Following my run this morning I was walking towards my vehicle at Aspire Park when an Egyptian man said to me “Good morning. Very good”. I replied back to him “good morning”. I wondered what he meant by very good? Then, as I recalled passing by him at least once while on the jogging path, I thought perhaps he meant my running was ‘very good’. Perhaps, but not likely! Or maybe he just meant it was a ‘very good’ morning. I’m not sure. He was just being friendly I suppose. He was hanging his shoes and his socks up on the chain link fence that surrounds the park. I guess his footwear was either wet or sweaty from his run, or perhaps it was just an opportunity to air them out. Driving away, I noticed he had taken from his vehicle a newspaper, a mat and grocery bag of food so I can only presume he had some extra time for reading and relaxing in the park.

You might wonder why I always mention people’s nationality when writing about them. You may think it’s irrelevant as people should be treated equally regardless, so why pay any attention to it? I do so because I think identifying someone’s culture, religion and nationality leads to greater understanding. And I try to take notice of it, because it helps in how I interact with them.

If I came upon a Qatari man for instance, I would neither speak to him nor really look at him as it’s not particularly acceptable to do so. When being introduced to a Qatari male in a workplace setting, I always wait to see if he extends a hand to me, before automatically extending mine as some will not shake a woman’s hand. It should also be considered that they may have just washed themselves in preparation for going to pray and would therefore not wish to extend their hand to you. However, if you weren’t aware of these practises or norms or didn’t understand their reasons, you might feel offended by such actions.

I remember when I first moved to Qatar and would be describing a situation to my husband, he would ask me the nationality of the person I was dealing with. I recall saying in my ignorance, “I don’t know. I can’t tell if they were Indian or Arab”. Now, in most instances I can tell most people apart whether they are from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Malaysia, the Philippines, etc. from the way they dress and somewhat from the features of their faces. It’s important to do so as each has their own uniqueness and with my tiny bit of learned cultural awareness, I try to treat them in such a manner that would be respectful of where they come from.

Plus, I think people are generally proud of their heritage and like to be identified with it. Much as I like to be identified as Canadian rather than American, British or Australian. I am proud to be from Canada and probably most people feel the same about their homeland.

Our societies sometimes appear to be hung up on treating everyone equally all the time. I wonder where this comes from. I suppose we want to be fair and just to everyone, so in treating everyone the same we’re trying to uphold these values. Or perhaps due to the hard issues fought for and won such as equal rights for women, or similar, we want to be sure everyone gets the same treatment or opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in equal rights, but maybe at times we confuse the two.

What were those wise words from the Prayer of Saint Francis, ….. first seek to understand, then to be understood? Sound advice. Particularly now as we are so readily connected to one another in the global world.