Stereotypes about Arabs are pervasive and often over-blown, as we well know, but an example of one such stereotype today really bothered me.
There’s a very nice Egyptian man who serves us our food in the cafeteria at Al-Quds Community College, where Bell Amman is located. In a testament to how bad unemployment is here and/or how little worth an Arab university degree is accorded, he has a BA in American Literature, speaks fantastic English (not perfect, but better than many of the foreign PhD students I tutored at Indiana University), and is working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, making sandwiches and fries and serving the meal of the day. He’s a very nice young man, and has been especially helpful for my co-workers and the many instructors from the SAE Institute for film studies here, all of them imported to Jordan for their expertise, but without any Arabic language skills (yet! I’m working on that!).
Today, I came to lunch while he was on his lunch break, but he got up from his table to come and speak to me. “I got Yahoo Messenger,” he said, “to be able to talk to interesting people. But every time I tell an American girl that I’m an Arab, they immediately sign off! Why is that?” And I felt awful, because I knew exactly what he meant, and worse, I knew that I would probably do the same thing. All I could say was that Arab men have a reputation on the Internet as being creepy. “Not all Arabs!” protested my Egyptian friend. Which, of course, I recognize, and I said so.
Still, it makes me reconsider how I want to respond to Arab men on the Internet in the future.