Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Other Foreigners

“…and they’ll know we are [His] by our love…”

The longer I’m here the more I start to pay attention to other ex-pats. When you first meet someone, another ex-pat that is, your first conversation takes a total nosedive into a short, yet intensive, interview process. You ask and/or answer these same questions:

What’s your name?
Where are you from?
What company do you work for
[What do you think you’re doing here]?
How long have you been here?
What’s your language level?
Marital/Familial Status?

You then decide if you’d like to proceed to your first date or if you both will just keep your distance. I’ve found this exercise to be shallow and... BORING.

I finally met another girl who felt the same way.
We both dreaded the sight of a new foreigner in a room, car, whatever,
because we knew we were going to get interviewed instead of met.
A few months later, I was blessed enough to
become this girl’s roommate—she is lovely and pure fun.
And while we watched each other fall victim to this
stuffy cycle of meeting new people
who either just being polite and practicing their English
[but really wanted to know who we were],
or who lacked good conversation skills
[the ones we so obviously possess],
we decided to do what any other single lady living
in the Middle East would do:
Take Control.

Ahhh, yes. Roommate, as I’ll call her, just wants to meet someone and have them ask her her favorite color. That’s all she wants: For someone to care enough to know that she has a favorite color. So she started introducing herself and immediately saying, with a smile, “What’s your favorite color?” I found this to be highly entertaining and started joining in. [Ya see, Roommate is much sweeter and gentler than I, so if we get a rowdy one, someone who wants to stick to the above script, I step in and pretty much refuse them entry until they answer her question. It’s fun. For us...]

They’re so caught off guard, because this color question is not listed on the “How to Quickly Size Up Another Foreigner” index card that they have memorized, that they either fumble around or get a little intrigued. This pretty lady doesn’t want to know where you’re from, where you’re living, what company you work for, what work you’re doing or even how novice your Arabic is or isn’t. She wants to know what your favorite color is. Because obviously every person who possesses a soul also has a favorite color. And sometimes, she gets to have a real conversation with a stranger, in her heart language, where she doesn’t feel like the last thing she has to say is: “World Peace, Stan.”

Roommate’s inspired me to not ask these questions. And it’s been a lot of fun. The color question is hers, so instead, I like to ask: “What’s your favorite food?” Everyone has to eat at some point and if you’re living in my region, it means you eat a lot and quite often. I’ve found it so interesting that, when faced with a non-routine [silly] question, people go off auto-bot mode. I think it’s because when we meet other foreigners, we feel like we’re being judged and measured. We have to somehow, for some reason, prove ourselves to the other “Whiteys” in town to legitimize our own presence, so we have our little story prepared. And we resort to these lame, impersonal questions.

Maybe I’m making people a little uncomfortable. Maybe I kind of don’t care. We’re in the Middle East as Americans. I think that it’s pretty reasonable to be somewhat uncomfortable anyways, so what’s a few more moments with me? If we’re going to love each other and support one another’s work and lives, the best way to start is by appreciating each other. To let each other know that we care that you’re a real person, not just another commissioned warm body. I’d love to know that you’re allergic to peanut butter—I’d hate to make your whole apartment building peanut butter cookies and you not get one. [Sad.] We’re here to introduce and live out our Father’s Love, right? So let’s start with one another, ya know, our teammates. I don’t want to spend all my time with you—don’t worry—but I would like to know how I can best love you, not judge you. It’s not my town—it’s His. And I welcome your work and value your life. I, of all people, should be able to at least partially identify with the commitment you’re making and the sacrifices you continue to make. After all, I’m doing it, too.

By the way, Roommate’s favorite color is teal.
She’ll be happy to know you asked.


  1. What a wonderful color to like! And more than that, I'm really happy for you that you have such an awesome roommate. I know how ...essential it is.Mine just left and I miss her terribly, but our Father knows our needs :) The food question is a really good icebreaker in my line of work as well. Thanks for the insight, it's a good thing to keep in mind - to meet ppl, not interview them. Much love to you!

  2. I used to ask people what their favourite food was ALL THE TIME!!!! I was getting FED UP of: "So why are you in England? (I know it's not the same to compare to the middle east, but I digress...) Why did you leave your family? Why did you decide to do such a risky job? When are you going home again? (didn't i just GET HERE?!?!?!?) Will you stay here forever? why are you living THERE?


    I would ALWAYS ask them what their favourite food was, and was ALWAYS shocked that their answer was NEVER anything that they had at home, or was cooked by their Mom/Dad. It was always X meal at X pub/restaurant!!! Culture differences huh?!

    Miss you friend!

  3. I like your ice breaking questions! I'll have to keep that in mind! I don't get asked those questions by too many other foreigners, but often locals, who obviously wonder what on earth Americans are doing living in their country, pepper me with questions, and it still makes me uncomfortable since I can't be 100 percent open.

    So I'll try these questions as "subject changers" next time I'm being questioned! ha ha. I'm sure it will surprise them.

  4. AnnaBananna: Get it, girl. Go meet your new peeps!

    Lee-Anne: You're so great. Thanks for relating to me & proving that I'm not independently crazy. 'ppreciatecha. Miss you, too.

    OT: What up?! Let me know how the subject changers go! :)



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...