When I looked around the dinner table, I realized that I was the only native-English speaker there.
My wife and I had been invited to an Egyptian friend’s house for dinner to break our fast with others.
St. Louis has a small, yet vibrant Egyptian-American community that gets together at least once a month during the year and more frequently during Ramadan.
Feeding people who have been fasting is a good deed in our religion.
Anyway, last weekend, I found myself sitting around a table with 6 or 7 other Egyptians.
We broke our fast with cool water and dates. We prayed and then we headed to the dinner table.
Between bites of roasted turkey, meat pies, salad and stuffed grape leaves, everyone discussed the election, their families and how work was going.
These discussions were in English.
As I went to get more food, the conversation turned from English to Arabic.
I don’t speak Arabic, but after these many years, I can pick up a few phrases and get the general gist of what the topic is.
Sometimes people will look right at me and speak to me in Arabic, before remembering that my native tongue is English.
The conversation continued in Arabic as we had Arabic desserts including baklava, kunefa and basboosa.
As I listened to the conversation, it occurred to me that the feeling that I had of understanding some of the talk, but certainly not all, must be what it’s like to be a foreigner in a strange land.
Thanks to my wife’s love of travel, I have been outside the U.S. and know what it’s like to be a foreigner overseas.
But when we get together with Egyptian friends, I get reminded of the feeling of “other-ness” that comes from being with people who are not like you.
And being with Egyptians in particular is truly great due to their wonderful sense of humor and their intelligent thoughts on important issues.
Stretching ourselves by communing with people that differ from us is one of the great benefits of living in a diverse society.
We learn about the others and we learn about ourselves.
So if you ever have the chance to break bread with people who are not like you, I think you should take it.
At the very least, you may have a delicious meal. You may also learn some things along the way.
Now please pass the basboosa.