A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

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

fun with taxi drivers

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 26, 2008

Most of my taxi rides are relatively silent affairs. I like to watch the city go by, and I’m not great at making small talk. But had I taken the possibilities of having parents in town more seriously, I would have spent last week talking away.

I realized my missed opportunities on Sunday morning, as I went from gym to church, where I was meeting my parents.

My taxi driver asked the usual “you speak Arabic but I can’t quite believe you’re from here” questions, like have you lived here long? No, I said. I don’t live here – I came from the gym. Not helpful, I could see him thinking.

He next asked where I work, and I told him. Its a fairly neutral sounding company, which hires both Lebanese and foreigners. Again, not helpful.

And finally, the clincher – he asked whether I would need a ride back when the church service finished.

Oh no, I said. Thank you, but I’m meeting my parents there.

Your parents? he asked.

Yes, I said. My mother and father.

Oh, he said, and then – silence.

His confusion reminded me of a service ride I took late last year, with a delightfully sweet driver. After speaking for a few minutes about the weather, the “situation” and the quirky Belgian man who had just exited the cab, the driver said:

Excuse me, but are you Lebanese?

No, I said, I’m American.

Oh, he sighed. Its so hard to tell these days. Lebanese people all look so different now – anyone could be Lebanese.

I’m not so sure about that, but I did sympathize with his frustration. It must be confusing to have so many Lebanese with one parent from abroad, and to have so many Lebanese who look and speak like they come from abroad themselves.

As for me, I enjoyed the brief moment of sounding like I was local, with Lebanese parents waiting impatiently for me to get to church.

But then my better nature prevailed – as did my cab driver’s curiosity.

Are you Lebanese? he asked.

No, I said. I’m American.

Ah, he said, relieved to have his sense of my foreign-ness confirmed. And we had a very pleasant rest of the ride!


6 Responses to “fun with taxi drivers”

  1. kheireddine said

    On great quality of Lebanese people: they are generally sociable; however, they are very curious and biased.

  2. kheireddine said

    sorry, dropped the e in ‘one’

  3. intlxpatr said

    People here think I am Lebanese; think it must be the French shoes. When they ask, I always may ‘maybe I am Kuwaiti?’ and give them a chance to laugh.

  4. 🙂 Kheireddine, I understand the curiosity – its because they look at me and then hear me speak and think: her face and her language just don’t match. So I’m a puzzle! And last weekend I was a bit of a mishkilji – mentioning my parents was too much fun to resist.

    Khalti, too funny! The power of shoes 🙂 🙂 🙂 and I love that you can gently turn it into a moment for people to question their assumptions about who is what nationality.

  5. kheireddine said

    Diamond, call me stupid, I thought you were a guy! lol! 🙂

  6. Charles said

    I was with two friends – a man and a woman – at Petit Cafe the other day. The man is 100% Lebanese, born and raised. The woman is half Lebanese, half American, but grew up her entire life in Lebanon.

    I noticed that everyone was treating her like she was foreign. She spoke to them in Arabic, and they responded in English. The other guy was being treated like a foreigner and being spoken to in English, but they had no problem speaking to me in Arabic.

    Finally, the man decided to converse with the fhem guy (everything spoken in Arabic): “Where do you think she is from?”

    Fhem guy: “Russia?”

    Man: “Where do you think I am from?”

    Fhem guy: “You are, maybe, half Lebanese and grew up abroad.”

    Man: “Where do you think he (pointing at me) is from?”

    Fhem guy: “Fully Lebanese from Lebanon [ie, did not live abroad]. Maybe part Syrian, but definitely Lebanese.”

    Looks are definitely deceiving in Lebanon. 🙂

    I’m just waiting for when H and I go through a hajiz together. 🙂

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