My international relations professor once said that globalization was not going to help us become more understanding or accepting of different cultures, and I think he was somehow right. Perhaps we, as human beings, are always doomed to think of certain things as absolutes and are unable to see all the nuances that constantly coexist together. I am not very good at writing essays or reflections, so instead, I will tell you a story about how I was misled by my own assumptions.
In my early twenties, I lived in Paris. I was taking classes at university during the day and worked evenings and nights at a contemporary Indian restaurant. Although I am not Indian, I was hired there because I spoke fluent English, and I was a bit familiar with Indian culture as I had some family living in India for quite some time. That particular year, Ramadan fell in the summer, and once again I was not able to go back home to celebrate with my family. As the end of Ramadan slowly approached, I became more and more sullen at the perspective of spending yet another Eid by myself. Unbeknownst to me, some staff members in the kitchen were Muslim and since religion was not a topic of conversation of choice, I simply assumed, and I assumed wrongly, that they were all Hindu. Have I not just told you that I was familiar with Indian culture, but was I really?
At this point in my little story, I should say that not all the kitchen staff members were Indian. There were also some people from Nepal, Bangladesh, and someone was from Senegal. So how deep do my assumptions run? Too often, we are blinded by what is familiar to us. I grew up in an Arab-Berber Muslim country, surrounded by people like me who were all Arab-Berber. Even after moving to France, most of the Muslim people I socialized with were Arab or Arab-Berber. To my great shame, despite knowing that not all Muslims are Arabs (and vice-versa), I just presumed to know when I did not.
On Eid day, I was working. The kitchen staff was supposed to be on break between the lunch and dinner service, but I could hear noise in the kitchen. I did not think too much about it and kept on working when the sous-chef emerged from the kitchen holding a big plate filled with Golgappa and Aloo Tikki Chaat. He put the plate on the longest table of the restaurant and just said: “Eid Mubarak”. True to myself, I should confess that I am a bit of a drama queen, and I had been whining about missing being with my family this Eid. Thus, they asked the chef for permission to organize a little Eid meal for the staff.
As my grandpa always says, “You live and learn”. This was my first time celebrating Eid, since moving to France. We had a wonderful meal. We chatted away about Ramadan, Eid, and our own traditions surrounding the event. There was joy. There was laughter, and there was scrumptious finger-licking food. I may not have celebrated Eid with my family as I had wanted to, but for a little while, they became my adopted family and I never again had to celebrate another Muslim holiday alone. I am forever grateful for this shared moment that made homesickness a little easier to bear.
Later on in life, I did not go around asking people about their religion as I think religion is a private matter, but I made sure to never assume. Globalization may have made us closer to each other, but only meaningful communication can actually break barriers. A bit sappy, I know. I hope you have enjoyed reading my little anecdote, and thank you to BCFAI for asking me to write this piece. It was nice to go down memory lane.
Feriel is a freelance audiovisual translator who moonlights as a teacher. She was born and raised in Algeria, but spent a great part of her life in Europe and now in South Korea. She has taken to Bookstgram recently, and she mainly reads literature in translation, with a predilection for short story collections and short books. She reads in Arabic, English, French, and Korean. She runs several bookish projects every month with like-minded peeps and a digital book club, the Translated Gems Book Club that only features books in translation.