Stunted conversations

Down to business in France and it can be very impersonal. What many consider the language of romance leaves me rather underwhelmed when I start translating from Arabic.

Take a mundane situation: I call my nice physio to make an appointment. I haven’t seen him for about two months and spent about 3 months having appointments with him prior to that. Let’s call him Physio French.

“Hello, is that Mr Physio French?”

“Yes.”

“Hello, it is Trailing Grouse.”

“Aah, hello Madame Grouse.”

[Pause while I think what I can say next, can I ask how he is, or should I just continue?] “I would like to make an appointment please.”

“Which day?”

With my, also nice, Egyptian physio (let’s call him Physio Egyptian), it would go something like this.

“Hello, is that Physio?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, it’s Trailing here, how are you?”

“Aaah Trailing! I’m fine, how are you? Everything good?”

“Yes thanks, I’d just like to make a new appointment.”

“Ok, when?”

First name terms and personal questions such as “How are you?” are not deemed intrusive, or personal. It may not seem very professional, but it is much nicer I find. I miss Egypt and the people that were in my life when I have what feels like stunted interactions here.

But the sun’s still shining, so it’s all good!

 

It's all about food really..

Fauchon’s L’éclair Rainbow (there’s some sniffing about the English word ‘rainbow’ in the title…aah, France!)


A couple of years ago I went on a short trip to Paris (promise, not all posts are going to be about Paris from now on). I was tired from a night flight but needed to stay awake. Mr S and I went out walking to stay awake and get some ice cream. As we crossed the Marais, we heard loud music. Not being the latest Nancy Ajram or Amr Diab (played so often and so loud in Cairo that there is no need to see what is going on: it’s a wedding or party at a club), I was quite excited to see what was happening. We detoured from the ice cream route and made our way over to a large crowd at the end of the street.

I realised what was happening and was knocked for six. There are times when coming to or from Egypt it’s difficult to believe that we’re only five hours away. That life can be so different in a five hour journey. I am always struck by magazines in newagents in Europe. It’s not the ‘top shelf’ selection although in my first few days I am always too embarrassed to lift my head up, it’s the covers of lads’ mags and likes of Cosmo that have scantily clad ladies: magazines in Egypt have no such covers.  Standing there in Paris, I saw the gay pride march coming towards us. Fun, fun, fun! (Although Sydney does it better). How could it be though that just seven hours before I was somewhere where this march would have been absolutely impossible, even in the conception stages.

Hundreds of thoughts were swimming through my head and I couldn’t quite get a feeling for reality. It was then that I saw the banners of a group called (something like) the Parents of Gays and Lesbians in France. I started crying. I know full well the attitudes and opinions of the majority of the people I am normally surrounded by. I have had serious arguments with some of them about it. I may have at least convinced one that being homosexual does not equate to being bestial (seriously). Ultimately though, I live in Egypt and accept it for what it is. A few hours after leaving Egypt, to see parents marching down the road with large banners supporting their adult homosexual offspring was profoundly moving.

I have to cover my knees and shoulders, I have to accept that a lot of people view me as little more than a prostitute. I don’t like it, but that is just the way it goes. I don’t, however, have to hide a fundamental part of myself for fear of some pretty nasty, physically and socially, consequences. It re-brought home the suffering that some people here must go through just because they cannot be the people they are. I love Egypt, on this level however, I am much more comfortable with a society that allows self expression.

Pretty cool eclair, though, eh?

Take the men out of Egypt's La Senza, Women's Secret and Nike Woman!

Admittedly I’m in a grumpy mood today: I always am after a bad night’s sleep.

But, but BUT, I wasn’t last week when I went shopping and I was superbly pissed off then too.

I walked into La Senza at our local hypermarket/shopping centre. It was about 9.30am and there were seven guys in their twenties, two of whom were clearly behind the tills, the rest were just hanging out, chatting with the two female floor assistants. Of the guys there, four were clearly watching me as I perused the lingerie. One of the girls came to follow me around and smooth out anything I even breathed on.

I hate that. I don’t care if they do it when I’ve left the shop, but following me and straightening every, single hanger while I’m there, like I’m ruining their display of hanging garments, which is there so that people like me come and look and then, presumably, buy, drives me nuts. Team it with some sexually repressed spectators and, La Senza, there’s not a hope in hell of me getting out my credit card.

So, I left the shop last week without buying. Not before quick glance at the two guys who were still watching me, then the two cashiers, then the guys sitting around the changing rooms with the other floor assistant and saying, in Arabic, loud enough for them to hear, “So, this is where all the guys come to hang out?” and walking out.

Today I went in just to see if it was different. Instead of seven, there were five guys.

I just don’t get it. It’s lingerie. It’s a conservative society. Women are covered up to protect their modesty, and so as not to titillate men, but lingerie stores have men working the tills? I know that there are bra stalls in markets and women pick their bras in full view of everybody, not just the male stall holder, but this is (for Egypt) an upmarket, expensive store.

It’s not just La Senza. A few shops away is Women’s Secret. They have a female floor assistant with a man on the till. The same with Nike Woman. Is it that Egyptian women cannot count and so cannot be trusted with tills? Nope. Perhaps it’s the patriarchial society. I don’t know. I don’t CARE! I don’t want some guy folding my bras, checking out if I might need another size (what the hell does he know about how bras fit?!) by asking and taking a quick ‘glance’.

Egyptian women are smart. They are also really nice and friendly. I would have probably bought something in all three stores today had there not been men checking out what I was going to be wearing for Mr S (and him alone). Egyptian men are also smart, but there are plenty of other retail ‘experiences’ that talented men can work at, there is no reason for them to be pawing my panties!

Life in Egypt is never boring (so don't read if you're sensitive)

“Oh no, oh no! Oh no, I don’t believe it! I DON’T BELIEVE IT,’ I was suddenly yelling to my friend down the phone, ‘There’s a guy taking a shit on the roof next door!”

“What?!” she yelled.

“Oh, no. No, he’s not. He’s not. He’s..?” and I couldn’t exactly figure out what was going on.

The workman in a galabeya (long robe thing) was squatting down and had pulled down his longjohns.

“I don’t know what he’s.. Oh my goodness!”

“What is it?!” she yelled at me.

“I can’t believe it! Oh my GOODNESS!”

“Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!”

“He’s washing his…diiick! And…,” Now, there are some things I will probably never blog about, but let’s just say I wasn’t a virgin when I met Mr S, “…he’s hung like a bloody HORSE!!”

Yep, on the roof opposite me, one of the workmen had taken five minutes when (I’m guessing) he knew nobody else would be up, and used the water brought up for mixing cement to wash his very long, very fat manhood in broad daylight, at the start of his ablutions before noon prayers.

The sight is unfortunately impressed on the inside of my eyelids.

I'll get down in a minute

Well, I was going to get down from the soap box and move onto matters of a much lighter nature, however, after reading Mothers of Prevention* in the Sunday Times (Sept 30), I’m not leaving just yet (although lighter matters will be the next posting, promise).

When I first came to Egypt I was very much of the opinion that everybody should live and let live and the solution to race issues is tolerance. I still believe that, in as much as it’s what should happen. I have far less faith now in human nature and our ability to live together when reality is added to the equation. Inequalities and ego are too prevalent in the world today for tolerance to be a total solution (I haven’t figured out what the solution is though).

I had a discussion about this with a Dutch friend once who said that if we believe in tolerance then we have to keep on believing it all the way through and have hope that eventually things will change: essentially tolerance is infectious.

Apart from the obvious horror of what is happening in the towns mentioned in the Times, assuming the article is correct, what struck a chord is the deep seated racial hatred that exists. I have met people here, albeit a very small number, who have a profound hatred of all things western and by extension white. It’s not the mundane hatred that Bush conjures up in his speeches and blankets over a region, this is a little seed of blackness inside a very small number of individuals that gnarls away at them every minute of every day. It tends to centre around how they view the unfairness of their life in comparison to that of ‘the other’ as well as because of ‘the other’. If an opportunity were to present itself to these people to significantly degrade ‘the other’ in a way they feel they have been treated by members ‘the other’, these people would jump at it.

Added into the equation in Northern England is that these are people have an extremely conservative cultural heritage. A girl without her hair covered in such a tradition is seen as ‘loose’. Any girl. A married woman in the company of a man who is not her husband or a close relative is seen as ‘loose’. A married woman wearing makeup and uncovered hair in the company of a man who is not her husband or close relative is basically viewed as a prostitute.

A prostitute, certainly in the country I am in, is not someone who hangs around on street corners wearing short skirts and thigh-high patent leather boots (the crude form barely exists). In this country, and culture, they often spend days with their client. He’ll buy her gifts, they go to the cinema, and out for dinner – they have a mini ‘relationship’. It can also occur over a longer period. Now, if that’s your definition of prostitution, how can you easily argue that western girls are not prostitutes? After all, ‘good’ girls, will be at home with their mother, sisters and aunts. ‘Good’ girls would not be outside in the shopping malls alone, ‘good’ girls do not have boyfriends (or friends who are boys) and ‘good’ girls don’t live outside the home until they are married.

Nothing, obviously, excuses what the article describes these men as doing. The article does, however, highlight an area of our society that needs more than a sticking plaster. It’s not always enough to say that we all have the same basic needs, we all know what it feels like to have loved ones, to get up and go to work etc, and therefore we can all get on.

Our culture does not want to admit the problems of reaching full integration. Anybody who stands up and highlights a problem is fearful of being branded racist. This fear is compounded by incidents like the BNP jumping on an issue, confusing matters, further tarring the promlem-raiser with the racist brush. Out of fear, this results in the issue getting swept back under the proverbial carpet, a heavy chest put on the carpet and the door to the room the carpet is in being locked.

There are millions of people who have the same cultural heritage as the men mentioned in this article and do not behave like them. The inability to confidently differentiate and be allowed to differentiate results in a situation akin to not dealing with neo-Nazis because white people might get upset.

Tolerance may be infectious, but some people have a strong immune system.

*For some reason the link isn’t always working, so here is its in full: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article2538090.ece