Their way vs my way (cultural differences)

In all about me I invited you to come on the journey with me of my life living in the Middle East, share in my adventures, frustration, laugh and cry with me. Tonight’s post is one of these times that I need to share my frustrations about the some of the differences that I encounter living in a completely different culture.

Let me start by saying sorry to my sisters and any friends with children for being in the road, turning up or not leaving when it’s time to get the kids ready for bed.

Since becoming a mum I realise just how much hard work goes into setting up routines for children and that in my opinion having a routine results in children that (generally) respond to the routine which seems to make for settled children (and settled parents!) Ok so I know that it doesn’t always go to plan and that children love to throw a spanner in the works, but I can say that Alia and I both need to have a routine and we both enjoy having that predictability. Anyway this post is definitely not about parenting advice or tips as I’m far from an expert, so if you are looking for that you’ve come to the wrong place!

Alia’s bedtime routine starts at 5:30pm when she has dinner. 6pm it’s bath time, then a story, bottle and bed by around 6:30pm.

Tonight I had visitors turn up at 6pm. None of these visitors speak any English. Atef wasn’t home. I had just finished running the bath for Alia. I hadn’t cleaned up from where Alia had dinner (food all over the floor and highchair) and the house generally looked like a mess. Are you starting to sense the frustration.

I rang Atef and said that he needed to come home straight away and explained to the visitors that I was just going to give Alia a bath. To this I was promptly told off as it was way to cold in their opinions to be giving a child a bath (in winter baths should only be given on sunny days, during the day, and only 1-2 times a week!). Never mind that I had the heater going in the bathroom and that it was toasty warm in there. I ignored the “helpful” advice (sometimes pretending that you don’t understand Arabic is a blessing) and gave little miss her bath which she absolutely loves.

Atef still not home, but I needed to press on with the bedtime routine for Alia. The visitors had cuddles while I made her bottle, and then it was time for her to go into her room have her milk and into bed. Again this is met with absolute incredulousness as it is incredibly rare for children here to go to bed before 8pm. In fact the child who was with the visitors is unlikely to be in bed before 10pm each night. Call me selfish, but I need to have Alia in bed before 7pm not only for her sake but for my sanity. She’s exhausted at the end of the day and keeping her up any later just leads to an overtired, whinging, horrible baby and a grumpy, tired, frustrated mummy. Not nice for anyone!

Alia all tucked up and settled in bed by 6:30 I go back out to the visitors after having called Atef yet again as he’s still not home but is on his way. I switch into hospitality mode and start making a pot of tea  and trying to get clean up some of the mess in the kitchen and declutter the living room of Alia’s toys.

The very same things I love about the culture at times make me frustrated. I received help with cleaning up the kitchen and my dishes got washed for me. My way of washing dishes differs remarkably from the way I have experienced and witnessed  dishes being done in households here. I’m water conscious (most of the time except when it comes to hot showers!) and here they are not. Dishes are done with water running the whole time. I tried to intervene and set up the sink one with soapy water and the other with hot water for rinsing and even though it’s my kitchen and therefore should be my rules I’m fighting a losing battle as the way that I do it is definitely wrong.

Another thing I have noted is that an absolute excess of dish washing liquid is used (there is an obsession with things being clean). Dish washing liquid is squeezed directly onto the sponge for every 3-4 plates etc and I’m not exaggerating when I say that a 1 litre bottle of dishing washing liquid would be used every week in the households that I’m familiar with. The obsession with the dishes being clean is also why my way of having a sink full of water is considered to be wrong as washing dishes in the water that has had other dishes in it is dirty and therefore the washed dishes are still dirty. Anytime family members are here and getting out plates/glasses etc from the cupboard they are all washed again before being used.

Then there is the issue that I have a kitchen where the cupboards are wood. This is again not the norm as most households have pressed aluminium cupboards. I have tried to explain on numerous occasions that when washing the dishes in my kitchen that I need the water to stay in the sink and not all over the cupboards, which so far has fallen on deaf ears.

So there are suds and water going everywhere and my frustration levels are rising proportionally. Atef has finally got home and has now invited the visitors to stay for dinner. This is again very reflective of the culture. You would never have visitors come without feeding them and if it’s meal time then you are expected to provide the appropriate meal for them.

So I prepare what we describe here as “breakfast dinner”. Lots of little plates of different things such as cut up tomatoes and cucumbers, yoghurt with olive oil, hummus, I  made some potato chips and fried cauliflower (sounds strange but is yummy with a pinch of salt and squeeze of lemon juice), foul and I had some left over meat galayeh from lunch (will do a post on galayeh). Along with fresh flat breads this is dinner. Followed up by fresh fruit and more tea the meal is complete.

Finally at 9pm (with what I consider is a very whingey, whiney, overtired child) the visitors left and I was able to have some downtime. At least the visitors don’t turn up at 9pm like they used to!

I will update this post at a later date with photos of ‘breakfast dinner” but I didn’t take any last night. Somehow taking photos wasn’t top of mind.

5 responses to “Their way vs my way (cultural differences)

  1. Pingback: March is dust storm month so I’ll just clean in April | Middle East Moments·

  2. Pingback: You’re doing it all wrong! | Middle East Moments·

  3. Oh my goodness, I know exactly what you mean! The first few times it happened in our place I was shocked and dismayed, and may I say just a tiny bit insulted. Now, after four years, I just take it in stride. I know when company comes, the women are going to toss me out of my own kitchen and take over. On more than one occasion they have even washed my floors! Nothing I can do to change it, so I just consider it a day off from the kitchen!

    • My oven got cleaned for me the other day – hard not to be insulted, but then like you just have to think well at least it’s a job that I don’t have to spend time on now. lol!

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