Saturday, April 21, 2018

19 things that people from the American South and the Middle East have in common

More than half a decade ago, while I was studying at a small college in south-east Tennessee, I spent the summer doing an internship in Beirut, Lebanon. And it occurred to me either then, or shortly after, that there are quite a number of odd parallels between Arab and American Southern culture. I actually considered writing a blog post about it then, but since at that point I’d really only spent a year in Tennessee—and less than two months in the Middle East—I figured I would be criticized for making generalizations about things I had very little experience with. So I put it out of my mind, until in 2014, I moved back to Lebanon for what was to become nearly two years of life there, abridged only by stints of travel throughout the rest of the Middle East and north Africa. At that point though, I felt pretty far removed from the five semesters I’d spent in Tennessee, so a post comparing Arab and Southern idiosyncrasies felt neither-here-nor-there. But now, having just moved to north Florida for the foreseeable future, I think it’s time at last that I put pen to paper about it.

As to my qualm about generalizations, I can only qualify this by saying that am talking about societies in general, not people specifically. Indeed, I know many people from the Arabic speaking world to whom none of these things would apply, and many people from the American South for whom the same could be said. That said, I still feel qualms about it. In the end though, my excitement about making this list outweighs the qualms. Really, these are two parts of the world that I think terribly misunderstand each other. I think this is almost certainly due to the fact that their only interaction has been when they were conscripted by their national governments to fight each other, when in reality, they have so many things in common. So without further ado, Southerners and Arabs:

  1. Put alarming, tooth obliterating, diabetic-coma-inducing amounts of sugar in their tea
  2. Just can’t get enough of shows in which people phone in to ask a religious authority for advice on issues that have no apparently obvious connection to religion
  3. Are paradoxically ultra-patriotic AND…
  4. …deeply suspicious of their own governments
  5. Love guns
  6. Think the blinkers on the corners of automobiles have no other utility than expressing celebration
  7. Are Young-Earth Creationists
  8. Looooooooooooooooooooooooooooove fried chicken. Particularly in a sandwich
  9. Would like to see prayer back in schools
  10. Drive huge trucks/SUVs
  11. Express public, vocal, and often political opposition to things that they themselves frequently do in private
  12. Fried chicken again for emphasis
  13. Would probably feel they were being persecuted if less than 2/3 of the radio stations were playing sermons at any given time
  14. Like to have strong leaders
  15. Share a concept of Honor that is lost on people from almost anywhere else in the world and that isn’t worth even trying to explain short of a dissertation, but safe to say is in the background of almost every aspect of life. Perhaps because of this….
  16. …are exceptionally friendly, BUT…
  17. …things can go sideways horrifyingly fast if you break the rules
  18. Have an amazingly strong concept of Heritage and connectedness to an idyllic past
  19. Believe that keeping that connectedness alive is vital and worth fighting for, even when it’s challenging to contextualize it in a global and post-modern world


So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed it, and if I die suspiciously tomorrow, you may as well just call it an accident, because the list of suspects will be hopelessly long.

In all seriousness though, I do think these are real. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that everything is the same. There are several notable areas where there is a 180-degree difference (etiquette in line for the grocery checkout is a major one that comes to mind). Still, as major world cultures go, I think the similarities are very interesting, and I almost wonder if somewhere down the road it would be possible to do some sort of exchange program. Then again, that might be a bad idea. But who really knows?

Sunday, April 01, 2018


So I've just moved to Florida.

After two years in upstate New York, I'm trading the subzero windchill for humidity, the road-rage-in-the-shopping-aisle rudeness for the almost-stiflingly polite, and the bomb-cyclone for the hurricane.

Lest you think I went soft and moved south to escape the cold and the speed and the malice like so many retired snowbirds, I did not. This was a career-motivated move.

Okay, well at least mostly.

But reasons aside, I have moved. And I find that anytime I move, I begin having strange and unwelcome thoughts. The first of these is that I should get married; the second that I should buy a truck.

But for realz, moving by yourself is hard. There's like a bazillion things that you need to do all at the same time. Like go to the city utilities building that is really only open while you're supposed to be at work or find a time for the cable guy to come.

And then there's decisions, Decisions, DECISIONS — that you have to make and no one can really help you, because ultimately they only really affect you.

I should qualify this by saying that any of the places I've moved — even overseas — I've always had friends or family there who were awesome and more than willing to assist in anyway they could. But it's still tough.

Normally I really prefer being alone, but moving pretty much always makes me wish I wasn't.

And then there's the truck. If I bought a truck, it would be much easier to move furniture.

That's all I have to say about the truck.

So I'm here for the fourth time in as many years, having these strange thoughts. But I'm sure it will pass. It always does. And I'll continue to blissfully drive my subcompact on into my solitary and misanthropic future.

Which is not to say that if you're passing through Tallahassee at any point in the next couple years you shouldn't swing by for a visit. You absolutely should.