Archive for the ‘culture’ Category


The Culture of Windows

December 25, 2016

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest (USA), Central Oregon to be specific. This is a region where curtains are not only used to keep out too much sun, but also used to keep people from seeing into your home. While living in the Oregon High Desert where summer temperatures can reach and exceed 100F, at 10 am my mother would go around the house closing all the windows and drawing all the curtains to keep the house from heating up. Once the sun went down, the windows would be reopened to let in the cool night air. The curtains would remain closed, however, to allow us to sit in the comfort of our living room without being on view to anyone passing by.

At one point, I spent 15 months living in the faraway land called Ohio. Window culture differed there. As a single woman I continued pulling the curtains in the evening against any prying eyes. When I left on vacation, I put lights on timers to simulate someone being home as a deterrent to burglars, but the curtains would also be drawn to maintain the same evening pattern as when I was home and to keep it from being obvious that there was no one in the home. My landlady complained about this because it did not fit with her window culture and she thought it made the house look like it was vacant. She thought I should leave the curtains open.

There was another Ohio window culture that I found strange. They put candles in their windows, electric, of course. Sometimes there were candles in every window of the house. No one did this where I came from, except maybe as Christmas decorations. Seeing the candles in the Ohio windows made me think of the old custom of putting a light in the window for family members who left home, e.g. off to war. This made Ohio seem like the most depressing place on Earth.

Now, I’m in rural England and am informed that the curtains should be opened before sitting down to breakfast. If curtains remain closed during the day, it implies that someone has died.

view out of a window, several flowering plants on the windowsill

No one has died today.


So Rude!

December 11, 2016

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Rudeness is a topic that has been ruminating in the back of my mind for a while. Having lived outside my home country for 8 years now, I endeavor to avoid using the word “rude.” Unfortunately, it is a frequently used complaint by expats and vacationers.

I recently watched a Youtube video by a young Irish woman who had a terrible vacation experience in China. I’m a little surprised that I was able to watch the whole thing because she was painting all Chinese people and the whole country with a broad brush based on her bad experience. I think her accent helped make the story palatable. That, and watching her wretch in reaction to the habit of spitting. As the story (rant) went on, it became more and more humorous. I am not posting a link here because I don’t think she really deserves more views.

She did have a truly unpleasant vacation experience and the company that arranged her travel and hotel ripped her off and she did not get her money’s worth. However, that doesn’t mean it is okay to say all Chinese people are rude, cheating, etc.

Rudeness is a culturally defined concept. What is rude to one culture is expected or overlooked in another. Expecting your cultural standards in another country is both stupid and, let’s face it, rude.

The unwritten rule in China (urban China) seems to be “keep moving.” For example, cars rarely stop, slow down, or wait. If the car in front of them stops or slows down, they drive around it. If there is a pedestrian in the cross walk, they drive around the person rather than stop and wait. Scooters, motorcycles, and bicycles do not stop for red lights. They just blow through the intersection, pedestrians and oncoming traffic be damned. In terms of pedestrians, the keep moving rule applies there, too. A crowd funneling into an escalator just keeps taking little steps and pressing forward and eventually everyone gets on. People getting onto a train or into an elevator don’t wait for people to get off. Keep moving!

I was waiting for an elevator once with a mother who had a stroller and a middle aged Chinese man. When the elevator came, I moved forward based on my American culture of “ladies and old people first” and the Chinese man moved forward based on his cultural rule. We squeezed in simultaneously. We exited the same way. The mother with stroller could probably call us both rude.

I could gripe constantly about the “keep moving” practice, especially the scooters, but that just wears at the soul. (If I do go off the deep end, it will probably be because of the scooters.) The “that’s so rude!” attitude isn’t constructive. On the bright side, when we return to California (famous for bad driving) we get to look around, pleasantly surprised, and say “the driving here is so considerate!” It’s all relative.


front loader tractor on city street

I see your rural tractor and raise you an urban front loader.



Belated Thanksgiving

March 17, 2013

Posted by Kanga.

table full of food

Saturday we finally had our postponed Thanksgiving meal. We shared the traditional meal with our Indian, Pakistani, British and African friends.
There was turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, California olives, and dill pickles. Two pumpkin pies and a pecan pie topped it off.

Daddybird orchestrated the cooking. Volunteers were put to work dicing veggies or mashing potatoes.

It was a pleasant evening with good friends and great food.


Say Almost Anything

September 12, 2012

Posted by Kanga.

I have been looking (desperately) for card and board games to use with my students. The toy stores carry the usual suspects – Monopoly, Scrabble, and Uno – but these don’t fit what I need. I’m looking for games that will make reading fun, so that the students won’t realize that they are learning. The games have to be simple enough to learn in one sitting without being boring once learned. It’s a tall order in a country that doesn’t (yet) have a real game store. [Hint to any budding entrepreneurs reading this, there are many potential customers for a REAL game store here. We do not need more cupcakes or t-shirts. Bring us card and board games, please.]

I have to resort to shopping while out of country. In Singapore, I found a small game store and purchased two items. One is a board game called Say Anything.

In case you are not familiar with this game, it involves prompt questions to which the players write answers. This is golden, because it involves reading and writing. Once I cracked it open and read the questions, however, I discovered it to be very American and in need of some adjustment for my target audience.

So, to make this game culturally/age appropriate, here are the questions I deleted. (My students are Muslim, male, age 13-18.)

  • What’s the best thing about being a woman? What’s the worst thing about being a woman? and What’s the most annoying thing about being a woman?
  • What’s the worst place for a date? What is the best date movie? What would be the most inappropriate thing to say on a first date? If you could go on a date with anyone, who would it be? What’s the best activity for a first date? What’s the most underrated place for a date? What’s the ideal romantic evening? What’s the most romantic movie of all time? What’s the cheesiest pickup line ever? (Dating, in the western sense is not done. Marriages are arranged as a family affair.)
  • What was the best 60’s band? 70’s band? 80’s band? (These boys were born in the late 90’s and I doubt that their parents grew up listening to the Beatles.)
  • What should my gravestone say? (Muslim Arab graves are marked only to indicate that it is grave. There are no gravestones engraved with names, dates, and tributes. Visiting graves is rare, usually only at the time of burial.)
  • What’s the best song for a wedding dance? What song is most likely to pack the dance floor? What dance would you most want to be good at? (Weddings and dances are very different from Western culture. Both weddings and dancing are done separating the sexes.)
  • If you could be the opposite gender for a day, what would you do?
  • What would be the worst thing to scream during church? (They don’t attend church.)
  • What would be the weirdest secret to hear about your mother?
  • What’s the best beer? What’s the best drinking game? (Alcohol is forbidden.)
  • What’s the grossest thing to kiss? (First, I’m not even sure why this is in the game to begin with. Kissing is not to be done casually or out of wedlock.)
  • What’s the worst thing to say to a cop after getting pulled over? (This rarely happens here. Most traffic monitoring and ticketing is done by camera.)
  • Your parents are out of town. What happens at the party? (This is definitely an American thing. I doubt parents travel and leave their teens at home.)
  • What’s the most romantic place for a honeymoon? (Honeymoon is a Western tradition, but it is sometimes done. However, this is not an age appropriate topic.)
  • What’s the best way to impress a woman?
  • What would Jesus do? (This is my personal favorite.)

The following I left in.

  • What’s the best way to pamper yourself? (I’m not sure the word “pamper” is in their vocabulary.)
  • What’s the best musical of all time?
  • What’s the tastiest pie flavor? (Pies are not common here.)
  • Who’s the best R&B musical group? (Will they know R&B? If it said Rap or Hip-Hop, they would have an opinion.)
  • Who’s the best character on The Simpsons? (Simpsons actually airs here.)
  • What’s the best way to spend a day off when playing hooky? (They know the concept of hooky, but I’m not sure they know that word.)
  • Who should just shut up? (This could be interesting or chaotic.)
  • Who’s the best character from Sesame Street or the Muppets? (I don’t know if Sesame Street is known here, but the Muppets should be.)
  • I just got to Las Vegas. What’s first thing I do? (This one might be tricky.)

Some needed modification.

  • What’s the sexiest personality trait for a woman/man? – changed that to “best”
  • What’s the best present to get for a significant other? – changed that to “loved one” (mother, father, sister, brother, etc.)

Ramadan 2012

August 7, 2012

Posted by Kanga.

Last week we revisited the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for the iftar meal. This is an excellent program introducing tourists and ex-pats to Emirati food and traditions. The volunteers do a very good job of explaining traditions and are open to any questions.

man and woman dressed in Emirati fashion

We opted for “Eastern wear.”

people seated on cushions

We attended the event with some of our friends.

bedouin man serving coffee

Arabic coffee served by a bedouin.

containers of food laid out on the carpet

The meal.

young Emirati man talking with three women

Several young Emiratis volunteer at the center. During the dinner they mingle with the attendees to converse and answer any questions. Mohammed, from Sharjah, had his hands full in conversing with us. Our friends are all “old timers” in the UAE. DaddyBird and I, with our four years of residency, are the new comers. Mita came to Dubai about the time that young Mohammed was born.

interior of a mosque

After the meal, the group walked to the nearby mosque for a basic introduction to Islamic concepts and rituals.

approximately 50 people seated on the floor in the mosque


traditional buildings lit at night

After a walk back to the cultural center, it was time for dessert and a question/answer session.

dessert dishes laid out on the carpet

Just in case you came to this blog for information on Ramadan, here are the basics: Ramadan is a month in the Arabic (lunar) calendar. During this month, muslims fast during the day (sunrise to sunset). This means no food or liquids. They also exercise discipline by refraining from things like sex or smoking. The goal is to focus on being a better person. Once the sun sets, the fast is broken with an iftar meal. This meal may be done in the home, at the mosque, or at a restaurant. Another meal, suhoor, is eaten in the early morning hours before sunrise and the beginning of the next fast. It is not uncommon to stay awake most or all of the night and sleep during the day. Work hours are usually reduced to 6 hours (8 am to 1 pm, or 9 am to 2 pm). Some businesses close during the day and open after sunset.

For those in Dubai, we recommend the meal related events at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. During the other months (non-Ramadan) they serve both breakfasts and lunches. It is well worth the time and money.


UPDATED: How to be a Happy Boy

July 28, 2012

Posted by Kanga. (With input by DaddyBird below.)

One evening we were exploring the bookstores of Fujairah. Bookstores do have a few books, but they are mostly stationary supplies. Some of the stock looks as if it has been on the shelf for 30-40 years. It can be an amazing adventure.

In one of the stores we saw this poster. It was tacked up above the shelving where educational posters were stored. We searched through the shelves for a copy to purchase, but did not find one. We went away, disappointed. But, the next time we were in the store, DaddyBird asked the storekeeper for one. He looked and was unsuccessful, as we had been. DaddyBird then asked if we could buy this one. It took a little convincing because the storekeeper couldn’t fathom that we would want it. In the end he gave it to us for free, because it was old and dusty. Who knows how long it had been tacked up there. We would have gladly paid, but accepted his offer.

poster showing things a good boy should do

A happy boy:

  • Love his father and respect him
  • Love and help his mother
  • Help the poor people
  • Love his friends and help them
  • Love his brothers and sisters and respect them
  • Cut his nails
  • Visit the sick in hospital
  • Brush his teeth morning and evening
  • Help the old people

I’m glad that fingernail hygiene rates up there with respecting people and visiting the sick.

DADDYBIRD’S INPUT: In addition to the poster being old and dusty, the storekeeper didn’t want to sell it to us because it was damaged. He said it had been cut down so it was small enough that it could be displayed within one of the panes of the front window of the store- the “Happy Boy” title had originally been at the top of the poster, but was cut out during the process and glued in its current position- and it was naturally faded and sun-damaged from having been in the window for some time. I’m glad that he relented and gave it to us when we convinced him that we really did like it and want it, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to get it for free! (We did buy a number of other items while we were there, including another similar educational poster that had not been modified. We’ll post a photo of that one soon as well.)
It’s a delightful poster to me. It reminds me very much of the the sorts of posters I used at times in the past when I was teaching Christian Sunday School in America, even though this particular poster is aimed at an Islamic and Arab audience. Despite the differing contexts, the message is much the same. So I like the poster on its own merits of wise content and endearing presentation, but also for the bit of nostalgia it invokes for me.


Sharjah Light Festival

February 15, 2012

Posted by Kanga.

DaddyBird and I spent a very pleasant Valentine’s evening seeing some of the Sharjah Light Festival sights. It was an evening well spent – that’s an understatement. We started at Al Qasbah. laser show on the side of a building

There are two displays. One is an amusing laser show. The other is a beautiful celebration of the UAE and it’s 40 year anniversary.

desert scene with camels projected on the side of a building

Camels travelled the length of the building.

palm trees projected on the side of a building

Date palms appeared.

illusion projected on the side of the building

I particularly liked the Trompe L’Oeil effect when parts of the building moved in and out as if it were a chest of drawers.

desert scene projected on the side of the fort

Next, we went to the Hisn Fort where we saw things from a falcon’s point of view.

colorful buildings projected on the side of the fortAnother amazing show including desert scenes and colorful buildings.

garden scene projected on the side of the fort

Refreshing garden scenes.

souk building decorated with fire

When we drove by the Central Souk, I said “It’s on fire!” thinking that it was another projected light illusion. NO! It was decorated in flaming pots. Fire, fire everywhere. The adjoining park was filled with flaming sculptures, water fountains, and avant garde music.

flaming water fountain

Here was a fountain that DaddyBird chose not to put his fingers in. Wise, considering that the water was steaming by the time it reached the bottom. The displays in the park were amazing. Some were tall chimneys that were glowing red because the fire inside was so hot.

We continued on to the Maghfira Mosque. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead by then. It was beautiful.

Don’t take my word for it. If you are in the UAE, get up and go to Sharjah to see this. It ends Friday, so you must hurry.