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What? Eat in the Car?



When we got close to Stockholm, my family was talking so excited about the drive-thru McDonald’s.  It was a big deal to them and not a common part of their culture.  We pulled up and ordered at the window.  Then Papa pulled into a parking spot and we walked in and got the food and then ate at the table!  I tried to explain the point of drive-thru was to eat in the car. 

What?!  Eat in the car?!

The thought of eating in the car was so unbelievably gross and unnecessary.  If you’re going to eat, then you stop and you sit at a table and who cares if you’re in a rush and have to get somewhere.  I remember being like, wow, okay, I guess you’re right, it is kind of stupid.  Why would you want to pick up your food and eat it in the car when you could stop and sit and talk and socialize a bit and enjoy.  But for us it’s just normal.


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Syria flag

Inshallah, we will do it!


“Tomorrow,” Baba [would] say, “tomorrow we go to picnic on the Barada River.”

So the next day I would get up and I’d be all excited about the picnic, and the day would go on and there would be no picnic and no preparation.  Finally I’d say, What about the picnic?

I was told “some day, some day, we’ll do it.”  Their way of doing things was they would talk as if it were going to happen but it was just a wish, but they [would] want to do this or plan this for you.

As Americans we think schedule in a linear way, but they just put it out there into the atmosphere.  “Inshallah,” which means God willing, “we will do it.”

So I just never knew exactly what we would do next.  It used to vex me until I realized that it was just their culture.


Barada river near Damascus Citadel.

Barada river near Damascus Citadel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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My school uniform was hideous!

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It was so funny to find out that kids are kids everywhere and they do the same kind of cliques no matter where you go. But the way they do their student government was really kind of different.

They have prefects who are kind of like your student council.  There’s a head boy and a head girl, nstead of the president of a class — head boy, head girl.  And then there’s prefects, and the prefects are going around campus enforcing rules and this kind of thing.  So they start to take themselves a little seriously.

We wore school uniforms.  So the prefects had a special piping that went around their blazer, so you could tell that they were prefects.  The boys wore different color ties, that was the main difference, and they had cored piping around their blazer.  It was so funny.

You wear your school uniform to school.  When they do things in leisure, where they could wear their civvies, they would just kind of seem to go overboard.  The girls would just pile on the make-up, ’cause they can’t wear make-up to school, and they just seemed to overdress.  So it just seemed like every night when they would get together it was like they were going to go out to the disco or something.

It was very helpful being able to wear uniforms.  I learned to actually like uniforms, and I wish more schools here would do that.  It just makes it so much easier.  I know as a girl it was so hard, deciding What are you going to wear today, and did I wear that out yesterday?  I can’t remember.  Well, this is what I’m wearing today.  It sure saves a lot of time.

Although, our uniform at my school was very ugly.  It wasn’t like in the States where it’s usually khaki pants and white shirt or blue pants or something.  All the girls always wore dresses.  You couldn’t wear pants to school.  But it was this salmon orange jumper with a beige short sleeve shirt and then a black blazer.  And in the summer, the warmer months, we had to wear white ankle socks with black Mary Jane shoes.  In the winter we got to wear black knee socks that had orange stripes around the top.  And we would add a black sweater under the blazer.  But you couldn’t wear a coat.  Luckily it didn’t get too cold, but it did get kind of cold.  So that’s what we wore and it was hideous!



I kept it though.  My daughter actually wore it for Halloween.

But the Mary Jane’s were kind of silly.  And you got the schoolgirl tan, because you have these ankle socks.  And so, at lunch you just kind of sit out on the grass or whatever until you get this tan from the top of your knee down to the top of your socks.  And when you take it off your feet up to your ankles were, you know, white.  The girls would try to roll them down as far as you could.  Cause even though you had uniforms and everybody was supposed to be the same there were still little nuances of who was a little bit more trendy than the other by maybe how they wore their sock.  Or exactly which shoe did they get?  So there was still some differences out there.  Pretty funny.

My host family didn’t tell me that the girls were supposed to wear their hair tied back if it was a certain length.  And so when I went to school, the prefect in my class said, “Why don’t you have your hair tied up?”  I said, “I didn’t want to wear it that way.”  And he said, “Well you have to.”  And I said, “Oh, okay.”

And then I went and got my hair cut.  Cause it was just kind of not long enough to really — like everybody wore like pony tails or pigtails or something like that.  What they did is you part your hair down the middle from the front to the back.  And take the two pieces and bring them front, your front.  And if they touched in the front you had to wear your hair tied up.

At my host sister’s school if your hair touched your collar you had to wear it up.  So there were girls going around with this little one inch ponytails.

And the boys.  Their hair couldn’t touch their collar.  And it couldn’t touch their ears.  And we had inspections, so you’re watched.  Your dresses couldn’t be shorter than a certain length and you couldn’t have your fingernails very long.  For inspection, you hold your hand up, and if they looked from your palm over, if they could see the top of your finger nails, then you have to trim them.

Yeah.  We had inspections frequently.

You could wear clear nail polish if you wanted.  And if you had pierced ears you could wear a set earring.  I think if you had a religious medallion you could wear that, but other than that you could not wear any jewelry.  Yeah.  It was pretty crazy.

Every morning the entire school would go for an assembly in the auditorium and we had a book of hymns.  We’d sing a hymn every morning.  The whole school would say the Lord’s Prayer.  I think somebody would read a Scripture or something and have like an inspirational thought of the day type of thing, make some announcements, and then we’d go to class.  And this was a State school.  It wasn’t a parochial school.  But that’s how it was.  So I got to see what it’s like to have prayer in school, and I really didn’t like it.

At the time I was an active Mormon.  I’m not anymore.  But it felt strange to me ’cause Mormons are taught not to say the same repetitive prayer over and over again.  Pray from your heart.  Whatever.  And so it felt very strange doing that.  So I used to kind of mouth it.  I didn’t really say it along with them just ’cause it felt wrong to me.  But now I understand why it’s so important not to have [prayer in school].  It was an interesting thing to experience.

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Modesty on a Swedish beach

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The first day I got there, they asked me, “Would you like to go for a swim?”

So, of course, I went in my room and changed into my suit and put on a t-shirt and shorts and stuff, my towel.  I remember walking out and they were all standing there like they had been waiting, like, “What took you so long?

Landskrona Citadel, Sweden

Landskrona Citadel, Sweden, Image via Wikipedia

What?  I was just changing into my suit.  But you can probably see where this is going.  We walked down to the water, and they never, ever, ever change before!  Everybody just changes on the beach and not in a cabana or anything.  You just change right there without even really covering up.  So that was hard to get used to.

I remember being like, Ooh! That’s why they thought it took me a while!

And they thought that I was weird that I would want to change before I walked down, like, why would you do that? Of course you just bring your suit.

And they always changed right back into their clothes as soon as they got out of the water, right there on the beach.  You don’t go home in your sopping wet suit, of course, you just change into your clothes.  Why wouldn’t you? I mean, older people, younger people, the topless was everywhere, and that’s just normal.

Steve: Did you ever get used to that?

Shari: I never did it myself, I never got past it for myself.

My host sister, Lotta, would just parade around house just in underpants, and like sit there shaving her legs in the nude in the room and just be talking.  Dad would come in, and would ask her a question, and she would just say “Hi dad”, you know, whatever.  They just don’t even see it.  It’s not anything sexy or provocative.  It’s just normal.

So the modesty was hard.  It was a big shocker for me.

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Those bath houses really got to me!

Ukimi Temple, Lake Biwa, Shiga prefecture, central Honshu, Japan.

Ukimi Temple, Lake Biwa, Shiga prefecture, central Honshu, Japan. © Digital Vision/Getty Images


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We went to this placed called Lake Biwaka — it’s on the main island of Honshu.


It’s one of largest lakes there, and they have casinos, Lake Tahoe-Las Vegas kind of area there.  They have shows and it’s a  big deal to go as a family.


They also have communal baths and communal showers and things of that nature.


We went there to go to one of those — my host mother and I — and I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me to do.  You had to wash a certain way in a certain space and then rinse off in another space to get in.  I didn’t realize there was a major partition that separated the men from the women, and oh my gosh, I went in the wrong section and I was bowing, and of course when you’re bowing you get closer to looking at stuff.


I was so embarrassed!  


I had my hands in my eyes, and I was backing up and bumping into people.  I just got so flustered.  I yelled Kacha! Come and get me!  All the people were looking at me like who is this crazy Americanyoung girl, what is she doing.  Some were laughing and snickering and she got me over it.


She was like, Kim, you do as me.  I stayed very close to her from then on!  I didn’t let her out of my sight.  I did everything she did.  I was so embarrassed. I was 15 and getting naked in front of all these people, it was like oh my gosh.   Those bath houses really got me!  I never got used to them, either.




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