Thursday, September 08, 2011

Frankincense tree
A few months ago I went on a short trip to southern Oman, to the city of Salalah, almost to the Yemen border.  This is where the frankincense trees grow and that was one of the things we wanted to see/experience/touch.  All those good things. I mean, when you are in a foreign country, you really should see everything that you can during your stay.  So we flew to Salalah.  Something happened on the flight that I just remembered and I think it's important to share this with you.

We boarded our flight, with our assigned seats, me in an aisle seat in the bulkhead with lots of legroom.  My friends were a bit behind me and we settled in for the flight.  An Omani gentleman came up to me, looking at his boarding pass.  Across the aisle were 3 seats and 2 young Omani women were sitting there, window seat and middle seat.  The man looked at them, turned and sat in the window seat by me, leaving an empty seat between us.  I knew he had the aisle seat across from me where the 2 ladies were.  Sure enough, very soon, the 2 people assigned to the seat he was in and the one next to me came, asking for their seat.  He refused to answer them and turned and looked out the window.  The passengers left and a couple of minutes later the flight attendant came back with their boarding passes in her hand.  She asked the man to move to his assigned seat.  He turned  and looked at her and then turned away, looking out the window again.  The attendant tried to tell him all seats were assigned and he needed to take his seat so the 2 passengers could get seated.  He would not speak to her.  Finally, I spoke up and offered to move across the aisle next to the ladies, leaving 2 seats for the other 2 passengers.  With a great sigh of relief, she thanked me.

You may be thinking...what a jerk that man was!  But actually, it probably had something to do with his religion or his cultural values.  At first I thought he was being unreasonable and thought to myself...Self, don't volunteer to give up your seat!  But the more I thought about it, the more I believed that he was following his beliefs.

So for all of you who travel to foreign countries or are Foreign Service like me, be sure to pack a big supply of tolerance and understanding in your bags when you head overseas.  Arrive at your destination with an understanding that you will not judge others by your standards.  Just because we do something in the United States doesn't make it a worldwide accepted way of doing things.  Don't be quick to judge others because believe me, they will be judging you too.  Most of all, don't look down on people because of their local clothing.  I am asked all the time why men here wear those "dumb" long white "dresses."  They wear their dishdashas proudly because it is their heritage.  If you are a Christian, how would you feel if someone pointed out that Christ wore a long white "dress?"   What do you think people in other countries say about hula skirts or 10 gallon hats and pointed boots?  We probably look pretty stupid to other cultures!

So, don't forget...leave your snickering at home when traveling abroad and just enjoy the cultural differences!