Monday, September 24, 2007

Cultures in Collision: a Workplace Vignette

When you work with refugees, it is a really, really good idea never to make physical contact with a member of the opposite sex. This is all the more so if the member of the opposite sex is a Muslim woman from the Horn of Africa. "Yes, some of them will be willing to shake your hand if you offer it," a conservative Somali coworker admonishes. "But you should never offer it! When they are touching a man, they are dying inside."


I was bustling through the building earlier today at a purposeful clip, several other people following right behind me. Going through a doorway, I ran directly into a Somali woman. Her back was turned to me. She had been having a parting conversation with a friend down the hall, and she had left her arm stretched out behind her, vaguely reaching for the doorknob.

We collided. I couldn't back up, because of the other people following me through the door. The Somali woman and I were pinned together, stunned, for a long, long fraction of a second, as we both processed the fact that her palm had become firmly, unambiguously pressed against my, um, boy parts.

I was the first to recover. I very gently grasped her arm and moved it away from my body. And I waited for... what? Anger? Humiliation? Hysterical weeping? Some indication that she was dying inside?

To my relief, she and her friend both burst into the universal laughter that comes immediately after life's more ridiculous and embarassing moments. I gave her the most sincere "excuse me" of my life to date, and continued on down the hall.


Anonymous said...

Oh my. That is a classic "hilarious for us, sucks to be you" story. Only wish somebody had caught it on video so we could all relive the moment on YouTube.

Anonymous said...

Well, here I am visualizing this little scene for the first time, and find I can't help but cite one of my favorite movie critics:
"Sometimes it's rewarding to just linger on a beautiful image, and sometimes the long impassive gaze on a scene is right for the mood."

Karin said...

Absolutely hysterical!

Of course she just laughed that universal laugh. Perhaps your coworker thinks a woman *should* be "dying inside" when maybe it's just as normal as anything else to touch a man.

Although, um, boy parts were involved, so, this is not a good example, but you know what I mean.

Rebel said...


And dude! Mrs5K made me spit Dr. Pepper at my computer!!!

Michael5000 said...

@mydog: Actually, I'm just as happy it's not on YouTube.....

@Mrs.5000: I'm one of her favorite movie critics! I'm one of her favorite movie critics!

@karin: Do you think he might?

@rebel: Mrs.5000 often has that effect on me, too.