After finishing a book on colloquial Arabic, my tutor thought it would be good for us to watch television together. Having tried and failed to watch any shows in Arabic with any consistency, I reluctantly agreed. She sent me on my way with a list of DVDs to purchase from the guy by my house and instructions on which episode to view prior to our next tutoring session.
I complied. I bought a show entitled, “Soft Thorns,” a soap opera type show about a girls’ school and their headmistress. I do not enjoy soap operas. I made it through about ten minutes before my mind began wandering and I found myself doing anything other than actually watching this show with its stare-aimlessly-into-space-with-a-weird-voiceover sequences.
Upon entering my tutor’s home for our next session, I was ashamed at how little I had gained from the show. She grabbed a cup of coffee, put the DVD in the player and excitedly joined me on the couch armed with the remote. I could tell she was going to enjoy the next hour. As we watched, she would periodically pause the show to discuss what was happening and be sure I understood. The Arabic was no problem for me. I understood what was being said. But was we continued to talk about what was occurring on the television set, I realized that I had completely misjudged the importance of watching television with an Arab. Sure, by American standards the show was ridiculous. By my standards, abhorrent with its terrible acting (one character limps, but his bad leg changes from scene to scene). But my tutor was letting me into her world: a world where we could discuss what was happening and why. She shared about her own life as I extrapolated cultural norms from what I was observing. It brought up questions like, “Why is everyone so concerned with his horoscope?” And, “Was your school like this?” Even though most of our time is spent watching television together, I’m learning more about this place in those few minutes than I did in the several months prior.
I’ve learned a valuable lesson: Don’t judge a book (or show) by its cover (or bad acting). Sometimes, what seems the biggest waste of time ends up bearing the greatest reward.
So I continue to *try* to watch Arabic television and movies. I’ve taken up crocheting to help me sit still long enough to make it to the end. And I continue to learn so much.