martes, 15 de marzo de 2011

I'll just tell you who you are

In Mexico we have this expression: "Tell me who your friends are, I will tell you who you are" (boy, did my mother repeat that one over my teenage years!). This, obviously, comes from the popular assumption that people who are alike hang out together.

In Lebanon, this assumption goes beyond socializing, since here every little detail about you lets people know who you are.

A note for fairness: when someone tells you in Mexico where s/he comes from, you can deduct some basic things about that person, especially if s/he comes from the capital (like s/he is an arrogant or impatient a@@).

However,the mere fact of a Lebanese telling people what region or village his family is from, people in Lebanon will immediately assume they know everything there is to know about that person.

In a way, this makes sense historically, as some groups- like the Druze, have lived traditionally in a specific area (the Chouf Mountains, I understand). I want to caution that this is not, by the way, an anthropological analysis of human settlements in Lebanon. What I mean by this post is that group identification in Lebanon is extreme.

Since I just got here, I have been surprised by the assumptions people make of one another, even when they don't know each other very well. When people mention the name of their village, others assume they know their religion, their income, their politics, their education and even which language they speak. I came across an interesting blog written by a Lebanese, who says that even the colors you wear indicate your political affiliation.

On a funny note: I was offered work recently as a house maid on the street, because of the way I look. When I asked the guy where he thought I was from, he told me "You're Philipino". He was completely surprised (and as a matter of fact speechless) when I told him I wasn't.

As a foreigner, I often receive advice from well-intentioned Lebanese (who I am sure are looking for my best interests) not to hang out with people from such and such area or such and such religion. So if I follow this advice, I don't even need to know anything about people, to be able to say who they are. This completely undermines my networking possibilities!

I find this whole affair arrogant , and also very short sighted. How can you really know who someone is by a mere superficial assessment? As a matter of fact, I didn't like some of my best friends the first time I met them!

So... Let's give each other a chance and allow ourselves the opportunity to be positively surprised by one another.

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