Rumble: What's In a Gesture?

Even though, we are all trying to be culture-sensitive, there are sometimes situations where we, the "Foreigners", the "Falangs", the "Muzungus" come out rather embarrassed... Here's one of those, the first time I entered Dubai.

I present my passport at the immigration counter. The immigration officer does not speak much of English, and for a couple of minutes flips the pages of my passport over from the left to the right, and back again, and again, and again. He attentively reads all the different visas, and mumbles to himself. He looks up, as to check where his supervisor is, does not see him, and goes back to flipping the pages.

Me: "Excuse me, anything wrong?
Him: He answers with the (gesture): the fingers folded together, pointing upwards, and slowly moving his hand up and down.

I often go to Italy, and that (gesture) means as much as "what the ^^%%** are you talking about?" or "What the ^^%%** do you want?". So I get upset, right? I mean, it is rather rude. I raise my voice a pitch.
Me: "Excuse me, I am asking you if there is anything wrong with my passport?"
Him: (Gesture) again. He mumbles something in Arabic, which I do not understand, and continues to flip through the pages.

Me: "Now hold on a second. Why are you doing this (i mimic him)? Hey? A bit of respect would do, ok?"
I raise not only the pitch but also the volume of my voice.
Him: yet (gesture) again, but now moving his arm up and down in a very articulate way. He says something in Arabic, which I do not understand. The immigration staff at the other counters look at us and laugh.
Me: "OK, this is enough, I want to speak to your supervisor. You can not do this (gesture)(gesture)(gesture) at me. You know damned well what I am talking about."
I look around for a senior officer. One comes speeding at us from the office behind a one-way mirrored window.

Super: "What is the matter, sir?"
Me: "I am not sure, but your friend here clearly does not know what to do with my passport! And on top of that, he is rude. "
Super to the officer: "Rakakatakatak" (something fast in Arabic)
Officer to super: "Laaaaaaaa". And he shakes his head.
Hey, I understand that, it means 'No!'
Me to the super: "How can he say no? He is rude, he just stands there and goes (gesture) (gesture)(gesture) all the time.
The supervisor smiles, takes my passport, and asks me to follow him.

Super: "So he did like this (gesture), hey ?"
Me: "Yeah, but that is really rude. That guy insults me!"
Super (smiles): "Sir. Over here, this (gesture) means 'Please Wait' "

This was the first Arabic gesture I learned. The hard way.


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2 comments:

DrDan 18 March, 2007 08:30  

I have seen that gesture many times in checkpoints here in Iraq... you do not want to misunderstand it then!

Peter Casier 18 March, 2007 11:17  

:-) Guess the more weaponry the other one carries, the less room for misunderstanding haha. Good luck in Iraq, Dr.Dan!

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