Friday, September 8, 2017

Bedouin Dining Etiquette

On Arabs - “One of the greatest and most common mistakes is to generalise about ‘the Arabs’. One might just as well generalise about Europeans. Moroccans and Dubaians are both Arabs the same as Swedes and Italians are both Europeans, but there the similarity ends. Even commonality of language is not as great as many think. Whilst it is true that written Arabic is uniform from country to country, spoken Arabic is extremely dialectic to the extent that a Moroccan and a Dubaian each speaking her own dialect of Arabic would find it difficult to understand each other because the former dialect is heavily influenced by Berber and the latter by Farsi. The code of proper behaviour is remarkably consistent from one Arab country to another, basically varying only in intensity. It is impossible to cover all local variations. Not surprisingly, the strictest interpretation and observance is in the heartland of both the Arabs and Islam; what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi custom will therefore be the benchmark of what follows because if one behaves properly on Saudi standards, he is unlikely to go astray in any other Arab country.” -

Dining with the Bedouins – 

“Before we began to eat, there was the hand-wash enjoined by the Koran. The water was poured on our hands out of a jug outside the tent, about half a pint being allotted to each. The process was brief. The Arabs swung their hands, flapped them on their garments, and it was done—and they were no cleaner than before. This clearly was not the hygienic operation which Mohammed intended it to be, but as may be inferred fiom this description, people here, as elsewhere, are prone to obey the letter of the law rather than its spirit. I observed subsequently that when they desired to cleanse themselves more thoroughly they rubbed their hands with sand, and on rare occasions with soap. Semi-purified, we returned to our places in the tent, and the repast was served without a woman in sight. 

“It consisted of a huge wooden bowl, about three feet in diameter, lined with thin batter cakes and overhanging the sides, the bowl being filled with boiled rice saturated with grease, probably butter made from goat's or camel's milk; in the centre of the rice was piled up a quantity of boiled mutton. The chief setting the example, we fell to on this mess, while the retainers and our dragoman, off the carpets, eyed us with envy and watered mouths. 

“For a man accustomed to a knife and fork the eating presented difficulties, which, however, were partially overcome by closely observing the men who have never known any aid in this way, than what nature has given them. Yet they have an etiquette which governs them as tyrannically as our own. Only the right hand may be thrust into the bowl. He who eats with the left is ill-bred, and he who employs both, is a glutton. 

“We imitated our hosts as well as we could; thrust the right hand into the rice, made a ball of it the size of a hen's egg, I squeezed the superfluous water and grease out of it, and twitched it into the mouth by a dexterous movement of the thumb, after the Bedouin manner, pronouncing occasionally the indispensable ‘taib’ in compliment to the Amphitryon. Another feature of Arab etiquette was to confine oneself to the same place in taking from the bowl, each one making his own hole and remaining therein. 

“In the beginning of the repast there is not so much trouble in observing the rule; but when the general level of the rice and mutton lowered it required care to remain on the preempted domain, and not invade that of the neighbor. The rule was hardly observed by my neighbor on the left, who was a voracious eater, with an indifferently clean hand; he at length ate away the barrier, entered my territory, and pushed me to the right, where I fed on a narrow ledge until my appetite was satisfied: when this gave way, and the two holes merged into one, I stopped.”—Albert Rhodes, in "The Galaxy", 1876

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia 

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