Wednesday afternoon I received a text message that said: “Tomorrow we’re having dinner at Alma’s house.” My jaw dropped instantly, and hundreds of thoughts flashed through my mind. Now, I suppose a back story would be helpful, because after reading that line, I haven’t the faintest idea what you’d possibly think.
Alma is a Saudi Arabian preschool child. One of approximately five that I drive to and from school several days a week along with the help of three of my other sisters. Now, this in and of itself is a culture shock. The families barely speak any English, the men are the predominant leaders and women are not allowed to be seen in anything other than their Burkas.They normally say a few words to you, such as hi, thank you, good bye. Nothing too complex.
So when one of my counterparts informed me that we were having dinner at their house, we both thought instantly, this can’t be good. We acted upon our traditional stereotypes. Why would this foreign man want two college girls in his house at night? And, granted, I haven’t provided the entire scenario.. I would have been a little suspicious of the proposal even if they were of our same ethnicity.
But, of course, we can’t say no. That would be impolite and risky for our meager paying job. And we college kids need all the money we can get. So. Thursday evening at approximately 5:30, we embarked to The Last Supper, as I somewhat jokingly referred to it. The whole way there, we hashed over different scenarios in our heads of how the dinner might pan out. We pulled into the drive way, and this man was waiting there for us.
We walked inside and sat down in the living room. He spoke rather clear English, although at times it was hard to understand. He told us we could eat on the table, although in their culture, it is custom to eat on the floor. And then, the food came out. He brought out first a sweet, desert like substance, somewhat resembling flan and legitimately making my mouth water. Next came a huge plate of lamb and rice, with a threat that we absolutely had to eat all of it. This plate could easily feed a family. Of ten. And then there were grape leaves, and salad, and sauce and tea and by the end of the experience, I was barely able to walk. I had never, ever consumed so much food in my life. And I can eat.
Now. The experience was a little strange. The family did not sit with us. In fact, they did not eat. They served us and left the room. It was much like being at a restaurant. Only, it was the best meal I have ever eaten. So, clearly not restaurant quality. He came in a few times, offering us some interesting tidbits of their culture and poking fun at our fast food lifestyles in good ole ‘Merica.
And the time, gracious as ever. They welcomed two girls whose names they didn’t even know into their house and provided them a traditional meal with more courses than I think I could ever handle preparing. And I claim to be a pretty good cook. Imagine the guilt we felt, thinking the thoughts we were thinking. We were the prime examples of the American mindset. Our country is a melting pot, yet we instantly assume that those who are not a traditional white color are so extremely different that we fear them.
And I thought I was pretty open minded. Well, I guess I proved myself wrong. But none the less, I’m extremely happy that I went last evening. I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that no matter how open we are to people of other races or cultures, that we will still immediately jump to stereotype them, when in fact they are doing nothing but going out of their way for us — and we don’t deserve it at all.
Culture Shock. That’s what it was. And I tell you, I wouldn’t mind experiencing every culture like that. It was one of the most rewarding experiences to date in my college career, and I learned more from that than any class could ever teach me. Chalk it up to experience, or to about a ten pound weight gain, but I’m forever going to appreciate little Alma’s family for showing us a little piece of their culture.