Friday, June 13, 2008

American Express

By Stephen Dockery

When I arrived in the Middle East I had an initial feeling of humility that came from traveling in a country where I can't really speak the language and don’t know the culture. But after a while, I also noticed an opposite phenomenon. Unintentional and subtle, an air of arrogance hung around everywhere I went.

Getting past security at the front of the hotel? No big deal, just flash your white skin. Don’t know where you are? Speak English, and expect someone to understand you. Our group of men (the dorms are segregated) paraded into the Qatar University dorm without showing ID to the security guard. He just stood by helpless - his English wasn’t good enough to stop us, and I think he knew it.

The whole issue is made worse by the fact that our rights are protected far beyond that of an average Arab citizen (Egyptians on the trip had to hide their own nation's passports and produce their American passports to get any respect from the police or hotel security). The hotel security would toss you out of the hotel if you didn’t have a room there, or at least an American passport.

This could be the tourist feeling in any country, but its made worse by how strongly we stand out. The whole experience feels slightly superficial at times - you can walk around all you want, but you can't really know what it's like to be an Arab citizen even on the basic level of how people treat you.

1 comment:

Ethar El-Katatney said...

That's the Egyptian "open secret;" foreigners are treated better in every which way. And that's just the way it is.