Dirty Dinner (R. from Iowa)
I had the chance to spend some time among the Roma people in a few places in Eastern Europe. One time, I was invited to dinner with a group of men. I didn’t know that the Roma have a very strong sense of “clean and unclean” in their culture, and even saying certain things can defile them, necessitating certain cleansing measures. As I got ready to sit at the table, I realized I needed the restroom, and simply asked the man next to me “Where is the toilet?” The room got so quite you could hear a pin drop. After an awkward, tense silence, a friend leaned over angrily and said “You can’t say that word around food! You just defiled our dinner!” I felt terrible, but the oldest man at the table looked around and said, “None of the women heard it, let’s just pretend he didn’t say anything and eat it anyway.” I was then directed to where I could “wash my hands.”
Selfish American! (R. from Texas)
While on a business trip in the Middle East, I had some down time. My interpreter took me to see some of the city, and it was a scorching day! There was a little street vender selling chilled glass bottles of soda, and I asked if he would like one. He politely declined, so I purchased one, drank it down, and we continued on. Later, another colleague who spoke Arabic told me the version of the story he’d heard our interpreter relaying to his friends.
He had taken this American out, and it was a scorching day. They saw a vendor on the side of the street and the greedy American went over, bought a soda, and chugged the whole thing down while he stood their sweating and dying of thirst. Apparently in their culture, people politely decline several times, and the person offering gives them something anyway, so in his eyes, I should have insisted until finally I just shoved a bottle into his hands. Who knew!