Friday, July 11, 2014

Minding My P's and Q's

beautiful, energetic, my mama
 
She's dynamite in white: pants, shirt, shoes, socks. Even her mop of curly hair is iced in frosty hues.
 
Multi lingual army brat, homecoming queen, degreed. She's a busy professional who operates her own business, jogs, lifts weights, writes. A stranger once stopped her on the street to rave over her multi colored aura but you don't have to read it to see it: energy shoots from her eyes, radiates off her skin, envelopes friends and others. She's a light in the darkness, a campfire on a cold night, a rocket soaring through the sky.
 
"We travelled from California to Missouri and all along the way people offered me their seat," she laments. "As if I were old."
 
I suggest the deference wasn't due to incorrectly assessed infirmity but because she's a woman, professional, of a certain age and worthy of respect. She rolls her eyes.
 
"Did you take the seat?" I ask.
 
She nods, smiles. " Yes, of course."
 
respect your elders, youngun
(Katie and her grandpapa)
 
My mama taught me this: say please and thank you, excuse me, yes, ma'am, no, sir. Don't play your music too loud, do offer your seat, flush. These universal niceties are one's P's and Q's and apply no matter where you are in the world…plus a few more:
 
In Qatar
 
Adherence to the cultural expectation of modesty is considered good manners and respectful too. Plus, when supping from a communal dish one should use the three fingers on the right hand, eat from the area nearest you, don't blow on your food. Hold the door and stand so that others enter first, to your right. An older-than-you female relative or stranger is called "aunt" or her kunya is used to address her. Adult women refer to young girls as "Mahmah" to bestow a kind of pre-respect. Deference is shown to a man with the title "uncle."
 
But, wait, there's more:
 
"…I go to the ground floor of our house and my children rush to kiss my head…I start by greeting 'Al-Salam Alaikum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatuh', and try to find my mother. I kiss her on the head, then do the same for my father. My siblings and nieces/nephews would be queuing to kiss my head…"
 
That's right, older family members - and senior strangers within the culture - receive kisses to the top of heads from younger others. It's respectful, deferential and expected.
 
Doha billboard
be respectful: don't spit!
 
In Philippines
 
Unofficially Filipinos comprise the second largest expat population in Qatar (after Indians). They are nannies and maids, clerks, administrative assistants, receptionists, drivers, mechanics, nurses, doctors and more.
 
"If Filipinos left Qatar, everything would come to a screeching halt."
- commonly heard (in country)
 
Some young Filipina mothers don't see their children for years as adults often leave home to provide for the family. Most come to Qatar alone, leaving children behind with grandma. It's no surprise that Filipino families are very close, with a strong, culturally imbued respect for elders.
 
"…conservative families expect children to practice the kissing of hands or placing their parents or elder family members' hand to their foreheads with the words 'mano po'…"
 
Remember to say please and thank you and press the back of auntie's hand to your forehead.
 
In America
 
 
Lush groves, rattling trucks and hog sized motorcycles with riders in camo doo-rags. Someone's mama drives a rusted Buick which passes an Amish buggy on a highway flanked by fields of corn, clover and Queen Anne's lace. Where just-folks wave to strangers, the American flag unfurls over the quik mart and the downtown McDonalds does a brisk noon business.
 
The highway between Springfield and Kansas City: the heart of America's heartland.
 
I pull into an empty parking space, step across the busy drive-through lane. In front of me swagger two teenage boys in CAT caps, baggy jeans, black tee shirts and scuffed, untied tennis shoes.
 
One boy pauses at the door. He holds it and stands so I might enter first, to his right. "After you, ma'am."
 
My heart swells with pride for his mama.
 
"R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me…"
-Aretha Franklin, "Respect"
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