Saturday, January 31, 2009

Giggles and Faux-Fur

Strong men waving swords on Arabia steads. Dignified and quiet fathers. Violent and irrational avengers. All of these are stereotypes of Arab men. Not well-know, however, is the oddly kitschy and sentimental stereotype that thrives in closer circles here in the Middle East. Although no stereotypes can be applied to everyone, in this case, there is at least a smidgen more than a grain of truth, at least in the Gulf.

At first it is startling, the electronic baby's giggle coming from the pocket of the man standing next to you. Then he picks up his cell phone and starts a normal conversation. The longer you stay in the Gulf (in my experience), the more common-place this becomes. If not a baby giggling, it's a squeaky version of the 'Happy Birthday' song or 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'.

Although I have never been, I am told that in Cairo, taxi drivers cruising in 1980s Fiats have wired their cars' to play a beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep rendition of "It's a Small World After All" whenever the brakes are pressed. It starts over too every time they are pressed again. Of course the car's atmosphere is completed with teddy bears and "I love you" stuffed pillows lining the back window. In Oman as well, men's cars are often decorated with bright yellow faux-fur seat and dashboard coverings. Don't forget the pink heart decal hanging from the rear-view mirror too.

Odd indeed, but where does this trend come from? Why is this bizarrely effeminate and overly sentimental behavior so common in normal (I think), straight (again, I think) men? I don't have an answer to that question yet, and I'm not sure I want to delve too much deeper...

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