Are you from Arabia?

It was in the hotel lobby that someone asked me this question. On our Spanish discovery coach tour the majority of fellow tourists were American. They were a great mix and they had travelled from all over the US to come together for 7 days. Interestingly there were many couples : Daughters and mothers that had decided to take a break together.
The question, ‘Are you from Arabia?’ didn’t take me too much by surprise as it was not the first time that I had been asked about my background. All through my life I have had some interesting questions. For example:

1. Do you wear your turban when you sleep?
2. Do you wear your turban when you swim?
3. Does the colour of your turban have any significance?
4. Can you read my palm?

The latter was the most amusing encounter. One year my parents decided to explore the US west coast. Two other families joined us and in a convoy of planes and cars we moved steadily from Seattle through to San Francisco, LA, passing through Santiago and finally to the Mexican border – to both the wonders and shock of Tijuana. I say shock not because the streets remind me of Robert Rodriguez’s movie Desperado – starring Antonio Bandeas but because of the sheer variance in lifestyle. I haven’t been back there but I wonder if things have changed? Anyway, I was at the immigration gateway / border between the USA and Mexico when a large immigration official approached me. He said, ‘I’m going to ask you two questions’:

1. Are you any relation to the Ayatollah Khomeini?
2. Can you read my palm?

I wasn’t sure if he was joking but the stern and serious look on his face begged me to take him seriously. My reply was of course, ‘NO’! ‘He replied, ‘OK you can pass’
I often wondered how much that episode could be made into a comedy sketch – At least it’s clean!

Another extraordinary encountered was a few years ago. I was scheduled to make a client visit to Poole, visiting a large commercial bank to discuss ironically an international project. After an exhaustive drive I found a place to park and headed for reception. The reception desk consisted of an island of desks’ centred amongst a marble floor. I approached and asked the following question, ;I’ve come to meet Cath Cottenham’, ‘Pardon’ she replied. I again repeated my request. She then said,’ Your not supposed to talk like that’, implying that there should have been a possible accent attached. I calmly explained to her that Peter Sellers has not done the ethnic community any favours and that she should understand that many like my father were pioneering migrants to the UK.

Back to Spain, when I was asked about whether I was from Arabia, I explained my background and the American lady withdrew with the following comment, ‘Not from Arabia, well I would never have known’. Quite simply this latest episode reveals to me that its not the ignorance of people who should be in the know but a missing opportunity between the media and our community to get closer to discover the richness of our heritage and who we really are.

Categories: 2005

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