We so frequently focus on our differences that we fail to notice the common ground we share. Thinking of people from other nationalities, we often think of what sets them apart: “They dress in different clothes; they eat different food; they speak a different language; they follow a different religion; and they believe in different things.”
And just like that – with only a few short statements – many dismiss the possibility of having anything in common. In reality, however, we are more similar than we could ever imagine.
How do you experience the world?
This morning, you woke up in your room, a room that undoubtedly looks different from that of another person’s in another country. Looking around, you will find countless things that prove this, starting from the language on the cover of the book on your bedside table.
Before you left your house, you dressed in clothes that are deemed suitable by the society in which you find yourself. You passed by your local bakery, picking up a hot drink and a traditional pastry. All day long, you greet people and have conversations in a familiar language.
After work, you come back home and see your friends or family. Together, you sit down to have dinner and talk about your day; you discuss current affairs, listen to each other’s problems, and offer your support whenever necessary. You move on to watch some television after dinner, browsing through Netflix and the movies it has specifically tailored to your region. At the end of the day, you put your head on your pillow and fall asleep.
Miles away, someone from a different country lived through a similar day, albeit wearing different clothes, speaking a different language, and eating different food.
You are more similar than you think
While you may be living in different countries and even different continents, you could be viewing your different worlds through the same eyes. Taking a look at Arabs and Eastern Europeans, one may say that the two have nothing alike solely due to the outward expressions of their cultures.
In reality, they share numerous similarities in terms of their values and beliefs:
Both Arabs and Eastern Europeans believe that there is nothing more important than family. As such, they are both extremely loyal and would put their families first, before all else.
Taking this further, the tie to one’s family (i.e., parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) does not end once you move away at 18. In many cases, children even stay in their family homes until they get married.
Moreover, parents (and other family members) often continue to play a prominent role in their children’s lives – even when they move away from home and have their own families.
The comedy film series My Big Fat Greek Wedding perfectly highlights this point, with the family of the main character “Toula” having an all-encompassing presence in her life, despite her being over 30 years old and married.
Put simply, both Arabs and Eastern Europeans have loud and large families that do not disintegrate into separate groups when the children grow up, but only get louder and bigger.
Although Arabs and Eastern Europeans may cook with different spices and eat different food, the value they attach to it is the same. In both regions, people tend to cook traditional food and follow centuries-old recipes that are passed down through generations.
Thus, it is not surprising that with so much value attached to food, it is a key component of all celebrations. At birthdays, religious holidays, and other occasions, the tables in Arab and Eastern European households are often full and colourful – so full that a second table is sometimes needed to help put out all the dishes.
With so much importance being placed on food, some even consider it rude or impolite if one refuses to break bread with them.
This point can be seen as an extension of the previous as the generosity and hospitality of Arabs and Eastern Europeans are closely linked to food.
Personally, I come from one of the poorest countries in Europe: Bulgaria. Here, few people have large houses, fancy cars, or money to spend on their friends and family. At the same time, everyone will always invite you into their home, show you kindness, listen to your problems, and serve you a cup of coffee and some homemade food.
Similarly, Arabs have a reputation as one of the most hospitable people in the world. The minute you enter their home, you will be greeted with warmth and kindness. Of course, like in Eastern Europe, almost immediately after the greeting, the table will be filled with various warm dishes and drinks.
To sum up, both regions follow the advice of the wise Arabic proverb: “If you have much, give of your wealth; if you have a little, give of your heart.”