Culture

I have been wanting to write about multicultural relationships for a while, but I keep feeling blocked.  I do not think that my relationship with my husband is particularly affected by the fact that we come from different cultures, or at least not as much as one might think.

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What is it that really makes up culture?  Of course nationality is important, but what about religion, political views, social class, whether you grew up in a city or not, who you were friends with growing up, and what kind of school you went to?  The U.S. is so big and diverse in cultures that I can easily find other Americans who have a culture very different from my own.

Before I was openly dating my husband, I had a friend in Morocco tell me that her mother had advised her not to date someone from another culture.  Her mother had said that marriage is hard enough, so you should not add cultural differences on top of that.  To me this seems like a lazy approach to a relationship, and her statement ignores the fact that culture is not black-and-white.

There are certainly things that my husband and I do not have in common.  He likes eating meat (with the bones!) more than I do.  I like to always plan ahead and be on a schedule far more than he does.  We don’t always have the same taste and we express ourselves differently.  But in general, those differences complement one another.

Just the other day we ate an African dish at a restaurant, and he wordlessly spooned his vegetables onto my plate as I handed him the parts of the chicken that were attached to bones or skin. And I thought, what would we do without each other?

What If….

The other day, a man walked by me and my husband on a street in Casablanca and called out “Cote d’Ivoire!”  I think he found it clever because ivory is white and the Ivory Coast is a country of dark-skinned people.  Unfortunately I didn’t think of my comeback quite fast enough, because the man was already out of hearing range when I called back at him, “la mongolie!”  I too can play the calling-out-random-countries-at-strangers game.

This got me thinking, what would happen if things that are common on the streets of Morocco were to happen in the U.S.?  If this exact episode happened in America, I’m pretty sure that any onlookers would think that the man must have a mental illness; why else would he call out something either completely random, or potentially very offensive?

Similarly, people (men) often tell me that I am welcome in Morocco, even after more than three years of living here.  What if a white American told an Asian-American that he/she were welcome in the United States?  I don’t think that comment would go over well.

What people wear on the streets in Morocco is not the same as what they wear at work or indoors.  Today I wore a knee-length skirt to work, and plenty of men along my walk had something to say about it.  That same skirt would be considered pretty modest in the U.S., and probably would not turn any heads.

Occasionally young boys call Africans the word “azzi,” a shortened version of the Arabic word for black.  Sometimes they say “abid,” meaning slave.  If that came to the U.S., the Black Lives Matter movement would have plenty to say about it.

Morocco is not the U.S., so those things will probably keep happening for years to come.  Maybe when I get to Boston I’ll bring yelling things at random people on the street into fashion.  Or not….

 

Random things I’ve learned from teaching

A fun thing about being an ESL teacher is that you get to learn a lot of little details and facts from other people.  I get the opportunity to talk about politics, religion, culture, and also just daily routines and opinions about life in Morocco with my more advanced students.  Here are some completely random but interesting facts I’ve picked up.

On visas:

If someone who is not French marries a French citizen abroad, that person can acquire French nationality after four or five years through a local embassy, without ever stepping foot in France (if only Americans could do the same!)

Moroccans do not need visas to visit Turkey, so the combination of that and the popularity of Turkish soap operas make it one of the most popular countries for Moroccan tourists

On religion:

One reason why eating pork is forbidden in Islam and Judaism may be that pig meat spoils easily in the heat, since both religions have origins in hot climates.

In Islam, the day that each person will pass away is predetermined and cannot be changed (which is not the case in Christianity)

Completely random:

Drinking hot coffee actually makes your body colder, but drinking hot chocolate warms it up (as if I needed another reason to consume chocolate)

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But what if you eat chocolate with coffee?

There is no wage gap between men and women in Morocco – but that’s not to say that there aren’t more men in leadership positions.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country, just after independence.

The Pressure is On

Last week when I went to the grocery store, I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to buy any fruits and vegetables.  I could not find the plastic bags for produce anywhere, and was about to resign myself to having to search for my bananas elsewhere.  I was really disappointed because there were fresh sprigs of basil and some juicy peaches in one display that looked so delicious.  Finally, I realized that there were some brown paper bags right next to where produce is weighed.  I thought that they must have just run out of plastic bags that day.

When I got to the checkout, I discovered that it was not in fact a mistake.  There also were no plastic bags to carry your groceries; just thicker reusable bags for sale.  The grocery stores had actually eliminated plastic bags in preparation for next year’s climate conference, COP 22, which will be held in Marrakech in November.

Morocco is certainly not yet a model for environment friendliness; there is no recycling system, public transportation is not good enough to allow people to forgo driving to work, and plastic bags are still used by small shops, despite the change made by the big grocery stores.  But a big solar power station was recently built in the South, and Morocco is clearly making an effort to clean up its act.

There is nothing like the pressure of being watched by the rest of the world to force one country to make a change.  I can’t imagine Morocco drastically improving its garbage system and traffic problems in the next few months, but I’m looking forward to seeing what other last minute changes will be made!

A Wonderful Tip for Traveling

As I mentioned in a previous post, my trip to Boston will last 28 hours, not including getting to and from the airport.  There are many things I have to do in preparation, like pack a good book, make sure I know where I’m going when I arrive, and find a way to fit all my most important items in my carry-on.  Another thing I have been working on in preparation is training my hair to not look terribly oily after two days.  I consider this to be a very important element of my trip.

Although it is perhaps unlikely that journalists will be waiting to snap my photo when I step foot in the USA for the first time in two years, I still do not want to show up looking like I need a shower.  I expect those first moments to be exciting but more than a little bit confusing, and I know it will really make me feel better if my hair looks okay.  So, I have been washing my hair only every other day, hoping that in a month and a half, my hair will be able to stay fresh without been washed during that long trip.

The traveling tip I want to share with you is dry shampoo.  Dry shampoo absorbs the oils in your hair without drying it out, so it is perfect for giving your hair a quick pick-me-up.  I have been using it on my no-wash days to get my hair to look a little fresher when I go to work, but it also is the perfect fix for oily hair during a long flight because it can be applied in an airport bathroom.  I intend to pass the time during my eight-hour layover by giving myself a dry shampoo.

There are many different recipes for dry shampoo.  The most common has a base of baking soda, but I chose to make mine out of ground oatmeal since I usually have that on hand.  You can also buy dry shampoos, but it is probably easier and cheaper to just mix it yourself, and there are tons of recipes you can find online.  I add a little cinnamon and cocoa powder to make it closer to my hair color, and grind it all up in my blender.  I just sprinkle it into my roots and rub it in all over my scalp with my fingers.  If I leave it in for too long, it starts to feel like dandruff, but if it’s just during the day it keeps my hair looking fluffy for a little longer.  Boston is going to find me sporting an excellent hairdo.

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This picture of my hair looking excellent probably would have been a little bit nicer if I had gotten a lamp to cover that naked light bulb.

Have you tried dry shampoo?  Do you have any other tips for super long plane trips?

What Will Boston Be Like?

I have not been out of Morocco for almost two years now.  I think it is safe to assume that I will have some surprises come August, when I will arrive in Boston for the first time, alone, and after a 28 hour trip.  Last time I was in the US, I almost cried when I realized how much less flavorful the carrots, eggs, and olive oil are in America.  I was shocked to see men walking around shirtless or with saggy pants, and I was very confused about the “no gun” signs that popped up around Chicago after concealed weapons had been made legal.  It was not easy to readjust, even after only one year away.

I am trying to predict what will shock me and my husband in Boston, both to prepare myself and because I’m sure it will be funny to look back later and see how far off I was.  Here is what I expect to experience when I move to Boston:

  • I will be invisible.  I get a lot of stares and comments as I walk down the street in Casablanca, but I expect to blend in when I am in Boston.  The challenge will be to stand out, not to fit in.
  • It will be surprising how much people drink.  I’ve gotten used to alcohol being mostly out of the picture.
  • The season changes will be amazing.  There was a drought this year in Morocco, so it barely got any colder.  I cannot wait to see the leaves change color and to play in the first snow!
  • My husband will learn new holiday traditions.  I discovered last Christmas that he is not familiar with Christmas music, other than church songs.  He has also never done an Easter egg hunt.  He has a lot to learn.
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Christmas in Morocco

  • Not everyone will know where Morocco is.  If they do, they will ask me if I was afraid of terrorists, if I had to cover my hair, or if I was able to access the internet.  And absolutely no one will understand how I met my husband in Morocco, who is not even Moroccan. (Actually, during our visa application process, the National Visa Center in the US asked my husband to send police records available only to Moroccan citizens.  We suspect that the application was read by a machine, because not many humans could confuse “Central African Republic” with “Morocco.”)
  • It is going to be nothing like what we expect.  I would not be so surprised if what shocks me turns out to be completely different from what I’ve written here!

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?  What surprised you about your country?

Une Année de Bonheur

A few weeks ago, my husband and I celebrated one year of marriage.  It has been a good year, and to me it felt like it flew by.  Despite all of the good moments, we hope that the years will only keep getting better!  Here are some things we learned and some things we enjoyed in one year.

  • We learned that we have to communicate.  Anyone can tell you how important it is to communicate in a relationship, but it is not easy.  Generally when we resolve a conflict, we realize that the problem was that we had not effectively communicated when we raised the issue.
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We love to communicate!

  • We don’t always have to like the same things.  At the beginning of the year, we could never agree on what to do on a Sunday afternoon.  Maybe he wanted to watch a movie, but I wanted to read.  Finally we realized that we can hang out together even if we are doing different things.  It seems so obvious now that I write it down, but it is just an example of the fact that we can enjoy our differences instead of trying to cover them up.
  • Along with the last point, something I’ve enjoyed is that we come to like more and more of the same things.  It’s a good day when one of us thinks to bring home some bananas, and a free Saturday morning now almost always means a walk to the beach.
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He’s a bird and I’m a ballerina, but we both like to fly.

  • We have to be aware that we don’t always understand things in the same way.  Of course, we’re coming from two different cultures, and don’t always have the same idea of how things should be.  But sometimes it’s just a different way of seeing the world, unrelated to culture.  For example, when I asked my husband if he was nervous about our upcoming move, he said that he thought we’d struggle to make ends meet at first, but after a few months we would be fine.  He was only nervous about our physical and financial situation, whereas I had meant to ask if he was nervous about making new friends, adjusting to a new country, or dealing with culture shock.  Generally my reactions are more emotional and his are more logical, which is something we have to take into account when we discuss big decisions.
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We were not going for the same angle in this picture….

  • One of the best parts of being married is just hanging out at home.  My favorite things to do are to eat dinner sitting on our carpet, dance around the house, or brush our teeth together.

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  • We (mostly) learned to forgive.  I have a habit of forgiving my husband for something and then getting mad at him again later when I’m worried about something completely different.  Sometimes you just have to let it go.
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And then enjoy some ice cream!