It’s amazing the little things you take for granted culturally. The way you just know how things work in your home culture. And I do mean home culture, not home country – that’s an important distinction. There are many different cultures in America and showing this country, or at least the beautiful state of California, to some of my Moroccan friends has helped me to once again see it through new eyes.
The city of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area are totally different from my family’s home up in the Sierra Foothills. When we first arrived in my rural hometown, our Moroccan guests greeted the area with surprise and some trepidation. They couldn’t believe my mom would live here alone during the week while my dad works in The City. The deer in the bushes could have been any sort of monstrous creature until we pointed out otherwise. And I couldn’t possibly have friends or neighbors here because, where could they possibly be?
Having lived most of my life in the mountains, I found most of their reactions slightly amusing but made sure to reassure them that, yes, it is perfectly safe, the bears will not eat you, and people really do live here. They soon came to enjoy what was certainly a new experience for them, and we all learned more about different American and Moroccan cultures.
Then it came time to get ready for bed.
In the weeks leading up to their arrival, I had grown more excited every day, working both at my job and helping my mom prepare the house and plan an itinerary for our guests. Making the beds up for them, I decided that when they arrived I would sleep outside on the deck. Though I’ve always loved sleeping outside, it had been a long time since I had been able to do so. Doubting that I’d have time to go camping this summer, I wanted to jump at whatever chance I could get.
When Zakaryae, my Arabic professor, heard that I would sleep outside alone, he was incredulous. He would never let his daughter do that, especially alone, and certainly not with all the lights off.
My reassurance that I’ve grown up sleeping outside occasionally during the summer — whether on the trampoline with my (surrogate) siblings from a very young age, or camping with friends or family, or just for the fun of it — was enough to make his 14-year-old daughter, Marwa, willing to try it. Zakaryae wasn’t too thrilled about that at first, but sure enough, the next night Marwa slept outside along with me and another friend of mine. Her bravery and willingness to try new things just emphasized for me the importance and impact that going abroad can have at any age. The entire exchange was a new experience for everyone involved. It would never occur to me to be worried about sleeping outside in my own backyard, just as it would never occur to any of my Moroccan friends that it would be safe, let alone enjoyable, to do so. But no matter how big or small the issue, a little understanding can go a long way towards understanding others’, as well as your own culture.