Stories from Afar & Up Close

That explains things

Yesterday we had some American friends over for dinner. They were in town to see several people and were slightly worried about the fact that they didn't have a watch with them and afraid they might be late for one meeting or another. We told them not to worry – often meetings in Lebanon don't start until half an hour or an hour after their scheduled time, and if somebody is late for less than 20 minutes, they don't even need to say sorry. This is something even I have gotten used to (and am now regularly guilty of, myself), but I still don’t really know why this is the case, and we did not manage to not explain why this national phenomenon of ultimate flexibility with time exists. Moving on to other topics, we got to an all-time favorite international-discussion-topic: animal sounds. You know those picture books you had as a kid, which you would look through over and over again while your parents would try to teach you the sound each animal makes? Well, apparently not only humans speak different languages – animals do too! A cow, for example, says 'mooh' in England and the USA, but 'boo' in the Netherlands. A chicken, curiously enough, says 'pȏk pok pok pok pok pok’ in the low countries, but ‘baq baq baqeeq!’ in Lebanon. (Only if it’s an Arabic chicken, though, because the ‘q’ refers to the letter ‘qaf’, a sound which is quite unique to the Arabic language). We continued our search for sounds and found out that only sheep can travel internationally: they say ‘mȇh’ in both English, Arabic and Dutch.

Finally we got to the rooster. In the States, a rooster says ‘cock-a-doodle-doo!’ our guests started. In Holland, he says ‘kukelekuu!’ was my contribution. We looked expectantly at Walid. What does a rooster say in Lebanese? ‘Cocoricoo!’ was his answer. But that’s French! What does a post-colonial Lebanese rooster wake you up with in the morning?

My dear Lebanese boyfriend looked confused and said …well, I don’t know, I can’t think of a sound! Upon which our American friend shook his head and said well at least now we know why everybody is late in this country….