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I found myself stifling my astonishment at such outward and physical signs of affection between men. Socializing is an integral part of both cultures and facilitates the celebration of commonalities amongst difference. Young women in the U. Backdrops such as these would unfurl throughout my incomparable and intriguing time in the Middle East. Our American male friends were usually caught off guard when my husband, born and raised in Jordan, reverted to his natural customs, greeting his friends with a hearty hug and familial kiss on the cheek. For men in the U. Unlike informal gatherings of Arab males at cafes and restaurants where collectives of men seem intimate and jovial, traditional functions for men are typically marked by more subdued pursuits. Four years later, we moved to Qatar where despite the booming pace of the economy the socializing patterns moved at a distinctly slower and more deliberate stride as had been the case in Saudi Arabia. Most importantly, my distinct socializing experiences in the Arab world have impacted the way I approach my own socializing habits. Smoking Sheesha in Doha Relationships between males in the U. My Arab sisters taught me to completely let go and be comfortable in my own skin, enjoy the moment, and succumb to unbridled delight. Music and flowers were absent from the wedding ceremony in Riyadh; controlled whispering permeated the air. I had accompanied my husband, a Lebanese native, along with a contingency of U. The corner of the hall, however, hummed with vigorous, yet controlled, chatter from clusters of women, surrounded by the incessant motion of children. It is all too easy for us from the West to assume that because women wear the abaye, in which they look serene and demure, that they are shy and retiring ladies. Even casual greetings among men would begin with busses to the cheeks and lead to protracted conversations that oftenincluded cardamom or Turkish coffee , or sweet mint tea. I was initially surprised to find these women who in public were often silent, enveloped in black, here surprisingly open and joyous, transformed by their colorful clothing, ornate jewelry, and immaculately coiffed hair. In Western culture , men are typically characterized as less openly emotional, preferring to bond over topics and interests such as sports, work, popular news, or finances. Even morepeculiar and unfamiliar, was the sight of Saudi men enthusiasticallygreeting each other with a kiss to each cheek. The engagement ritual was similarly understated, marked by muted conversation during which servers offered cardamom coffee, mint tea, and soda, followed by kanafeh after which the men dispersed. At such events lively discussions thrummed as the soaring strains of Nancy Ajram provided the backdrop for vibrant singing and enthusiastic, intimatedancing. While in Doha I have had some remarkable evenings with Qatari families during which I might be one of a cluster of women settled on colorful red cushions on the floor enjoying palpable Arab hospitality and probing conversation while sipping cardamom coffee, eating dates and Lebanese mezzah, while my husband is huddled with the male members of the family in an adjacent tent in the front courtyard. Some even lightly touched the tips of their noses together. In this case, many times men will coalesce with one another to socialize around the given sport or activity. Nancy Ajram in Cairo.
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