When in Rome…

It can be hard to figure out exactly how to act when in a foreign country or perhaps more exactly a foreign culture. On the one hand you want to blend in and show some sort of respect by not insisting on behaving exactly as you would in your home country. But at the same time some things are just so big a part of you that they can be impossible to change. And sometimes you just might not agree on the way things are done in the “foreign” place.

Growing up in Denmark, I was always taught to look people in the eyes when speaking to them. In fact, even when not speaking to them the polite thing is to make eye contact in places like the street or in a shop.  And if a stranger on the street might smile and say hello when passing the right thing to do is smile back and answer. It goes without saying that if someone tries to speak to you, you stop for a few seconds and listen in case they need directions or help in any way. So making eye contact and pausing (if only for a few seconds) when someone speaks to me on the street is really and integral part of me. But two months in Lebanon and all that is changing. Fast!

A few days ago I was walking down a fairly calm street, when I heard a car beep. This is something that happens pretty much twice a second on the bigger roads. But I still have a tendency to look if I hear a car use its horn, especially when there isn’t any traffic. So I looked to see who had beeped and saw a gigantic SUV on the other side of the road. Inside was a young man waving at me. I quickly realized that I didn’t know him and so kept on walking.

A few minutes later I heard the horn again. The guy had apparently made a u-turn and was now following me down the street. Seeing that my Arabic isn’t that good yet, I had no idea what he was trying to say to me. But from his hand gestures it became quite clear that he wanted me to get into the car. For a brief second I considered just saying that I didn’t speak Arabic. But I got the feeling that any sort of recognition of his presence from my side would make him even more eager and so I just kept on walking. And at some point the line of cars behind him became so long that he sped up and drove away.

I turned up a smaller street heading home and thinking to myself that I wished my Arabic was at a more advanced level. This was the first time a man had followed me like that, but it certainly wasn’t the first time a man had made comments to me. And basically I would just like to know whether I should feel offended or complimented. While walking around in my own thoughts I suddenly heard someone talking. I turned to look and lo and behold, there was the same guy in the giant SUV still trying to convince me to get into his car.

At this point I began to feel that the whole situation was a bit creepy. One thing is following me for a little while. But the fact that he had watched which street I turned on to and then followed me there was a bit too much for my taste. Especially because this was a quieter street and because we were getting closer and closer to home and I didn’t really feel like letting him know where I live. Luckily for me, someone I know came driving towards us. It took him all about two seconds to figure out what was going on, so he stopped his car and took his time to say hello. And eventually the guy in the SUV drove off.

Now, this is one of the most “extreme” stories I’ve heard of so far when it comes to men chasing a woman on the street. Normally they say something in passing or maybe pull over in their car and offer you a lift. But if you pretend they’re not there most guy’s give up quickly. But like I mentioned, acknowledging other people’s presence is such a big part of my upbringing and background, so I find the other way very difficult. And in a way I also find it a bit depressing that you have to be so cold towards others.

However, a friend of mine did say that seeing that the guy was so persistent, maybe I should have gone in the complete opposite direction. Instead of ignoring him I should have started to yell at him to leave me alone. That way he would have either become so embarrassed that he would just have driven off. Or some other guys would have heard and just as eagerly come to my rescue. But so far I think I’ll stick to the ignore tactic.

Of course, I could always have gotten into the car and seen it as a chance to get to practice my Arabic a bit.

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