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Congratulations to MARY MARGARET!! She earned a whopping 7 out of 8 right answers. Her comment was that she just went with the opposite of sanity. Now MM, you won’t get far overseas with that attitude—things aren’t wrong, just DIFFERENT! 🙂

Also, my goal with this quiz was to show some of the quirks and wonders of Mauritanian culture. I find stuff like this really interesting (ok, sometimes frustrating, but at least we’re never bored). What would be worse than going to all the bother of selling your house, quitting your job, and moving your family overseas only to find that everything was the same as back home? So I hope you enjoyed it too.

I also realized what a truly horrible teacher I really am, as the most common answer was C. Fortunately I usually give essay questions.

  1. The following is rude to do in public in Mauritanian culture:
    1. Pee on the tires of someone’s car
    2. Pick your nose
    3. Touch your wife on her shoulder, briefly

The answer is C. It is not rude to empty your bladder, or your nose, anywhere really. You can be having a conversation with someone and he will pick his nose. You can be teaching a student with his pen up his nose. A woman you are chatting with might blow her nose into her muluffa. You can be walking down the street and there will be a man crouched against the wall, peeing. It’s common to see streaks on your tires.

  1. If you are in a long line of traffic, you should:

a.    Wait impatiently, sighing a lot but being polite

b.    Honk your horn a lot             

c.    Drive into oncoming traffic and create a traffic jam

The answer again is C, although we also see a lot of B. There are a lot of pointless traffic jams around town, as you can imagine.

3.    If you are married and you live with your in-laws, it’s expected that you will:

a.    Sleep in their bedroom

b.    Eat meals together

                  c.    Avoid them at all costs and never let them see you

This is a fascinating part of Mauritanian culture. It is a great shame for you and your spouse to see your spouse’s parents together, yet extended families often live under one roof. The husband of one of my friends has never met his father-in-law; he saw him once from a distance in a public place and that’s it. You can eat with your inlaws, but only if your spouse isn’t there. It’s also bad to let your father see you with your child. Why? Well he might flash on the fact that you’re not a little girl anymore. After all, do you know what you did to get that child? Yeah. So it makes a lot of sense.

That’s why I love the scene in Steve Martin’s “Father of the Bride Part II” where his daughter tells him she’s pregnant and he has an image of his son-in-law as a playboy, cad, laughing evilly, etc. It so perfectly fits this culture!

4.   If you ________ and are caught, the shame will be so great that you will never want to see the people who KNOW again. If you are engaged, your fiancée will break it off:

a.    Blow your nose into your sleeve

b.    Steal

c.    Pass gas

Again, not what you were thinking. Shannon was the only one to get this one right!! Stealing is a deep shame but perhaps not the ultimate shame. Yes, blowing your nose is not a problem (after all, my friend said, it’s just dirt) and even digging in to get those really recalcitrant boogers out is okay but passing gas is the deepest of all shames and can never, ever be lived down. It’s odd for us, who think that boogers are disgusting and gas is, well, just air when all’s said and done. It’s also a challenge, in a place where sometimes you get intestinal parasites from the water.

5.   Basically, all adults drink:

a.    coffee

b.    beer

c.    milk

Only Meredith got this one right. It’s milk. Coffee doesn’t really exist in this culture (although it does in this house!!); in fact, I’m sorry to say that people think of Nescafe as coffee, when of course it is only a vile sludge masquerading as an instant coffee-flavoured sort of drink. People drink strong mint tea in little cups, complete with thick heads of foam on them. The tea is very good. It’s 100% Muslim here so no one drinks beer. But all Mauritanians love milk. The crème de la crème? (Pun so totally intended) Fresh camel’s milk out of a big wooden bowl. Mmm-mmm.

Me, I don’t really like milk. Never have. When I feel the need to increase my calcium, I start drinking double lattes instead of straight espresso. But I’ve learned to knock back part of a bowl with a smile.

6.   It’s polite/impolite to enter someone’s house without knocking or ringing their bell.

I think everyone got this one right. This is a culture that until recently was nearly entirely nomadic, and of course no one knocks on a tent wall. The proper thing to do is walk right in and call out “Salaam Alaykoum!”
Note: this one is hard to get used to, especially when you’re in the bath.

  1. In a university classroom, the following behaviour is frowned upon by your fellow students:
    1. talking on your cell phone during the professor’s lecture
    2. coming to class 45 minutes late
    3. doing homework for another class, quite openly
    4. all of the above
    5. none of the above

Well maybe this was a little unfair. The correct answer was e, none of the above, because all this behaviour happens regularly in university classrooms. But not all the students are like this, and I’m sure it bothers some of them.

8.    Marriage proposals can be made within 5 minutes of meeting a woman. T/F

I think everyone got this one, too. True, and even with my wedding ring, the significance of which is not understood in this culture, I’ve gotten several of them. If you take taxis you get a lot more. But this was again sort of a trick question, as these proposals are really just to proposition the woman with the golden American passport. Within traditional culture, the families talk about marriage, and a wedding ceremony as we understand it doesn’t really happen—it’s just that the men of the two families get together and sign a contract. This contract can include length of duration, as well as money owed and other things.  Meanwhile, a group of friends gather outside the house. When the contract is signed, the women all trill, and then everybody eats then leaves.

Thanks, everyone, for participating!!

September 2006

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A Perfect Post – January 2007

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