madly in love with Iraq


Mind the gap!

What? Are they reading my mind?

I was on my first train trip in London, and I heard this announcement “Mind the gap” I was thinking of all the possible gaps ahead of me, and how am I going to overcome them. And this statement just spoke my mind. It turned out to be the gap between the train and the station platform!

More than 10years now, and on another train journey, I am thinking if I have managed to fill all the gaps, and if there was really a point in doing so.

Unlike many Iraqis I wanted to be part of this society from day one; so I could live normally. I wanted to block myself from the life I had before. The last thing I needed is feeling homesick.

I went shopping and clubbing like mad during the first few years. I later became more sensible and started enjoying long country walks and developed a real interest in theatre, I even tried my best to understand what cricket is all about!

I’ve always been capable of forcing myself to do things until they become habits; if and only if; I am satisfied they were right for me.
Sometimes it does work; this is how I learned to appreciate and enjoy the English sense of humour. And sometimes it doesn’t; that is when I decided that falling in love with an English guy would close all the gaps!

The biggest barrier was and still is “The drinking culture”. I have nothing against alcohol, but when it becomes the main purpose, the main reason and ultimately the only enjoyment, I and many others cannot really understand.
Going for a picnic ends up in drinking; a sunny day means drinking, watching a football match, going out anywhere is the same, drink till you drop!

The problem is the effect of it on people, not only any conversation turns to crap; but people start to allow themselves more liberties, and sometimes say things which might offend you or change your view on the person completely.

Recently a woman neighbour knocked on my door at 3:00am in the morning, when I opened she begged me to let her in because her cat has fallen from the second floor, and she needed access to the rear garden from my bedroom. The woman was completely drunk, and while she was struggling to squeeze herself through the window, she started telling me what she really thinks of Arabs! Especially when it comes to animals; and that she doesn’t give a .… to what I think of her, but we are barbarians and backwards!
Usually I have very good relationship with her and mutual respect. She is a high-flyer who works in one of the most famous accountancy firms. Since that incident, I started to look at her differently, and I try to keep my distance.

The problem is not what she thinks of me as an Arab. As long as I don’t know, it suits me fine. You can only judge on peoples’ actions not on what is going on in their minds.

To sum up my achievements on the social level; All I can say is that I learned to enjoy myself company more and more, in other words I go along in life as an individual.

This is a country where you go and see your parents once a year in Christmas. A country where there is only one family bathroom upstairs in a big house; so it was originally designed not to entertain or invite someone over. A country where nearly half the population sell their houses on retirement age to go and live in Spain!

On the personal level, I discovered that I could easily understand Iraqis; I can read through their eyes and judge from their body language. But till this minute I cannot do that with others.

Before I reached my stop, I looked around in the carriage to find familiar faces of people I’ve been living with for quite a long time, I do love them in my own way, I do share some of their problems, but they are not mine..

Suddenly I felt happy; I remembered that I came all the way to spend the Easter holiday with my neighbours in Baghdad, who happened to live in a small village in Yorkshire.


  • Another in-depth probe into our cultural differences, so beautifully expressed. This reminded me so much of my own personal experience after I left Baghdad...

    By Blogger ZZ, at 9:42 pm  

  • Not sure if you knew this already, but beer was first invented by the Assyrians in mesopotamia. About a couple of years ago, I read about a certain professor at the University of Helsinki who stumbled upon an original beer receipe and decided to brew a sample and called it Enkidu beer. So you see, modern day Iraqis should get the credit/blame for all that has been caused by beer. Its 1230 am my time, I think I will have a Guinness and give your blog more thought. Good night!

    By Blogger Antar, at 5:37 am  

  • Hi Hala_s!

    I just discovered your blog, and I find it very interesting. I have just finished reading all your posts, and will definitely be checking back for updates!

    I live in Sweden, and we have a drinking culture here too, but it's not really the same as in England. Here people mainly drink during weekends and also, for some reason, on wednesdays. Very few go out before 22.00, so a morning person like me is going to bed at the same time others go out.

    Many drink quite a lot when they drink, I used to when I was a teenager, but now I rarely drink any alcohol at all. This is usually no problem, but sometimes it is considered a odd to settle for just one beer or no alcohol. This is especially noticeable when the company I work for throws a party. Everyone gets really drunk, except me and a guy from Turkey. I usually go home instead, but sometimes I have to attend when my boss order me to do so. It's not really accepted to not get drunk on these occassions. It's almost like it is insulting to some people when you don't drink. Especially when you are a man like me. Men are supposed to be able to drink a lot, so I guess I'm not considered to be a real man by some.

    Thanks for your interesting blog, I'm looking forward to read future updates.

    By Anonymous Tim, at 8:06 am  

  • "The biggest barrier was and still is “The drinking culture”. I have nothing against alcohol, but when it becomes the main purpose, the main reason and ultimately the only enjoyment, I and many others cannot really understand."

    I think a drinking culture is fairly easy to understand. Societies have rules, these rules allow human beings to interact with less volence. The more urban or highly populated humans are the stricter and more formal these rules become. People are required to put on a mask and not emotionally react. This not normal for humans and causes mental stress.
    If you drink enough alcohol you are unable to follow these rules- just like you unable to drive or even walk- though generally following social rules requires "more thinking" than compared to driving or walking. So alcohol forces people to drop the mask.
    But this doesn't mean they tell the truth or anything, but generally they more emotional and will be less likely to inhibited about being polite. The "drinking culture" is a "space" in soceity that allows the people not to follow these social rules [because alcohol makes you unable to]. You can understand this better by studying anthropology.
    A similar example is there is a primitive tribe that has strict rules about male and female roles in their society. But periodically men dress up like women and act like women in ritual performance.

    So drinking culture is very much like a ritual in which normal social rules are permitted to be violated.
    Of course, there are other reasons for drinking alcohol, but escaping from "proper behavior" is one of them.

    By Blogger gbaikie, at 11:23 am  

  • Antar,

    thank your for the information, I did not know that!


    thank you for your comment, I am happy that my boss is not like yours!

    Thank you for stopping by. I do understand why they drink, I was just trying to explain how after all these years I cannot accept this habit.I live the same stressful life, but managed to find different ways to vent.
    I don;t know where you are from, but drinking is a serious problem in here.

    By Blogger hala_s, at 6:29 pm  

  • Thanks Hala for the beautiful post. I've always thought that I'm a stranger in my own country, Iraq and I've always thought I will be still to some extent a stranger in any elsewhere.
    Your post made me remember the moments I lived outside Iraq and my life here in Baghdad.

    By Blogger miraj, at 7:43 pm  

  • "I live the same stressful life, but managed to find different ways to vent."

    It seems to me that blogging can serve the same function- and is more rational and probably more therapic.

    "I don;t know where you are from, but drinking is a serious problem in here."

    I have never lived in the UK, but it's not surprising that it's a serious problem there- the Brits are famous for being somewhat uptight. But I would venture to say that in some aspects the Japanese are worse- even more uptight and longer history of it.

    Here in America driving while drunk is fairly serious problem- we drive a lot and drink a fair amount. I enjoy a beer or two ever once in a while, but can't say I'm a member of the "drinking culture".
    I would say that visiting different cultures and getting hammered with them, is probably is somewhat useful- a fast track, but of course, reckless.

    By Blogger gbaikie, at 10:18 pm  

  • I was thinking of your blog while I was getting my hair cut.

    Well, you and other non-drinkers, myself included, are definitely in the minority. I realize you have not said you are a non-drinker, but I am . I made that choice for religious reasons when I was probably a few years younger than you. It was an easy decision for me because I had always been concerned about my health. So when I joined a religion that forbade alcohol, (or if someone who was a drunk wants to join this religion they must seriously begin to take steps to give it up) I could do it fairly easily.

    I am reminded often enough by what I see around me that in a "democracy" the non-drinkers will be outvoted. The key marketing word to use to cover up the drug's overall profound harm upon the society is "moderation". This word "moderation" is used to cover over all types of sins. The drug users all see themselves as "moderate" drug users. And "moderation" is never bad. Only when family and friends and the police tell the person they are abusers, will, the drug user, reluctantly begin to concede they passed the line of moderation, a long time ago.

    However in a free market society, those people, especially if they are poor, are left to rot on the streets (a little exaggeration, if I please ;-)

    The free market is a place where, if you have a product, a drug, and alot of people are hooked on it.(I change my writing to "you" to be compassionate towards the drug users) This is great for your business. You become rich, perhaps. But regardless you would not willingly support moderation, or heaven forbid, abstinence! Why would you want to tell customers not to buy your drug??? In the free market you are interested primarily in yourself (ok, include your blood family and rich relatives), not the welfare of others--particularly someone who appears not to have money and appears very different from you and your friends. In the free market society everyone is encouraged to think of themselves first. It helps if you are part of the majority.

    Of course our 21st society there are limits (it is very interesting to read of the struggles to establish those limits). To sell your drugs to "minors" this considered a limit. But this limit is winked at everyday all over the society.

    There is hope. I am also now a non-smoker, it wasn't because of my religious beliefs, but I was concerned about future harm to my health and I quit smoking. I have seen the society reach a tipping point in their attitude towards tollerating the social and fiscal costs of smoking. BUT this took a great effort on the part of the medical community and more importantly the mothers MADD, etc. The tobacco companies are still fighting this "limit on their freedom" to kill people.

    By Blogger EdoRiver, at 2:10 am  

  • In Vino Veritas, there is truth in wine.

    It is much easier to find out how people think about you when they have been drinking. It is worth remembering, however, that people are capable of maintaining more than one opinion simultaneously. E.g. Love and hate, like and dislike all at once. Complicated creatures, we are.

    Interesting also to note that drinking is only ever a problem in other people.

    By Blogger Occam, at 12:54 pm  

  • Hey, this thread is full of nice, thoughtful posts! Am I still on the internet, or does Hala_s attract nice, thoughtful people? ;)

    Yeah, I can imagine it is difficult integrating into a strange culture.

    And the 'drinking thing' does not make it easier. I don't drink much myself, and drunk people annoy me with their over enthusiastic friendliness.

    Eh, good luck there, y'hear?

    By Blogger Bruno, at 11:56 am  

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