I was reminded today of yet another aspect of Iraqi
culture. Most likely it is something which all Arabs have in common, but as I'm
mostly only familiar with this particular section of the Middle
East, I will stick to calling it an Iraqi thing.
As you may or may not know, there are still a few Romanians residing in my camp; leftovers from the 600 man camp contract. Last week I became aware that the Romanians, who work our kitchen, were preparing meals for themselves and not sharing the food with the Iraqis whom are in my employ. I've had problems in the past with the whole Romanian / Iraqi clash of cultures, and was not very surprised. So, rather than cause a lot of bother, I authorized a weekly purchase of food which was to be used for Iraqi meals, so that they might make whatever dishes that they preferred for themselves.
This afternoon S. informed me that apparently for the last three days, some of the Romanians were coming in and raiding from the Iraqi food stores. R. had told them that the food they were now taking belonged to them, but they ignored him. I worked myself into a fit and proceeded to the kitchen to yell at the offenders, only to find that they were not the burly sour Romanian men I was expecting, but two petite, smiling Romanian kitchen girls, happily making a Romanian mash of some sort from the Iraqi's food. Having gotten myself all up into a state of heaving hairy chestiness with some good foamy rabidity thrown in for good measure, it was too late to back off and I regrettably sent them off in tears.
Well of course I instantly felt sorry, but it was after the fact and anyway the circumstances seemed to justify at least a little righteous rage, if not a tirade meant for men and misfired at cute little women. Once I calmed down, I went and spoke to one of the Romanian guys, Pieter, (the girls wouldn't come near me, after) and explained the situation to him. He told me that it wasn't true that they hadn't shared their food with the Iraqis, that they were welcome to anything they prepared.
I was thus faced with a circumstance I'd seen at least one hundred times before between the two groups; One side swore up and down that the sky was grey, and the other swore up and down that it was dusty, and I had no way of really knowing who was closer to the truth, I myself seeing it as rather a hazy blue.
I realized later, as one always does who is slow of thought, when it was too late to use the insight, that an item of Iraqi behavior could explain the situation perfectly.
To wit: if Scott, Jeff, and I are watching a movie, and one of the Iraqis walks into the TV room, he will stand there for a minute looking really interested in the movie, and then leave. This is because unless you make a point of inviting him to come in and watch it with you, even if he is a close friend, he will not stay. A friend of more Western roots, whether you know him well or not, will just sit down if he's interested in the movie, and ask if you've got an extra beer. Iraqis (and I assume, most Arabs) must be invited, or they feel unwelcome and will promptly exit the scene.
So, it's entirely possible that the Romanians just made food come one come all, and the Iraqis, being so invitation-sensitive, felt shunned. And the Romanians in turn helped themselves to the "communal" food in the fridge. And, what with being ex-communists and all, it kind of makes sense! Of course, it's also entirely possible that the Romanians are just a dour, unfriendly lot who resent everyone who is happier than they are, (which is everybody including Harvey Pekar) but I'm trying to put a good face on it.