I come from an I-culture. This means that I make my own decisions for my own life. I like my space bubble. I share unimportant information with most people. In my culture, we don’t ask personal questions unless you REALLY know the person. And even then, I figure it’s none of my business. See there it is: MY business.
I live in a we-culture. This means all decisions are made within community. There is no space. And there is only sharing. Of everything. All the time. There are no secrets.
Take the other day for example. We have some friends visiting. We decided to take them to one of the touristy places in the city that boasts the ruins of the ancient city as well as spectacular views of the skyline (and some not-so-spectacular views of the smog and dust that I’m breathing in). I have been to this place many times, so when some local young ladies needed some help determining where to go (those ruins can be quite confusing), I offered my help. After the initial shock that a foreigner knows their local history better than they do, we proceeded to wander through antiquity while chatting about our lives. About five minutes into the conversation, my space bubble was popped: “Do you and your husband have children?” “Not yet.” “Why not? Is something wrong?” And here is where I picture that curious cat falling off the cliff onto the street below us. In moments like these I wish I had one of those cartoon hooks that could pull them out of my frame so I could continue on in peace.
I will be honest. I hate these questions. I hated it when I was single and the first thing people asked was why I wasn’t married. I bothers me when people make comments about how much weight I’ve gained/lost. I’ve had to sidestep the “How much rent do you pay” question more times than I can count. But it’s inevitable. I cannot change a culture almost as old as the world.
So I have a choice. I can stomp my feet and pitch a royal fit. Or I can smile and do my best to answer the question with grace and humility. (Although at times there is a third option: feigning ignorance of Arabic and just ignoring the question – but this usually isn’t truthful as I do understand what’s being said.) So rather than yanking the cat by its nosy little throat and chucking it into the abyss, I choose to take one for the team and chalk it up to cultural education.
Besides, where else can you go and discover untold riches among the narrow alleyways of the market in a single afternoon? Things like Arab cowboy hats, “Marry Me” travel mugs and enough sparkly garland to cover Rockefeller’s Christmas Tree? Yeah, it’s totally worth a few intrusive questions every day.