viernes, 4 de marzo de 2011

Private vs. Public

I know I have already written about how hospitable the Lebanese can be. I wanted to focus this time on something that really struck me the other day.

I work in an office with about 400 people. Last week, there was a guy who was walking office by office with a huge box of chocolates.
I personally didn't know the guy, and to my surprise, he came beaming into my office to offer me a chocolate and tell me his wife just had a baby.

I was absolutely moved by the gesture, since a) I had never seen anything like this before and b) I realized what a wonderful custom this is, to let your whole community know about this happy event and about how happy you are.

In Mexico, to the contrary of what many would think, we are actually very private about our personal matters. It is hard to explain, since we are very social at the same time. But I dare say that we do not talk about the really personal stuff in public. There is a huge emphasis on "being appropriate" and saying something that would be shameful for you or your family is an absolute no-no.

And after living in New England (North East of the US), forget it. I am just used to keep conversations, especially at work on a rather superficial level, unless I have a colleague with whom I feel more at ease, and I open up.

What became very clear to me in Lebanon is that people talk about everything. Even with strangers. Some of my friends complain that this is just to nosy, that people shouldn't inquire about every detail of your life. But I just find it fascinating.

Let me give you an example: I enter the elevator in my office, and a woman is in there. I smile politely and then stare at the ceiling (I hate awkward elevator silence).
The woman asks me: are you new? And I go, no, I have been here for 6 months. And then she goes, where do you work (which unit), where do you live, are you married, you got any kids?

Or I am talking to a Lebanese person and he asks me how much my rent is, if my husband is happy, if I have gained weight since last time we saw each other... I mean, things that a Mexican would never ask.

I must say at the beginning, this made me very uncomfortable. I would just lie or change the subject. But I have now realized that behind this superficial "small talk" that I have been accustomed to my whole life is a huge fear of being known (and judged). So I talk about the little things, so the other doesn't have too much information (and can't use it against me).

Maybe the fact that I come from a city with over 20 million people makes me just naturally distrusting. Maybe my culture doesn't allow me to be vulnerable in public. Or maybe this is just a personality trait. The bottom line is that I find this Lebanese nosiness completely disarming. It makes me open up. Tell people who I am. And people look genuinely interested about me when they ask all these questions.

I don't know if as a stranger in this land I crave this type of familiarity and intimacy with people. But I must say that it has allowed me to develop more meaningful relationships around me. People in Lebanon are just friendly. For whatever reason, they just want to know.

3 comentarios:

  1. This is a really good posting, I guess like you said they just want to know. Which probably will answer the question to what I just posted:D

  2. I love this piece. Even by Western standards I'm a private person so I have had to get used to people knowing so much more about me (as in But it really does help you feel part of a community, and like you I actually enjoy it now.

  3. hahha this is so true :)