A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the shop of brotherly love

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 12, 2007

There’s a little corner shop I visit almost every weekday morning to buy one of the many “life’s necessities” on which I am constantly running low: gum, milk, bread, water, yogurt.

I love this shop, because the owner who runs it makes me feel so comfortable. He is not only gracious in his welcome, but he makes sweet little jokes, in Arabic and in English, and even wishes me a good day when I leave. (It is the little things that make a difference – no one says “have a good day” here, and even a “bonne journee” is difficult to find. I miss the social graces of home, even if there we joke about how rote they become.)

Judging from his appearance and the expressions he uses (as well as the fact that the shop is closed on Fridays – a rarity in Beirut, even in Muslim neighborhoods), he is also a practicing Sunni Muslim – as are the men who work for him. This is what I miss from Damascus, and from home – the comfortable joy of being with people at ease with both their own religious identity and the friendship with people of other faiths.

This morning as I was paying for today’s collection of urgently needed odds and ends, a soda delivery truck driver and his co-worker came into the shop. As the driver worked on something in the back of the shop, the shopkeeper greeted the co-worker with delight. They exchanged a sea of hello-how-are-you-and-how-have-you-beens that lapped over and around me as I stood at the cash register.

As they welcomed one another, the driver made his way around the shop to stand at the shopkeeper’s side. The shopkeeper tried to welcome him with a kiss on the cheek; instead, with much laughter from both men, the driver kissed the shopkeeper on the shoulder.

When the Iraq war began I remember much US commentary and facetious analysis about shoulder kissing: was it masculine? was it slavish? was it … gross?

*Sigh*. We aren’t very good at embracing the physical practices of other cultures with an open mind.

I have seen shoulder kissing done before, with deference and solemnity and a great sense of seriousness as two men of unequal stature execute the ritualized series of attempt, gentle rebuff, persistence and permission.

What I haven’t seen is shoulder kissing done with so much affection – with laughter and gentle no-you-don’t/oh-yes-I-do arm wrestling from two men who so clearly delight in one another’s friendship.

Amman lays claim to being the modern day inheritor of ancient Philadelphia, but I like to think of this store as the shop of brotherly love.

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