Peter Wachsmith is a student at Seattle University and an ISA Featured Blogger. He studied abroad with ISA in Meknes, Morocco.
Looking back, I fancied myself an open person who “loves to travel” and “wants to learn about other cultures.” Transitioning often has been more a crash course than guided tutorial. Looking back at my first experience abroad has been interesting.
Tonight myself and two other students went to a café in Marrakech to grab some dinner. I like to be comfy when I eat and so I folded my leg under me as I was sitting – this position exposed the bottom of my shoe. A few minutes into our meal a man seated kiddy-corner to us began speaking shortly to our table in a mix of Arabic and French. I didn’t understand him very well, or what he wanted, and gave my apologies before he gestured that I should lower my leg. I thought he was policing my gesture for being too feminine. Being from a liberal town I became indignant to my dinner mates and myself. But, I took a deep breath, and remembered that I am not in America and this is not about me. This is about understanding and adopting another country, and that means their culture and expectations as well.
Moroccans are very good at reading body language and energy. They are a very physical and affirming people (and quick to call you a part of their family). The gentleman must have registered my confusion and frustration, possibly hearing it my voice, and called back to us trying to explain again, he was very patient and kind. Suddenly, my friend Jenna exclaimed, “In Islamic culture it’s very rude to show your feet. It’s considered the dirtiest part of the body.” Well, I was proven happily and humbly wrong. I turned to the man and apologized and he responded with, “In our country we are all family. Welcome!” He said this with a huge smile.
I’m ashamed to admit the attitude I had towards being corrected. It’s very easy to think of one’s rights and customs back home, and to belittle countries less economically developed. I know, despite my issues within America, that being a U.S. citizen has given me a sort of arrogance and pride about my actions on a global scale. That man, an older gentleman, was quick to educate me and still make me feel welcome, in the face of disrespect. I’m sure its no shock when I say that in America we are not usually that gentle with strangers and foreigners. No matter how much I travel and “love” adventures, it’s easier said than done. Shaking off my Westernized ways will take some practice I am sure. Luckily there are my friends and my Moroccan family to keep me in check.
A mere week before I depart, there is something warm about reading my words from what feels like a whole person ago.