The Office: Middle East

Last week I was catching you up on the antics in our office and the unplanned but guaranteed hilarity that emerges when you have people of different cultures, faiths, and ages in a small space. We’ve been laughing and groaning through this journey of establishing a start up in the particular context of the Arabian Gulf. And suddenly, after four months of weekly recap conversations, where we each present our “Can you believe this?” moment, it struck us that we should take the gift of laughter to others. We intend to work on a sitcom script to further this end, but in the meantime, I’m going to continue recording some of the funnier or more memorable moments here.

Please do feel free to share your own stories from the trenches, as you don’t have to be in the Middle East in order to have a hilarious or incredulous day at work (though in many cases it does help). This week, the signature moment came during the staff meeting as I was introduced our first intern. “You are our guinea pig,” I explained, meaning that we would learn as much as she would from her time with us. Then, as during so many other moments in the last few years, I realized how North American centric my references are.

“Not a good metaphor,” I said, as the Last week I was catching you up on the antics in our office and the unplanned but guaranteed hilarity that emerges when you have people of different cultures, faiths, and ages in a small space. We’ve been laughing and groaning through this journey of establishing a start up in the particular context of the Arabian Gulf.

And suddenly, after four months of weekly recap conversations, where we each present our “Can you believe this?” moment, it struck us that we should take the gift of laughter to others. We intend to work on a sitcom script to further this end, but in the meantime, I’m going to continue recording some of the funnier or more memorable moments here. Please do feel free to share your own stories from the trenches, as you don’t have to be in the Middle East in order to have a hilarious or incredulous day at work (though in many cases it does help). This week, the signature moment came during the staff meeting as I was introduced our first intern.

“You are our guinea pig,” I explained, meaning that we would learn as much as she would from her time with us. Then, as during so many other moments in the last few years, I realized how North American centric my references are. “Not a good metaphor,” I said, as the team started cracking up. “Well, they aren’t technically pigs,” someone offered. Since pigs are not halal or considered clean in Islamic culture, calling someone ibn hanzir, or son of a pig, is one of the worst insults you could come volley. I fumbled for a better expression as the laughter increased, trying to explain the origins of that particular idiom.

“Well you know, they experiment on those animals to see how things will work,” I offered, realizing by now the intern probably was heading for the nearest exit. “Guinea sheep,” the only full time male employee offered, ever the diplomatic peace maker in our world of fueled estrogen. “Experimental sheep,” I agreed, “you’re our experimental sheep.” Then, thankfully, we all moved on to other agenda items. This moment is a perfect example of the pervasiveness of North American values, or indeed cultural values in our speech. I’ve had to retrain myself to say ‘progress’ instead of ‘evolution’ and to find a new way to convey the idea of a ‘ham’ or someone who likes to take all the attention (since hog isn’t really any better).

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