What the hell am I rambling on about? Well, maybe not such a huge deal by Lebanese standards, but a huge deal nevertheless to someone who has lived outside the Middle East for a long time! As a graduate assistant, I was supposed to have office hours in a room (not belonging to any professor) on the 3rd floor of Shannon Hall at LAU at 1 pm. I go up at 12:55 pm, and there is a professor sitting there. I tell her, “excuse me, but would you mind if I sit here, because I have an office hour for students as well”. She looks at me in a condescending manner, then she asks me why, who, what, where, etc. Now I don’t mind answering questions, so I answered them all without giving it the slightest thought… She said “OK”. I put my stuff down, not even taking out my laptop so as not to bother her. She turns to me before I even sit down, and she goes, “but you know, this is rude and improper. I am supposed to have my office hour at this time and I like being alone. So I think it’s very inappropriate of you to come here like this”. Umm, OK????? So I consider myself officially “kicked out” of the room. I manage a disgusted “OK” and I leave the room, shaking my head. I go and sit with another assistant at the secretary’s office, where another – a great, respectful – professor was also sitting. They tell me, what happened, you came back? I tell them I got kicked out. The professor shakes his head in disbelief. I sit there and 5 minutes later she comes down and hands the key to the assistant. I roll my eyes and just sit there silently. The assistant, who had told me her office hour today was supposed to end at 11:30, tells her that her office hours are not at that time. She says “oh, I changed it”. She then opens the topic of not liking anyone being there when she’s there. She turns to me – and I was just busying myself with a book that I had recently taken out of the library – and addresses me: “you know, don’t be offended, I just think it’s a matter of principles”. Oh, right, so I shouldn’t be offended when addressed in a condescending manner such as she did. She expected me to look at her but I just threw a glance at her and said in a disgusted voice “not at all”, and then back to the book.
You know, I think a course or two in manners should be a prerequisite for teaching in universities. I hate nothing more than being looked at as an “inferior” because someone happens to have a PhD and I don’t (yet). Although I think it’s all in a person’s character and attitude. For example, I know many, many professors (including ones I work with/for) who are very friendly and never ever make you feel inferior in any way. I do not mind learning, that’s what I am here for, after all. But I do mind being treated in a hierarchical manner.
So, welcome to the Middle East, and be sure to cement yourself in your seat before someone tells you “it’s inappropriate of you to be here”. Whenever something like this happens, I always promise myself that next time I will be just as rude and just as firm as the other person. That’s the only way you can get anywhere in the Middle East.