Culture Shock: # 1.

Somethings are so different over here they lead to that phenomenon wisely known as culture shock. It is also, in my case the shock of the new, the different, and the shock of finding that space between they way things are done here vs “my way”.

I am fervently not a suburbanite, having lived in the centre of cities and within walking distance or lucky throw to anything I might reasonably need: dry-cleaners. chocolate, lattes, sushi, wall hooks, bank, fountain pen ink. At one point during the Montreal Years when the cost of city dwelling ( i.e. the cost of a house for city dwelling) was more than what we should be spending, we thought about moving out to the Burbs. For about 2 days. And then decided that we would rather be in debt then live all the way out there and in our two cars. Bahrain is essentially, apart from one or two small neighbourhoods intended for yuppies and dinks, one large suburb. Every time I want to buy a singular item of some importance, say milk or fizzy water, or get something done, say pedicure or tailor, I have to drive for at least 20 minutes on a very fast highway to get to a mall.

Our house is exactly the same as the one next door, cookie cutter/lego village style, and we have a guard at a large entrance gate, Florida gated community style. I am living the suburban dream with two cars and a golf course nearby.  It has only been a month but the thought of getting in the car has filled me with the need to micro manage and organize so as to minimize the amount of time I spend in a very large mall.  I often day dream of the inner city neighbourhood where I could walk out my front door, accomplish all manner of task within a kilometer radius, and then return back home, all on foot.

The money situation here is out of control. In Uganda, obviously it was the other extreme and we would frequently pass people on the street who lived on a dollar a day. Clothes were either torn or purchased from the market where all the clothes were the left overs from second hand shops in the West. Everything looked a bit shabby, a bit grey, unless it was traditional African print where the colours stood out like rainbows in a mud puddle. In Canada, the States or the UK people are financially comfortable yet everyone still is conscious of their budget and arranges their spending accordingly. Gross displays of wealth are unusual and stand out in a crowd. Here, on the other hand, we can count the Ferraris in the mall parking lot and students in my school have Cartier bangles, Rolex watches and Louis Vitton bags to carry their books. The streets are clean, swept and freshly tarred, the glass shimmers in the sun, the sand is swept neatly away from doorways. Grass gardens have automatic sprinklers, the shops are lavish and full, the restaurants are plentiful, the grocery stores, where everything is imported to this small dry island, are filled with raspberries, fresh pasta and mascarpone.  Oil rigs dot the landscape and pipes run beside the highway reminding us that liquid gold is always running the show.

This is a Kingdom, but not like England is Royal. People here love their King, with a passion that a small child would have for a beloved father. Yes there are the dissenters, but they are not the majority, however loud they might be on the BBC 10 ‘o’clock news. Most are fiercely proud of their country, their King and their heritage. Yesterday, driving home at around 5pm we were stopped by a police man’s upheld hand. We were to stop and wait as the King and his entourage were about to pass. The policeman then stood to attention and saluted as a deep burgundy Mercedes and 8 large black Land Cruisers with tinted windows passed in front of us. It was a moment for awe and reverence for the waiting cars and the saluting police men. I am impressed and quite touched by this particular breed of patriotism. I have never met it before, this unwavering loyalty to one’s country.

Except perhaps in my mother and her beloved Britain.

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