degree here. And so with this inherit insecurity and inferiority complex we attribute bad time management to Arabness!


Well I dont know why this is a news flash to people but there are numerous Arabs were are timely, organized, soft spoken, unapologetic, set the bar really high for themselves and maintain it. And we should look to those Arabs and others and set our bars that way, find positive role models within our communities. We should communicate expectations and needs and respect them. We should not be afraid to do the work… we are not lazy brown people and we should not keep making the excuse or the complaints we are Arab! Instead we should look to find solutions.


I’d like to leave you with an example. The passport and civil status department in Jordan used to be the most chaotic and disorganized of bureaucratic offices. I had the pleasure of visiting that department more than once this year, and I do mean pleasure. There was a clear system, there was a help desk, there was a numbering electronic device and if people were lost they could ask. Instructions were constantly being given to people who needed them and people complied. This meant that you went to the window when your number was called, there was no crowding, shouting or shoving of papers from over your shoulder and there was plenty of room to sit and wait when needed. In each instance I was out in under an hour. That too is being Arab. I almost always end my posts with a question or two and here is my question for today: Where is your bar? Is it high enough? What’s your excuse?

I live in many worlds, and so I interact with people of all sorts of color, creed, socio-economic status, privilege, nationality, and sexuality even. I have traveled enough places to know who I am, but to also appreciate others and respect the differences between us. And mind you, I am not infallible; I have my moments of judgment and prejudice. But it seems the more I look around me I see more tolerance and more intolerance. Our society is at odds with what it wants to appear like and what it really thinks. Let me explain…

 

I work with underserved, underprivileged communities, more specifically with kids in these communities. I find the experience very rewarding and very enriching. These kids may not have the same opportunities as west Ammanis, dress in the same way, speak a coarser tongue or what have you. But they have the same ambitions, dreams, hopes as you or me. I love engaging with them because they are more real and genuine in their expressions of who they are. Yet these same kids are discriminated against, marginalized and sometimes disenfranchised because of their socio-economic backgrounds.

 

Look around at the domestic and manual laborers we have in the country and how we immediately discriminate against anyone from the same nationality or ethnicity is something I abhor. Not everyone who is Egyptian in the country is a laborer, not everyone in the country who is Pilipino is a domestic worker. And don’t get me started on how we treat them when they do these jobs. We as Jordanians are no better than any of them. It doesn’t matter if we have blue collar or white collar jobs we all work to make a living and if some of us work with our hands and other with our minds then that is how it is. It doesn’t make you less of a person because you clean toilets or carry cement. I think all these professions and the people that carry them out are worthy of respect since we are trying to make an honest buck.  
 

 

Take out the profession from the equation and you will also find that Jordanians are racists! Yes I know this is a very strong and serious generalization, but you are more than welcome to prove me wrong. Just look at the reaction of Jordanians towards a western looking blonde and a dark African looking person, or an Asian person. We are always quick to ask “where are you from?” and that question then leads to pigeon holing a person into our social status hierarchy where the western blonde ranks very high and Asians and Africans rank very low depending on the country they are from and what the stereotype for people from there is.  We are all guilty of it… even myself.

 

And when it comes to sexuality the amount of people are homo-phobes, hetero-phobes, bi-phobes that are out there is annoying. Each wants to be accepted within their own group and is not accepting of others. Straight people are afraid of gay people and have no understanding of what gay is. Gay people don’t really like straight people and will most likely try to stay in herds of their own kind. What difference does it make who you take to bed?

Once again I realize that these are all gross generalizations. And not everyone is a racist, or a phobe of some sort, or a classist. But I constantly see people talking about acceptance and tolerance of themselves for being something or other. Yet when you look at their behaviors you realize that they too discriminate against one group or another, for some reason or another. I really think that if we focus on our accepting, respecting each of our differences instead of focusing on our sameness the world would be a happier place.

OK so today is Mother’s day, last month we had Valentine ’s Day, there will be a flag day, a best friend day, a tooth fairy day even, but my question is … what happened to everyday? I am sick of all this man made constructs f days that are pointless. Let me explain, the person who invented mother’s day must have had a great relationship with his or her mother and decided to celebrate it on a larger scale. That person then built this expectation and spread it. Today, we have gone into a commercialized and overly hyped state of recognizing our mothers. And please feel free to replace the word mother with any other word that suits the occasion. 

So today I am forced to recognize something someone somewhere decided to celebrate and obligated to fulfill an expectation set by others to make someone happy.  You know what… if my relationship with my mother is such I don’t need a mother’s day to recognize her. If I like my flag and respect it I don’t need a flag day to remember I am a proud flagger. You get the gist.

I am who I am. My relationships with people and things are what they are. I don’t need a day to celebrate these things I do that when and if I want. That’s what I would like to see happening. But the sad reality is I got my mother a gift she didn’t really like, we went out to a lunch I hope she enjoyed, and I got symbolically the one flower stem that didn’t measure up to my brother’s big bouquet.  Hmmm is it me or do I just not get it? Oh well we will be back to it being everyday tomorrow and for that I am happy to celebrate tonight… care to join me?

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