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How to survive a Middle Eastern dinner party

Brooke LakeA CSU Ram can be assured a few things: Tony Frank will never give you a snow-day, you will learn to fear bicyclists more than motor vehicles and interactions with international students can be certain.

Thanks to CSU’s continual commitment and success in promoting diversity within our student population any Ram, undergraduate or graduate, will have the inevitable opportunity to encounter a culture other than their own.

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Being invited over to a friend’s house to study or share a meal may seem like no big deal, however when the person comes from a totally different ethnic group than your own, insecurities are bound to arise.

As an American, I have had my fair share of culturally awkward moments while interacting with my international friends. Luckily, these friends were understanding and patient in teaching me their traditions.

From my years of experience interacting and living amongst Arabs, Muslims and Christians from the Middle East I feel comfortable interacting in social, religious and home environments. If you ever find yourself invited to the home of a fellow student from the Middle East, here are a few things you ought to know in order to avoid embarrassment

First and foremost –– avoid using your left hand. I chose to point this out first because when Americans greet someone from the Middle East, especially those who identify as Muslim, it seems to be the most common cultural blunder. The left hand is considered unclean and members of Middle Eastern society only shake hands and eat with their right hand. If you choose to extend your hand in salutation make sure you do so with your right hand. Additionally, when eating your meal, make sure to avoid eating with your left hand.

Take your shoes off at the front door. You’ll pick up on this cultural practice once you step foot in the house because no one will be wearing their shoes and there will probably be shoes lined up at the front door. The feet are another part of the body considered to be quite unclean according to individuals from the Middle East. Since many meals are eaten and Muslim prayers are performed on the floor, it is a space reserved for cleanliness.

Never refuse the coffee, tea, or food that was prepared for you. Hospitality is central to Middle Eastern culture and receiving guests at your home is taken seriously. It means preparing for their arrival by taking the time to cook and clean. So when you are offered coffee, tea, food (including seconds and thirds during meals), you should not decline the offer. By refusing to drink or eat with them, you are saying in a way that what they have arranged is not good enough for you.

Bring a gift with you. If you are invited to share a meal with students from the Middle East it is most respectful to bring with you a gift. It does not need to be lavish by any means, but bring something that expresses your gratitude for the sacrifice they have made by inviting you over to their home.

Unlike American culture, Middle Eastern culture operates in a collective sense as well as values hospitality to a much higher degree. It is the responsibility of the host to prepare more food than you could possibly eat and it is your job, as the guest, to thank them endlessly for their kindness as well as repay them with some small gift.

An appropriate gift can include an appetizer or dessert you have prepared, toys for children (if they are present) or even a meaningful trinket which represents the culture from which you come from.

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It is important to note, however, that making “mistakes” is an inevitable part of sharing cultures. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is still vitally important to preemptively educate yourself about the culture with which you choose to interact. It demonstrates respect and a willingness to learn.

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