First Published in Women Today Magazine December Issue 2009
Between running to lectures, the gym and the office, I encounter people that truly astonish me – not necessarily in a good way.I don’t know how to explain their behaviour or choice of words, and then I wonder if their behaviour is related to their culture or simply a byproduct of their personality. Every morning I experience sinus trouble not because of the cold weather, but because of the heavy clouds of smoke that surround the buildings on campus. More than 15 smokers gather on top of the entrance steps and smoke before and after lectures. The smoke is so thick that you can’t help but inhale some on your way in and out. Now, I don’t have anything against smokers, but this is too much, especially since it irritates my sinus for the rest of the day. I complained to one of the security guards, who is African. he said that he is equally bothered by this, but there is nothing he can do because according to the law it’s a public space. He ended up promising to speak to a higher official in the university. The next morning, i saw this lovely sign prohibiting smoking near the entrance! wow, that was fast and considerate. I was so happy and went immediately to the security guard and thanked him. It is a great feeling when people are considerate to others’ feelings and thoughts;I wish we had more of that in the world. I wondered what made him go through the trouble of printing this note and putting it there, even though he was not supposed to! but, here in london, not everyone is considerate or taught the same manners.
Some people do not even realize that they are offending others because in their culture such behaviour is not an offence. One day, I went to the post-graduate room to do some reading. The place has tables, chairs and sofas and the only available space was on one of the sofas.A western girl was sitting in front of me with her feet on the table, straight to my face. I thought she would put them down when she saw me, but nope! they were still up. I could see the dry and cracked parts of her toes and heels! not a pretty sight at all! then my Iraqi/British friend came, and I told her how bothered I was. she said, “Don’t take it personally – this is not an offence in their culture, though it is in the Arab and Indian culture. she simply does not realize it is an inappropriate act.” I know that in arab culture not only putting your feet in someone’s face is disrespectful, but so is showing someone your back in a social gathering.
But this is not the case with all cultures of the world. for instance, I enrolled in a Japanese class and my classmate, who was sitting on the other side of the room wanted to borrow my pen. so i told her to “Catch” and threw the pen at her. My teacher said, “this is not good Japanese manner. You must give her the pen with both hands.” I thought, “this is not an Arab manner either; I should have given it to her with my right hand.” but I remember in school we used to through things at each other. where does this vulgar behaviour come from?
A few days later, I went back to the smokers building and some people could not care less about the sign. They were smoking right in front of it. After class, I left the building holding coffee in one hand and my coat and bag in another. While I was just about to reach the exit, an englishman came through the doors. He saw the load I was carrying, and went back quickly to hold the door open for me. What a gentleman! I wonder if these small acts are because of one’s choice or the way one is raised. what do you think?