Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Laugh, and the World Punches You in the Face

You know you’re overdue leave when every small incident seems to bring that red mist down and you feel like you’re spending most of your day controlling your natural urge to strangle people. There are those among us for whom this is normal, everyday behaviour, of course. But for most of us, it comes in that last two or three weeks before flying off to pastures greener for a well-earned break being forced to eat stale Dundee cake by long-forgotten aunts.

Quick diversion to ask a perennial question. Why are you on duty when you go home, but they’re on holiday when they visit you out here?

So this time of year is a great time to catch one of those sights unique to the east-meets-west polyglot melting pot that is Dubai: that of a furious European shouting at an Indian guy who’s laughing at him.

It’s one of those facts of life here, where the world’s cultural tectonic plates rub, that different people react in different ways to different situations. The personal space of the average Brit is about three metres. For the average Malabari it’s about two millimetres. When Arab women see a cute baby, they like to fuss over it, squeeze its cheeks and give it sweets. Touch a European woman’s baby and she’ll mace you and leave you lying in the street in a heap, puking and crying. Northern Europeans queue. Nobody else bothers.

And many people from India, particularly the south it would seem, giggle when they’re nervous. It’s a natural reaction for them, particularly when people are so rude as to raise their voices. And there’s no better way to send an upset European’s temper into the stratosphere than to laugh at them when they’re shouting at you.

It always reminds me of that classic piece of that classic comedy, Fawlty Towers. O’Reilly the Irish builder has just screwed up the interior of the hotel and Basil’s fire-breathing wife Sybil is having a go at him. He laughs her off as Basil can be heard saying through gritted teeth, “Don’t laugh O’Reilly, oh please don’t laugh” and then, of course, she beats the crap out of him with an umbrella.

And so when the watchman in our building told a furious colleague that the basement parking would remain shut for another week (consigning us to another week circling the building trying to find non-existent parking spaces and then walking hundreds of yards in the sticky, hot humidity) and she started to shout, I found myself thinking of Basil Fawlty’s “Please don’t laugh!” But it was too late.

He giggled and it got twisted.


Brn said...

Thank you for sharing that, I needed a laugh this morning.

I went to a conference in the US with an Emirati collegue a couple of years ago. I had to tell her not to touch the kids because Americans would not like it. She thought that I was lying to her, that no one would possibly object to someone admiring their child.

Anonymous said...

Had a good laugh reading your blog. I am a Indian and from the south! But a westernised Indian. I know exactly what you are on about (however not just indians! Paks, Lankans, Banglas, arabs (gulf) etc I know we all look the same but !)

Used to do the smiley thing to my teachers (British school) in my younger days and got the same reaction as Sybil!

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