Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mono-cultural angst!

Just a warning from the beginning. This is not going to be one of my more culturally sensitive posts. Everybody okay with that? Okay, then here we go . . .

Travel opens the mind. It makes you see that there really is another way of doing things, of thinking about the world, of living life. The longer you live outside of your culture, the more you see this. However, the people you live among often don't share this understanding. Case in point:

One thing Egyptians say all the time is w'allahi. The basic translation is "my God." They use it for emphasis. It's an abbreviation of the phrase, w'allahu azeem, which means "as God is great." They'll tack it on to the end of a sentence in order to emphasize that what they're saying really is true. At least that's the original meaning. At this point it's basically become a saying that they use all the time.

One of my friends asked me today how to say it in english. I told him that we don't really say that in english. Then he said, "oh my God" in english. I told him that yes, that's the translation, but that it has a completely different meaning for us. We say it when we're surprised or scared, but not really in everyday conversation.

So he asked me how we would convey the same meaning they do when they say w'allahi. I tried to explain that when someone keeps saying "I swear to God" when they're speaking in english, we assume they're lying. If they have to keep appealing to God or something else to convince me, then they're probably not telling the truth. My friend couldn't wrap his brain around it. He basically told me, "your culture's wrong."

It's frustrating to talk to someone who's so mono-cultural. When you can get outside of your own cultural box, and examine it dispassionately, as well as several other worldviews, it's irritating to talk to someone who can't think outside of their own box. How in the world do you talk to someone who has no concept of different cultures or worldviews, who assumes that the rest of the world is exactly like their village?

Grrr . . . .

See, I told you it wasn't going to be culturally sensitive . . .

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