Should I open the door?

Living cross-culturally has it’s challenges (which is part of what makes it so exciting!).  One is that often you are living life by different rules – how to dress, speak, interact with others, the list goes on and on.  The difficulty here in Lebanon is that it seems like there are several sets of rules all being followed at the same time, depending on the context and on the people we are with.  There is a very Middle Eastern set of rules, but there is also a huge Western influence… a little French, a little American.  This mix is very uniquely Lebanese.  But sometimes it makes it hard to know which rules we need to follow at any given moment!

Last night Caleb was up at a conference and I was home by myself when the doorbell rang.  I looked through the peep-hole and the plumber who fixed our hot water heater this weekend was at the door to drop off a receipt.  Now I hadn’t actually met him or had any interaction with him – I was busy when he was here fixing the water – so I wasn’t sure what kind of person he was, or what set of rules I should expect him to follow.

I quickly, mentally ran through my options.  I could pretend no one was home.  But that seemed so rude, especially because Caleb was expecting him to come by that day with the receipt.  Second option, I could just open the door and greet him.  But if he is a very traditional or conservative man, this could be a bad idea, me being a woman at home alone.  It could be inappropriate or offensive or shameful or any number of things.  The last option I thought of very quickly would be to shout out “who is it?” and tell him through the closed door that Caleb wasn’t home so I wouldn’t open the door.  But if he wasn’t super traditional, and he knows we are foreigners, that could be offensive to him, especially since he came out of his way to bring us a receipt which is not necessarily common.

So in that split second I decided to just open the door.  I cracked it just a bit, and when he saw me he got this shocked look on his face and took two steps back away from the door.  Stink, I might have made the wrong choice.  But he was very polite, explained who he was, asked how the hot water was working, gave me the receipt, asked me to give my greetings to “Mr. Kable,” and left.  I have no idea if I should have opened the door or not.  Not sure if I will ever know what the rules of the game were in that particular moment and if I played correctly or not…  but I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure it out!  Ah, the joys and confusion of cross-cultural life!

posted by: nicolette

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