The other day I read an interesting blog post on a blog I follow religiously about frequently asked questions asked by locals when you travel. This post reminded me of the amusing and not so amusing questions I´ve been asked on my travels, assignments and even at home.
“You´re from South Africa??”
There are many questions which are normal when you travel, where are you from? What do you do? Are you married? Etc. The where are you from question usually gets quite an interesting response as I tend to answer “South Africa” to which 90% of the time I get a quick fire response of “But you are white…”. This invariably leads to the exchange at the start of a previous post of mine and I have to justify my heritage.
The “I´m South African” answer has sometimes spawned some hilarious and ignorant follow up questions (mostly from Americans…) such as:
“Wow South Africa! Does that mean you ride an elephant to school”… To which my answer was no because it´s too slow, so we ride cheetahs to school.
“South Africa… Do you live like in a tribe??!”… To which I managed to convince this silly American that I was from the only white tribe in Africa and the first time I saw a car, I thought it was an animal…
However sometimes the response to my answer doesn´t always lead to a pleasant exchange. When I was twelve my family went to London to visit my mom´s brothers who live there. One day my brother and I were in the park when some kids approached and asked us where we were from. We said South Africa and they immediately they asked very aggressively “That´s where you piss on blacks yeah?”. Obviously this was a case where the kids knew about South Africa´s horrible past and were convinced all white people were racist.
Sometimes the questions I´ve gotten are really odd questions which at times come from nowhere and at other times are used to find out something without directly asking for it.
“Are you circumsized?”
One of my favourite stories simply because of it´s oddness was how a Gypsy kid in the Sulukule neighbourhood in Istanbul. I was sipping some tea at the little café while ´chatting´ (this basically meant saying a footballers name and approve or disproving of them) when the azan* started playing. I loved listening to the azan so asked the kids to keep quiet to listen.
The kids were surprised by this reaction and responded by motioning a question, asking me “You?” and then putting their palms behind their ears in the muslims do when praying. They were asking me if I was muslim. I said no in Turkish. Then one kid asked “You?” and stuck out the index finger on his one hand and made a cutting motion with the other finger on the edge of the first finger.~
My first reaction was confusion as I had no idea what the kid meant. Was I cutting my fingers?? What the hell… And then it clicked… He was asking if I was circumcised and by default Jewish. I started laughing at the kids sheer cheek but also his ingenuity for overcoming the language divide with an innovative hand gesture. I responded with no and just did a cross with my fingers for him to understand I was Christian.
“How many mistresses do you have?”
The last one I want share is standard question of are you married or do you have girlfriend and the unexpected question that might lead from your answers…
When I arrived in Libya I was single so every time someone asked me my marital status and I said single the response I got was “Why?”, “What wrong?!”, which I assume was a nice way of asking “Are you gay?”. So tired from being asked this, I thought making a girlfriend would quell the curiosity… Oh how wrong I was! Below is an interesting exchange I had once in Libya…
Libyan Taxi Driver: My friend, you have madam** in Janub Afriquia***??
Libyan Taxi Driver: Very good! One madam or two madam or three madam??
Tonito: Only one.
Libyan Taxi Driver: Why only one? You no have money for more?
Tonito: No. I only want one.
Libyan Taxi Driver: My friend, I have wife and two more madam from Tunisia. Sometimes wife no want sex, so I go to madam. It better to have different madam.
This exchange or something along these lines were very common in the Arab countries I lived in and despite hearing it countless times, I was still slightly shocked at the matter of fact way they asked whether I had mistresses.
These FAQ´s are sometimes an interesting window into the culture you´ve been dropped into and can provide more insight than you actually asking them questions. I look forward to the questions I will be receiving in Mozambique.
*Azan: Muslim Prayer call
** Madam: Libyans say madam instead of girl or woman in English
***Janub Afriquia: South Africa