Is it Culture or Personality?

December 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm (Diary, Everyday life situations, Women Today Magazine Articles)

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?



  1. Mohadoha said,

    I think it’s a bit of both — but ultimately comes down to thinking about others and what we are doing.

    It’s funny to hear you say that the British have limited manners because growing up in America we have the perception that they always do the proper thing. Now as an adult and knowing more of them in a 1:1 way, I realize it depends on the individual.

    The incident you describe in the Japanese class is a great example: pause for a second and think.

    And as to that girl in the grad lounge: the only place to put your feet up is at home even in Western cultures. She wouldn’t have her feet up while reading in an interview waiting room, would see? She clearly thought she was somewhere she could be comfortable.

    Lovely ruminations!

  2. Intlxpatr said,

    I’m almost a grandmama, and I still hear my Mother’s voice in my head reminding me to mind my manners.

    Mamas have a lot of responsibility. Teachers have enough on their hands teaching reading, writing and calculating; teaching your young to think and to ask questions. It is Mamas job to make sure the kids are clean, fed and have good manners. 🙂

    There are times we choose to ignore our manners, but it is better to have them and ignore them than to be ignorant of them, in my opinion.

  3. SusieOfArabia said,

    It’s hard to say whether people’s actions are a result of culture or manners – it is probably a little of both. Cigarette smoke bothers me horribly anymore too. The worst for me is in restaurants when we are eating and people at the next table light up. I just hate it. I am totally not used to dealing with the smoke any more because in the US I got used to not having to put up with it because of the strict laws there. But here in KSA it is such a problem. I wish the world was filled with considerate people…

  4. Richard said,

    I just found your blog and have decided to read it all! I always think the most honest opinion of a country comes from its youth – the people who are just becoming adults and have to come to terms with the environment they now live in.

    Im English, and i think the fact he held the door open definately a cultural thing! Where i live in England, if someone lets a door slam in your face or doesn’t say “Thank you” if you hold it open, they can expect a harsh comment. I cant even count the number of times ive shouted “You are WELCOME!” at the back of someones head. I think it carries over to what you’ve said about Qatari people being afraid of others opinions – if you dont hold a door open in England other people will condemn and judge you.

    I have had 2 Arab boyfriends (Sharjah and Saudi) and one thing i noticed about them is that all their passion, all their opinions and thoughts seemed to go silent when around others – i always got the feeling that they where scared of everyones reactions, which i always felt was such a shame – its like snuffing out a bright light.

    Anyway, i hope that in this new age of internet and global communication, youths in the Middle East can really take the reins and make a difference!

    • mimizwords said,

      Dear Richard

      Thank you for your input its very much appreciated. I have been in this situation myself many times before, where I say something and feel free to be myself among certain people but completely change when I am with others. I guess living in a small society has good and bad things at the same time. Standing up for what you believe is tough in such situation whether it was right or wrong. But then as you said, the truth comes from the youth since they only reflect what they live in.


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