Monday, October 8, 2012

Social Skills

I've talked before, I think, about social skills in the Emirates, in particular the social skills of Emiratis.  In a nutshell, they have none.  I can understand why.  The girls speak with almost no one outside their family, and when they do they are typically texting, which necessarily ignores nonverbal communication, such as--oh, I don't know--facial expressions and hand gestures, the interpretation of which are an essential part of being a human being.  The boys talk a bit more with outsiders, but not much.

Some examples:

A student asks me before class one day, "How old are you?  45?" 

I am 42, and I tell him so.  He does not seem embarrassed to have highguessed me.

The social skill that has not been learned in this case: When you guess a person's age, guess low.

On other days, students have also said to me, "You look tired!" when I slept eight hours, or "You look angry!" when I am concentrating on a task.

I can understand why they would misinterpret concentration as anger, since they rarely concentrate.  Analytical thinking is like learning Latin to them.  I mean honestly, why think analytically when a government job is guaranteed to them?  The frown of analytical thinking resembles anger, I suppose.  Why develop wrinkles when you can be eating cupcakes?

In any case, the social skill they haven't learned here is keep it to yourself, asshole.

The "keep it to yourself, asshole" skill is one that most Americans have learned.

Most Americans tend to avoid saying to an overweight woman, "You are pregnant!" as I overheard an Emirati say to an obese woman who was not expecting child.  Even worse, the Emirati continued by saying, "You look too old to be pregnant!"  Devastating uppercut.  Instant knockout.  She'll carry that line with her until the end of her days.

Another example was a friend of mine who lost 30 pounds.  How can an Emirati turn weight loss into an insult?  Easy.  The student said, "You used to be so fat!"

All of these things led up to today's class, when I was trying to teach the students the word dilemma.  "It is a problem with no good solution," I told them.  "For example, a man walks up to me and says, 'I can either punch you in the face or throw you down the stairs.  Which will it be?'  Neither answer is good for me.  I have a dilemma."

A student in the second row blurted, "He should do both to you!"  Then the student laughed unnaturally, like you would read on paper: "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha."  With a serious face.

I walked up to her calmly and punched her directly in the nose, spraying blood all over my white dress shirt.  Then I put her in the camel clutch, as made famous by the Iron Sheik, until she passed out, while the other ladies fled the room in horror.*

Then I went home and had a nice lunch.