Saturday, April 16, 2011

Is it the food or the Italians?

In Harper and Faccioli’s book, The Italian way, it was obvious that most Italians keep their recipes simple. They count on the way they make the recipe more than the ingredients they add to it. To them, food is a means through which to express affection.
The way that Italian food brings people together made me think that if all it took was Italian food to get friends and families together, then why not cook Italian? But this wan’t the issue. Pasta is served in fast food restaurants too, but then, what makes the Italian recipes special?

One thing is the thought that Italian cuisine is mostly improvised. As mentioned in Harber and Facciolini’s book, the Italian’s private life is carefully structured while the public life is largely improvised. The ingredients which Italian’s use are mostly fresh and prepared according to an old family recipe. In most of the restaurants I've tried pastas in, the herbs and flavors added to the dish were easily detected. Garlic, butter, pepper and most importunely, cheese.

Moreover, the most important element in the food of Italian culture is that it brings families and friends together. The Italians use the food to connect networks and family relationships. The food they cook and the recipes they use refresh their memories of the old people who used it before them. 
In most countries today, people don’t follow the Italian way. Mostly, because of the existence of fast food chains which made families, relatives and friends no longer get together on one table. They simply got used to the McDonaldized way that they look for efficiency, predictability and control in what they want. So, they just drive through and don’t cook at home, unlike Italians, whose dinning experience is all about family discussion. 
However, here in Doha, people do follow the Italian way. The food here does gather people. Whenever there is something to be celebrated we think,“lets go eat.” People’s idea of going out here in Doha, revolves around eating. From my personal experience, when my friends and I want to enjoy the weekend we must include going to a restaurant and eating.

I’ve noticed that Italian, traditional or fast food, it doesn’t matter. When it comes to gathering people together food is the ultimate way.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Culture Culture EVERYWHERE!!! The CMUQ International Day!!!

What other way could I have explained this day, I have absolutely no idea. Yesterday, the 12th of April was the annual 'International Day' at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. What a day...what a 'cultural' day, I must emphasize. This year the international day was splendid - one of it's kind, diverse culture, colorful dresses, talent shows and performances and some really really good food from all over the World.

The setting of the event itself was very cultural. There was a stage, and the audience were sitting on a majlis placed on the floor and some on chairs. Various types of food were all surrounded around the audience - from taco's to nachos to Indian sweets to kababs, drinks and beverages, finger food to pasta....just name it, and it was present!

This day is one of those very few days where everyone forgets their designation and just enjoys. For example, even the Professors, staff as well as students - all performed together. In fact, on this day, we become aware of some of the hidden talents of many of our own friends as well as our Professors and staff.

What was interesting was the fact that various cultures came together under one roof. Amongst the performances, we had a 9 year old kid singing, Palestinian Dabkeh group, couples singing and dancing, live musical of Iranian drum and Bagpipes and a Bollywood dance, of which I was a part. This was my second time performing in International Day and like always, I enjoy it to my fullest.

There could not be a better way of bringing cultures together in a more fun and interactive way. Even the caterers were dressed in Abaya, suits, Salwar Kameez and other Arabian dresses. Cultures from all around the World came together, shared food and talents. There aren't many words I can explain this experience, because culture is something that is best understood when experienced.

Myself and Waleed: Bollywood Dance

Entire Student Crowd

The Full Bollywood Team


Colorful Dresses from Colorful Cultures

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bedouin Culture - The Modern Version

Bedouins have existed for over 1000 years, however over time the exact meaning of Bedouin changed. According to the dictionary they're described as wanderers or rovers, basically people who don't live in a specific place and instead move around depending on the resources available in the place. This may have been true before when they'd change an area once the food was running out or other factors that may make living there harder. However, with all the changes that have happened in the past 60 years or so that has changed. Most Bedouin tribes now live at a set place, in homes just like us. Therefore, some may say Bedouins are no more. However, that is far from true as being a Bedouin is more than what the dictionary makes it out to be Bedouins have their own culture with their own sets of norms, beliefs and traditions. That is what defines them and not whether they wander or migrate.

Bedouins are a prominent group in Qatar and most of the Arab world, including Palestine/Israel, Most of these Bedouins have the same norms, beliefs and traditions. For example, tribes are still very important in Bedouin culture, and the relationships between these tribes can be good or bad depending on the history. For example, if two tribes are not in good terms with one another it is taboo for a women from one tribe to marry a man from the other tribe. On the other hand, a more would be if two tribes have a good relationship and if a man from one tribe is looking to get engaged to a women from the other tribe, to reject that man is seen as an insult and tribal relationship will turn from good to bad instantly.

Whats most interesting is how Bedouins kept their culture intact while still accepting the change that comes from the outside. For example, Bedouins used to live in tents, however, in order to better their living conditions they now live in houses but keep the tent feel to it by keeping the design inside similar to that of a tent or in some cases include a chimney. Another interesting thing is how they've kept their foods the same as they have been in the past. The foods and remedies they would take from the desert, because it was the only thing available, is still what they mostly eat, outside of the weekend McDonalds or KFC. These foods include
camel milk, a kind of truffle called Fagah ( فقع), camel and sheep meat and arabic coffee and if possible all prepared on a fire like the one above. Bedouins have not strayed too far from the desert. On any free day, with no work, they are always at the desert in their tents.

Bedouins, have many traditions and sports that they take part in. Football (soccer) is one however the traditional ones are hunting, with falcons and dogs, and searching for Fagah.

Hunting is a very popular sport and people take pride in having a well trained falcon or dog. Having one's own falcon or dog is a rite of passage for young guys almost as important as getting their first Nintendo. While hunting, in the past people would follow them on camels or on foot, now however each person is equipped with a Land Cruiser to follow the dogs and falcons.

Meanwhile, searching for Fagah, while done by the whole family, is seen as a form of competition for kids. Who can find the biggest one. these two sports like many Bedouin traditions have diffused into Qatari culture as even I remember competing with my cousins on who could find the biggest Fagah or going hunting with my Father.

Interestingly, the biggest change is the use of the camel. The camel, called the ship of the desert in arabic, is what helped people live in the desert before. It provided transportation and food. However, transportation has now shifted from the old ship of the desert to the new ship of the desert, the Land Cruiser. Land Cruisers are a must have in the Bedouin Culture as it provides easy, safe transport through the desert and is much faster than a camel.

In conclusion, Bedouin Culture is a very dominant culture in the Arab world, even diffusing into the country's culture, while the world has changed and Bedouin life has evolved with it, the core beliefs, norms and traditions have stayed the same.

L'wzaar Seafood Market: McDonaldized or Not?

I’m a frequent customer at the L’wzaar Seafood Market in the Katara Cultural Village in Doha. The food is delicious. And is delicious every time I go there. The fish is always fresh, the food is always served in the same way and the taste and presentation of each dish is almost perfectly identical every single time.

When I went to study this restaurant for my third short project, trying to measure how much the theories of McDonaldization applied there, I noticed a lot of aspects that did conform to the theory, and others that did not.

When you first enter the restaurant your eye quickly goes to the interactive projection of a pool with swimming fish in the foyer. The theme of seafood, seafood-market and sea-life is captivated beautifully by the décor and the whole “set-up” of the place including the ambient sounds that emote feelings of “a busy market” and “classical, authentic dining”.

The walls are covered with blue mosaic tiles, and plasma screens rest on the pillars throughout the restaurant playing sport programs, and aquariums hold fish hostage for display.

L’wzaar seafood market employs a huge staff, with approximately 60 waiters, a manager, an assistant manager, a captain (in charge of reservations and seating and greeting and reception), a hostess (who assists the captain), a head chef, sous chef, about 15 line cooks and 2 – 5 servers at the fish market display (who help you with your selections, and weigh the fish) as well as several dishwashers and cleaners.

Al though the food that reaches your table says nothing but authentic, delicious, unique, and innovative, the process of preparing it is very much McDonaldized. Everything is measured, calculated, and controlled to produce exacting standards, and predictable results. The time the fish needs to be cooked is already pre-determined and set based on weight and type. Your selections at the market array of fresh fish and crustaceans are weighed, a sticker with a barcode is placed on your ticket with the table number, and it is placed on a tray and given to waiter to be taken to the chef at the pass, where your order will be completed. The barcode system eliminates human error, and the simple, easy-to-learn process de-humanizes and de-skills the workforce so that they are easy to replace, leading to the homogenization of labor.

Among many other observations, an important aspect of irrationality of rationality is in also adopted in L’wzaar Seafood Market. At first, I couldn’t really apply this theory to my observations. However, Professor Geoff pointed out that the huge staff and waiters resembles somewhat the case of the numerous cleaners constantly sweeping and cleaning the floors in the CMU building, even though the hallways are spotless. The irrationality of rationality here, is the superfluous employment of waiters at L’wzaar, that now looking back, does in fact fit this concept. The presence of too many waiters and cleaners to keep the restaurant clean and working, takes away the “rationality” of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rap, the Middle Eastern version

From Iran, Lebanon, to Egypt, Tunisia and all across the Middle East, the genre of rap has implemented its own throne in the hearts of numerous youths. The language of rap bridged between what young Middle Eastern rappers carry in their hearts against their societies and governments, by reflecting their rage through lyrics and musical beats. For example, Iranian rap is mostly about the oppressed souls and the economical difficulties that are revolved in the country. Also, the Palestinian rap elaborates about the miserable conditions in the refugees’ camps and the humiliations that Palestinians receive from Israelis.

With the latest revolutions that took place in Tunisia and Egypt, many rappers thrived and utilized rap music as a way to convey their furious messages to their governments. After listening to some of the songs that were produced lately about the revolutions, I concluded that rap music became a medium to introduce democracy to the embrace of the youth. The lyrics were solidly fierce, full of emotions and were full of descriptions about the protests and power of the citizens.

In Palestine, there are more than 25 rap groups that were established in a time span of ten years. Some of the groups include young teenagers who contribute to the making of meaningful rap songs from their own point of view. Since these rappers are still young, they are able to record their music and progress as they age to deliver what they have witnessed for generations to come.

Dam is the very first rap group that was established Palestine in the late 90s, and their fame even crossed the Israeli borders with time. In 2001, the group produced a song named Meen Irhabi? Which means, who is the terrorist? The lyrics included a verse that says: Who’s the terrorist? I am the terrorist? How can I be a terrorist while I’m living in my own land? Who’s the terrorist? You’re the terrorist, you’re the terrorist and you’re slowly diminishing me as I’m living in my own country. The group also has its own fan club that includes some of the Jews from Israel who are against the movements of Israel in Palestine.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Twitter Sensation

Twitter is what some may call a global media phenomenon. It is in fact a global sensation, that started out not too long ago. But how come millions of people know about it? How did the website spread globally?

It spread through word of mouth communication. People who have accounts, or who heard about the website, told their friends about it and their friends told their friends. The cycle continues. Word of mouth communication is only made stronger by another global sensation - the Internet. Through the Internet and social networking websites such as myspace, facebook and now twitter there is instant communication between people who might not be in the same room, country or even continent. All one has to do is write on their friends’ “walls” and if those friends are at that very moment on the Internet, they will get the message. Also, Instant Messaging is very popular and it increases word of mouth communication exponentially. So ideas spread much faster now then they ever used to in the past.

People were talking about the new social networking website (Twitter) for a long duration of time and with great intensity and enthusiasm. Due to the global recognition of this website, there is now a collective consumption of this kind of popular culture. Virtual local scenes are emerging on Twitter through Twitter’s use of hash-tags and lists that people are allowed to make. People of the same subculture who do not live in the same place are constantly, in a way, in the same place because of Twitter. There are many downloadable applications that allow Twitter to be on one’s mobile phone, iPad or laptop. So people are constantly communicating with one another.


As seen, Twitter can be studied sociologically. The concept of Twitter fits in perfectly with the interaction approach of popular culture. This approach focuses on the smaller and informal processes of communication such as word of mouth. This approach depends on interactions between small groups of people and the influences they have through those small actions and does not depend on big-budget marketing. This is exactly what Twitter does. One way it does this is by the trending topics one sees on the side bar. A concept or idea that started out between a couple of people somehow spreads around a region or the world and gains global recognition.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The World in A Cultural Village!

On the 6 of March, I attended a very unique event that was held in Qatar University, and which was more like a celebration of different cultures, uniting a wide range of diverse countries and nationalities into a small village, called as “The Cultural Village.”

The Cultural Village is a great student event that enriches the audience with activities representing the variety of cultural heritages at Qatar University. It takes place annually and is organized by QU Students under the supervision and guidance of the Student Activities Department.

The event’s main objective is to introduce its audience to the different cultures of QU Students who come from various parts of the globe. The village will include a number of booths, exhibitions, and several cultural activities that reflect the uniqueness of each culture as perceived by the participants through folkloric shows, music, traditional customs, and plays. The best of all, this event is open to the public.

According to sociology, such event as considered a multi-cultural activity can be described using the Interaction Theory. It helps create cultural diffusion, which is the spreading of cultural traits, products, ideas, or behaviors from one culture to another. It is also a great opportunity for people coming from different countries to reflect their cultures by doing interesting and fun activities. Cultural village allows social and cultural interaction with a large, diverse audience and prevents any kinds of cultural gaps or stereotypes.

In addition to that, the Cultural Village is a great chance for the students to introduce themselves and know each other. It allows you to live between cultures and experience different countries’ norms and traditions by just setting there and having the spirit to observe and cheer.

What is also special about this event is that it is a great environment for the students to show off their talents and special capabilities, which helps enhance their self-confidence and leaves positive impressions on their community. I was really impressed by the students’ potentials as some of them were casting poems and speeches that they wrote by themselves. Others were acting, dancing, singing, and playing different musical instruments. In short, I can describe the Cultural Village as a fun and exciting way to travel around the world and explore different cultures and identities.

This video is one of the great performances done in the event, which is a Palestinian traditional dance called "Dabkeh."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

McDonaldization of TGI Friday's

According to Ritzer, McDonaldization is the process where the whole society, and not only restaurants, is increasingly running like a fast-food restaurant.

As it was Friday, I decided to examine McDonaldization at TGI Friday's and in the same time have a delicious dinner with my sister at my favorite restaurant. Upon setting there and observing what was going on, I was surprised that many aspects of the restaurant, which in the past appeared to me as common senses, are actually McDonaldized, but most of the people are unconsciously practicing them.

While observing the cycle of interaction between the customers and employees, I realized that the restaurant’s hospitality is standardized. For example, whenever a customer gets in the restaurant, there will be a nice lady standing in front, smiling, holding a candy basket, and repeating the same exact phrases over and over for every customer who is approaching her or even leaving the restaurant. The waiters and waitresses do the same behavior as well, "Would you like a drink or fries with that?" or "Thank you, have a nice day!" According to sociology, these repetitive phrases and actions of the employees are small examples of the machine-like theme identified in the McDonaldization theory.

What is special about TGI Friday’s, from my personal experience, is the fact that its employees, especially the waitresses and waiters are trying to create an intimate relationship between the customers. Based on the way they interact and dress, I can say that they are not very professional but helpful and joyful.

From the way they were dressing, I was able to distinguish the different roles that each employee had and identify their positions. For example, waiters were wearing clown-like outfits, which has helped create senses of humor and vitality in the atmosphere.Managers or whoever seemed higher in position, were wearing professional outfits like dark suits with ties.

The whole business involves attributes of efficiency, calculation, predictability, and control. Their service was so efficient; employees were working as a team most of the time. In other words, individuality is not allowed. Employees were also doing their best in advising and interpreting customer wants. Therefore, customers are encouraged to expect certain service standards, which allow for an efficient service. Information technology is also used to ensure that these services targets are met. For example, they used machines to accomplish certain tasks like refilling drinks and accounting.

In terms of calculation, I realized that TGI Friday's emphasizes quantity rather than quality of its products. The food menu, for example contains over 30 items and the cocktail menu is similarly extensive, along with the desert menu. In addition, the ways in which the food is portrayed on the menus, give the customer an illusion of the quality.

In short, McDonaldization has extended its reach into more and more regions of society. It is affecting every aspect of our lives including cultures, beliefs, and the ways people think. Although there have been many benefits and conveniences that are related to this process of McDonaldization. Its increasingly rational outcomes are becoming irrational.