As someone who has lived between both the “east” and the “west”, I often find it easy to adapt and connect to both worlds. However, when I went to France this time, it was more difficult to quickly adapt. That is most likely because I flew from revolutionary Yemen with no water, no electricity, and mass protests, to France with hot showers, 24 hours of internet and no gun shots. What made me feel more disoriented, was the fact that I was listening to Yemeni music while visiting rural France.
So in an attempt to “connect” I tried to focus on the similiarities we share rather than the obvious differences. The following is a list of 10 similarities that I found between Yemen and France. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously, so please excuse the generalizations I made.
Pride in national products: both are obsessed with their national products, always discussing them in every occasion they get. The French with their wine and cheese. Yemenis with the Qat & coffee.
Importance of la famille: family is important to both, but the definition of family in Yemen extends to a larger group of people. My relatives from the seventh grandfather are considered my “cousins”.
Spending hours doing “nothing”: both French and Yemenis enjoy spending hours talking, talking and talking. Yemenis chew and talk, the French go to cafes and do the same. This cultural habit proves useful in enjoying life and creating strong friendships and social exchanges.
Amazing architecture: while the architectural style is completely different, both have absolutely stunning historic buildings.
“It’s just the way we speak!”: if you do not speak Arabic, hearing Yemenis talk might make you think they’re always fighting. That’s because we often shout out people’s names in public and talk in a very loud voice. However, this should not be confused with being mad, it’s just a way of speaking. Similiarly, if you do not speak French and just focus on the nonverbal actions of the French such as the constant shrugs, you will think they are quite upset. This thought will be more believable because of the many “huffs” & “boff’s” they use in the conversation. So for an outsider who doesn’t speak French it will sound like this: “adfadfdsf ahh boff…asdfadf huff asdfadf ah non! adfadfasfd (add shrug) etc. The reality is, they’re not necessarily mad it’s just the way they speak.Political correctness, what’s that? both Yemenis and French are very expressive about their opinions, not feeling the need to sugar coat anything or to try to be politically correct. When you look shocked at what was said, the response is often: “what? we are just being honest!”.
The love for kissing: Yemenis kiss on the cheek to say hello and goodbye, women kiss women, and men kiss men. The French on the other hand kiss everyone and all the time.
English music everywhere: early 90’s American songs are heard blasting in various shops in both countries.
Importance of aesthetics: in both countries, lots of importance is placed on the aesthetics during the most important part of the day. Yemenis must have good comfortable cozy places for qat chewing and are quite creative in turning any place into a comfortable chewing spot. The French on the other hand also need good ambiance for the sacred dinner.
Importance of food: the food industry is very important to both countries. Lunch for Yemenis and dinner for the French is very important. Yemenis however, spend a LOONG time cooking, and then eat the food in just 15 – 30 minutes. French food often takes a shorter time to prepare, but eating takes between two to three hours. People in both countries get extremely disappointed when you say you are “full” and can not eat anymore.
We can always find similarities anywhere we go, because despite the differences we have, we all share humanity in common. At the same time, we should appreciate the differences because they make the world an exciting place to live. Without them, the world will be such a boring place.