Arabs are notorious for their traditions, their generosity towards guests, and their hospitality. In Arab society, guests are always treated with honor and respect. It is no wonder that people who visit countries like Syria fall in love with the people and never want to leave. Vacationing in the Arab world is being treated like gold.
Last week, my family and I had dinner with Congressman Kucinich of Ohio. This was his third trip to Syria since 2006, and he was on a “fact-finding” mission. I sat next to his lovely wife, Elizabeth, and we chatted about the States and Arab society. She said with sincerity that she and Dennis loved to visit Syria. When I asked her why, the answer was clear: the food, the culture, and the hospitality. They are treated with upmost respect and honor whenever they stayed in the country.
When a guest arrives to Syria, regardless of nationality, they are more or less considered a treat to have. When revealed of my home nationality (America), people have been nothing less than friendly. They help me along with my ammieh (colloquial Arabic) and share their thoughts and knowledge about American society. No matter who I talk to- high profile doctors, teachers at U Damascus, or taxi cab drivers, all of them have been extremely pleasant and open hearted.
As for arriving to people’s homes, a dinner event at someone’s house is a long affair. First begins the hour long chatter with plenty of nuts to snack on and drinks of juices and cool refreshments. Finally, when the guests are absolutely hungry, plates and plates of food are brought out and set on the dinner table. The guests eat together, talk, and laugh. Conversations include everything from politics, to pop culture, to family matters.
During this whole process of eating, the guest is constantly being asked what they would like, if they would like more, and why they are not eating more. Sometimes, the host will even go so far as to pour more food onto the guest’s plate when he or she is not looking. As the guest, I do get confused: “Should I eat more? I’m really stuffed. Oh shoot they put more rice on my plate. Is it insulting to leave that when the host picks it up? What is that magic word for ‘no more food’. Oh, oh great, I just ate another kibeh- there goes a half hour added to my walking routine…” And so on. If you go with it, it is quite a fun process.
Dessert is my favorite part- after the guests eat and plop on the couches, they lazily watch T.V. or talk to one another. Then the hosts (who are normally spear headed by the women of the house) bring out the foe-ake (fruit). The fruit fresh which is delivered from the country daily, it is a necessary treat after a heavy meal. Lastly, out comes the coffee or shay (tea). The end is near. After the tea, the guests chat a little longer and then politely make their way out the door, all the while thanking their hosts for their generosity. This whole ordeal is about a five hour affair. When you go to someone’s house, expect to be there for a while.
I think I will visit someone this weekend…
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