This morning, a beautiful sunny morning in Amman, we gathered the boys up early to go grab breakfast at Crumz, a local chain that can be best described as the Jordanian version of Panera, only with friendlier people and wait service.
On any given Friday morning you can spot quite a few American and European dips or expats enjoying their coffee and pastries in an environment that gives you a cozy little feeling of being home for an hour or so. But what I also love about the place, is that you can find just as many local families there, having a morning coffee before Mosque, enjoying the start of their weekend with their kids. The scene is endearing, families of multiple cultures taking a few moments to sit and enjoy the coffee, the good food, and the company of their loved ones.
Except this morning I was witness to something quite unfortunate. There was another mom and her two littles there this morning, sitting about 15 feet away from us. There was a boy about 8 and a girl about 5. Across from her was a large Jordanian family, conservative in that their mother was in full cover. They had several children there, a boy about 9 or 10 I’d say, and a teenage daughter. The boy was quite enthralled with the two American kids sitting across from them. They were staring in awe at them.
What happened next was very embarrassing for me as an American. The mother proceeded to shout and make a scene at the family across from her. She went on about how they were bothering her son, and how they were rude. “We’re just trying to have our breakfast,” she stated loudly, “And you won’t stop staring. It is rude. Leave him alone.” Evidently her son had an issue with being looked at, and his mother decided to treat it like she was fighting in line on Black Friday, or competing for the toddler cart at Target.
A number of things come to mind here, firstly was my sudden desire to apologize on behalf of decent Americans everywhere and to scold this woman for being so bloody rude herself.
Secondly, I don’t know if this is some novel idea or not, but I was under the impression that kids stare. All. The. Time. They are watchful and imaginative and staring is one of the most common behaviors among children- no matter the age or nationality or gender. Jordanians also often admire blonde haired American and European children because they are equally fascinated by the differences in appearance. They think fair haired and fair skinned children are beautiful, almost viewing them as if they are seeing an angel in the flesh.
This is just part of life here, in a country where 99.9% of the population has gorgeous olive skin and dark hair.
When my kids are approached by people I have taught them to be polite. They do not need to allow someone to touch them or hold them, and they are allowed to be shy, but they, under no circumstances are allowed to be rude or complain because they are uncomfortable. We’ve done a good job of teaching them what is acceptable and what is not, in terms of their behavior and in terms of how they react to others behavior.
I wish the mother across the way would do the same. Not only was I deeply embarrassed by her behavior, but I was saddened by the dreadful example she was setting for her children. I wish she could have said to her son that it’s okay, because children stare. And that he can either say good morning, or smile, or simply continue to do what he was doing.
As a mother and a woman, I’m sure maybe she was just having a bad morning. Maybe her husband is TDY to a crap-hole and she’s at her wits end with the single parenting thing. Maybe she’s just having an “I’m annoyed with this place day.” But it does not excuse her behavior. I have days where I just want to go somewhere that follows driving laws, or isn’t so crowded, or has more grass. But I wait and share my frustrations over wine with friends, or with DH over a night cap.
I’ve also had my share of instances where I needed to give a firm look to a teenager at the mall to remind them that I was in line at the checkout before they were, or that no, they are not going to bulldoze over my toddler in the ball pit. I would never dream, however, of publicly lashing out and humiliating another family in the way this woman did.
She is representing Americans in the worst way possible. People like her refuse to see our lifestyle as a privilege- a rare opportunity to represent America abroad and steep ourselves in other cultures. Instead, she treats this lifestyle, or perhaps the new culture she is living among, as something that is a nuisance to her. She is the reason why so much of the world is quick to judge Americans as ignorant, arrogant, petty and emotional. It is enough that we have to battle against the assumption that all of us are cast members of Jersey Shore. Such public affronts are not only unacceptable on their face, they are insulting to the locals as well as myself. If she is pushed so far out of her comfort zone that she cannot deal with a staring child with anything other than common sense or comprehension (or egads! compassion) then perhaps she should re-consider some of her own life choices.
We are all, after all, ambassadors in our own way.
So I plead with my fellow Americans, before you think to put someone in their place for making you uncomfortable, take a deep breath and take a step back. Think about whether what you have to say is rational, whether it will have a point and whether it will represent our nation with the dignity and integrity that it should. And if you are truly miserable in a certain city/country/culture, then by all means just go home.
Happyness to all,