Monday, October 27, 2008

shaking hands

"In Italy, expressive movements of the hands are a natural accompaniment of speech and certain standard verbal expressions are accompanied with gestures…."

"In English, on the other hand, the use of the hands in speech is considered to be vulgar…"

"The wide expansive gestures and cheerful mien of the mildly happy Neapolitan would be indicative of mania if seen in an English public-school 'man', who may allow a flicker of a smile on his lips if pleased".


Fish (1985) Clinical Psychopathology. Bristol: Jon Wright

He put his right hand on his chest after we shake hands. That was strange for me. I didn't like the movement. I thought he should stop doing that. We are in Baghdad and not in his city. He should follow our ways of behaving. Why is he insisting on that? I never put my hand on my chest for all the first year we knew each other in 1996 while we were students in the first year in college. He, on the other side, kept spreading his long fingered hands on his chest after we shake our hands with smile on his face that seemed to me that it was getting wider and wider while my anger on this gesture was getting darker and darker. After all he was the one that I chose to befriend. We decided that we meet before our second year in the college would start. He offered that we go to Al Najaf to visit Imam Ali grave. I accepted happily. We went to find his friends waiting for us. The Imam was so crowded to a degree that I felt hemmed in. I went out fast. To my surprise they all came to me worried about me and asked what was wrong. I told them it is so crowded. They said they are sorry they brought me in this crowded hour, and that they should knew this before. I was shocked by their kindness. I didn't expect that from them. They are religious. I expected them to be mad on me. To be angry on me. But they started to go outside offering to go and have lunch. I stopped stunned and asked them to go and do their prayers. I told them I like to wait outside looking at the golden shrine from outside. They said that I am a guest and they should not leave me. So we went to have lunch in one of my friend's friends' houses. Before lunch was complete they wanted to pray together. They asked me if I want to pray. I said: "yes!" and you know what? They asked me to be their imam in the prayer. That means I stood in front of them and do the prayer in loud voice and slow movements and they follow my movements while hearing my prayer. I said no way. They said that I am their guest. My friend told me that if I don't want to pray I can just say that and they would pray without me, but if I want to pray, I should be the Imam. I agreed. I start doing the prayer in front of them and they follow my movement and the slow modulation of the Holy Quran. I ended it, looked at them, I felt there was something wrong. They didn't speak. At lunch, my friend said: "Sami, when you are in a journey and want to do a prayer, you prostrate only twice".
I stopped eating looking widely into their faces. I thought they would be so angry on me. But they were suffering to hide a laughter. But my friend, the religious, added with a serious tone: "you did four prostrations."
"I am not in a travel", I said and added: "I am in my home with these lovely friends".
They did not welcome this remark. They just acted as if nothing happened. They started to speak to me about other things but religion. They knew that I am a good person, just not that religious. Their kindness was strange for me. I thought that my behavior would make them angry on me. But they were wiser than to be angry on me. I felt they were older than me. They were calmer and seemed more experienced than me and my Baghdadi friends. When me and my friend were leaving they all shake hands with us. They put their hands on their chest. And for the first time in my life, I put my hand on my chest after shaking hands. while we were on our way home, while over the Euphrates river which I saw for the first time and see that it is more calm than Tigris in Baghdad, I asked my friend why some put their hands on their chest?
"Not on the chest" he said, "it is mainly on the heart. It means you are in my heart".
Since then and I love to put my hands on my chest after I shake hands.

12 comments:

Laura said...

What a lovely, lovely story of kindness is deeds and gestures. Thank you.

sami said...

Thank you Laura for your lovely comments. I learned from those friends alot Laura. What was wonderful with them is their tolerance. Tolerance is a known character in Iraqis that seemed to be forgotten on the last few years. It is much better now, I hope.

Laura said...

Yes. I was thinking about their tolerance a great deal over the day, and remembering times when others have been kindly tolerant of me (my impatience or ignorance or lack of manners or sheer stupidity) and what an inspiring, heart-expanding experience it is, to realize one is accepted, imperfect as one is. It has always spurred me to be a better person to others.

Thank you again. This post and the one about rain have been so evocative.

saminkie said...

We say in arabic something like "the one who don't got it, cannot give it"...or maybe traslated better into "the one who missed it, cannot give it to you"... means for example if you were not loved, then you cannot give love. They gave me respect and tolerance. I hope I will always give it to others. It is "a dept in my neck" like we say in our language...

Thank you Laura very much for your care and wonderful comments.

Don Cox said...

""In English, on the other hand, the use of the hands in speech is considered to be vulgar?"" _________ The story is beautiful, but this quotation about the English is not true. Individuals vary, but there is often a great deal of gesturing in English conversations.

sami said...

Thank you Don Cox for your clarification, it was so important for me because I believed what was stated in Fish's psychopathology book. By the way, they have deleted this quotation from the new edition of Fish's psychopathology, 3rd edition. Thank you Don Cox for your comment.

Abbas Hawazin said...

a very wonderful story Mr. Sami, you are walla a very gifted storyteller, I envy your kindness and innocence.

Don't become dispirited and always live free and curious with inquiry.

sami said...

Thank you Abbas Hawazin for your nice words and encouragement.

3eeraqimedic said...

Sami
One mice post after another how do you do it?
Although Don Cox may think the English use hand gestures, believe me they do not to the same degree as we do!
As I prepared for my first viva exam many years ago my English consultamt took me aside after the practice run and told me very firmly to "sit on both your hands before you say anything in the exam, the examiners will not apreciate all that waving!"

sami said...

Hello 3eeraqimedic and thank you for your encouragment. Your story about your first viva exam made me smile wide. Thank you 3eeraqimedic.

Brenda Chai said...

haha, same here. I'm a Chinese and i like practicing that gesture. It all started when Muslims and natives in Malaysia did that gesture towards me and later it grew on me.It makes greeting others special, no? :)

saminkie said...

Thanks Brenda Chai for your comment. Yes, what you've said is true, it makes greeting others special.