Friday, May 31, 2013

Ithnayn Karak Please!

When I return to my home country and people ask me what Doha is like, I just pause and non-nonchalantly say "It's simply multiculturalism on steroids!". I honestly do not think i am too far off when I say that. From my modest experience in my three year stay in Doha, I can say that culture develops in Doha in a way that it develops nowhere else. On a daily basis I interact with people from at least 4-5 different nationalities which is amazing by any standard! My social network or a group of people I am connected with in one way or another is extremely diverse. Interacting with these groups of people allows for our habits, hobbies, cultures or even tastes to converge into this beautiful melting pot of civilizations which makes Doha today. It's amazing to me how culture diffuses and adopts parts of other cultures to incorporate it into a unique blend.

I will tell the tale of introducing my father to ritual of Karak in Doha. Rituals enable groups to gather collectively and reinforce collective identity, or in this case, converge with a part of a different culture. We had a conversation last night while having tea about Karak and he told me he's heard of it but that he's never tried it. To provide some background, he is a diplomat living in Doha for three years now. His interaction is limited to other diplomats or businessmen; the venues he visits are mostly hotels, malls, restaurants, diplomatic receptions etc. He has visited Qatari majlises and interacted with Qataris, but the way they treat him his very flattering simply because of the nature of "His Excelencly's" tittle. So, I decided to be the one to show him one of the most "Doha" things to do in Doha.

It was almost dusk and we had finished our family dinner so I told him that instead of tea, tonight we should head to get some Karak. He complied with a dose of skepticism simply because of the age gap and i don't think he knew what to expect; I had previously told him I go there with my friends in the late night hours so I can understand his reaction. Whilst driving to Bandar which is a place that serves Karak near the Corniche, i witnessed culture diffuse in traffic where he took his Balkan temper and driving etiquette and applied it in Doha traffic. I tried explain my fascination to my father but the response was "What Balkan temper?" so i decided to switch the topic. We reached Bandar and he unfastened his seat-belt and tried to get out of the car. I told him to stay and honk the horn; he looked at me doubtfully and asked me why. I just told him to do it so he did. Seconds later, a man knocked on our window and asked us what we wanted. My father looked confused and in awe that a man would come and serve us simply by honking the horn. I quickly responded "Etneyen karak, please" which means "Two karak, please" in English; the man nodded and walked off. I spent some time explaining the process to my father who found it unacceptable and disrespectful to honk in front of a store. The epilogue of such an action in the Balkans would have been quite different, but culture is relative after all!

While we talked about this whole ordeal, the gentleman came back with our karak. I took the karak, payed the man and we drove away to find a spot to enjoy our oriental chai. We found a spot which faced upon the beautiful Doha skyline. I asked him what he thinks of it so far, he responded he likes the view of our Charshija which is the equivalent of the Souq in Skopje and that our traditional Turkish tea tastes better than the karak. We laughed about it and I told him that this could be a modern substitute of his former favorite place. He suggested that one day we play tavla or backgammon some day while drinking karak. That is one of the traditional games people in the Skopje Charshija play while enjoying a small glass of Turkish tea . We just made a plan to glocalize a domestic ritual with what we have in Doha. The process of glocalization is adapting a particular aspect of a culture to a certain locality or culture. We were going to participate in cultural diffusion! I was proud to say that next week inshallah, I will be participating in the process that makes Doha amazing!


I just sat back and reflected on the blend of culture that I participated in. Simply drinking the traditional karak while gazing upon the colossal skyscrapers that made Doha what it is, i thought of the magical blend of tradition and modernity and how globalization and glocalization occurred at the same time. I was going to participate into this process and bring our traditional game to our tea time; perhaps that will catch on and people will be going for karak and a game of backgammon or tavla soon. If you ever see that at Bandar, you know who started it! Selam Aleykum!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

SmartPhones: Bringing People Together or Splitting Them Apart?!

While the purpose of smartphones was to bring people together through email, chat, SMS and phone calls all on one device, the split they created among their users is getting wider each day. You would see advertisements for any newly established smartphone company that attacks the existing successful one. For example, this is an Apple mac advertisement making fun of Microsoft’s PC in 2009 even before smartphones get that popular:

Then suddenly Samsung started to get popular with their smartphones so they had to tackle the already established Apple iPhone. In this 2012 ad Samsung makes a mockery of iPhone fans waiting, in a long queue, for the release of the brand new iPhone.

Here is another video made by Samsung. Notice the part when he says "Some Smartphones are smarter than others".

With Samsung establishment in the field of smartphones, it has created its own fans, who started hating Apple and calling them “Sheep” or "iSheep". While on the other side Apple fans called Samsung fans “Copy Cats” or "Copy bots". The situation escalated, with the Apple-Samsung judicial fights over patents. This has split the two fans entirely and each side viewing itself superior over the other.

Nokia with its Microsoft Software couldn’t leave the Apple-Samsung fight without making use of it, to regain its popularity once more. In this ad Microsoft and Nokia make a mockery of Apple and Samsung fans.

Now let’s look on smartphone fans in three different Sociological perspectives:

According to the Functionalist Approach Samsung and Apple fans can be seen as the only way to achieve stability and order in the smartphone industry. At the end people can argue that these Samsung-Apple fights serve to help the audience understand the differences between the two products and not get fooled by the media. Therefore, it’s a positive thing.

In this functionalist perspective, Samsung fans gather collectively around their Android totem while the apple fans around the Apple totem. Behind the Apple and Android totems, fans collectively effervesce as they feel a shared feeling of identity in which they experience waves of emotions, a sense of unity and togetherness each behind his favorite logo. Some people feel the pride in wearing shirts that have their company’s totem on, or place their Apple stickers on their cars’ glass. Some other people speak about the advantages and disadvantages on each of the two popular phones of Samsung or Apple of the time and convince others about the best phone in their perspective. Therefore, each community started having its own way of looks and speech to recognize them from the other.

From an Apple fans’ perspective they view Samsung as an out-group which is a group toward which members of the in-group (Apple) feel a sense of separation, opposition, or hatred. Likewise for Samsung who identify Android followers as their in-group while apple fans as out-groups. Samsung and Apple fans despite their lack of physical proximity to one another still feel a sense of belonging each to his community whether its Apple or Samsung. This is what is defined by Grazian in his book “mix it up” as an “Imagined Community”.

According to the critical approach, the fame of Samsung and Apple reflect and reinforce the economic and cultural approach of mass media industry. Samsung and Apple can be defined as the dominant group in smartphones meaning that they are the group with the greatest power, the most privileges, and the highest social status. Statistics show that the Android and Apple market alone control 75.6% of the smartphone industry, so its normal to see Apple and Android fans (or Apple and Samsung fans, since Samsung is the most known Android smartphone).

In this approach one could call the huge firms the Bourgeoisie who are small group of modern capitalists who own the means of production, while the company’s fans as Proletariat who are a large group of population who use Samsung and Apple products and are influenced by their ideas.

However, it is important to acknowledge the awareness some people have when they choose their phones. For example, in these videos are interviews with two Texas A&M University at Qatar students studying Electrical and Computer Engineering like me. They look more into the technical specs than the producing company. (Excuse my tilted videos)

This takes us nicely to the interaction theory which states that culture is created, diffused and consumed among small groups of individuals. Many people buy the iPhone because they see their friends use the iPhones. Many others buy a Samsung phone because they received a word of mouth in their social network that it has higher technical specs. It’s not necessarily that the company intended to divide the consumers. It could be that the small micro-level interactions created the split that expanded and large firms took advantage over them.

My dear reader, while no one is sure which theory of the three sociological perspectives (functionalist, critical, or interaction) explains the realistic situation. It is up to you to choose the ones that make u happy and answer your questions. Certainly one can argue that all the three are bundled together. But which was the the theory that explains the Genesis of the Apple-Samsung conflict?!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cultural Hegemony

I visited a café today known as the Aroob Tourist Coffee Shop and got into a conversation with one of the workers. Dil Mohammed is from Nepal and he has worked in this café for the past seven years. Mohammed works 18 hours a day and sleeps in a one-room accommodation with 10 of his colleagues. He is a kind of person who wouldn’t look at you when he speaks to you. What struck me the most is, Mohammed has not been paid for the past 4 months and he is frightened to death to ask his manager for his wage. He has borrowed money from his colleague to survive this period. “Has this happened to you before?” I ask him. “Several times,” he answers. “But I do not ask him because he will pay me every time after a few months,” he answers. What infuriates me most about this is he is afraid to ask for his wages on time, which is his right. He believes that the manager has reasons of his own and a better plan for his life.

According to interaction theory, people behave based on what they believe and not based on what is necessarily true. In his book, Mix It Up: Popular Culture Mass Media and Society, author David Grazian explains the idea of exploitation through the examination of popular culture. According to him, certain kind of entertainment provided by popular culture deludes the mindset of the consumers to the point that they do not realize that have been “exploited, underpaid or overworked.” (Grazian 49) Similarly Mohammed and his colleagues feel inferior in many ways that they are ready to be overworked and underpaid; they consider their manager a better planner for their life than themselves. This also relates to the looking class theory, where people reflect and judge each other based on certain perceptions in the society.
Within the hegemonic culture practiced in the country, the elite class of people in Qatar: those that are nationals or working in prestigious institutions, use their influence to convince those who do not have such privileges to act according to their will. For example, according to folkways in Qatar, most people stay in their cars and honk in front of a grocery so that an Asian looking guy will run outside the shop and take orders. Growing up in this culture I sometimes follow these norms too. I sometimes ask those guys “I was here a while ago and you came out and rushed to the guy in the cruiser.” Some of them just apologize but some of them tell me that they are afraid to get reprimanded by those in Cruisers, so they move to those cars first. Here, “Cruiser” is a symbol of some kind of power. The workers follow the rules of the “Symbolic interaction theory.” The proletariat do not revolt because they are afraid to lose their jobs. The idea is, “if you don’t like it here, you can go back to your country.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

West Bay Lagoon

          One of the most popular compounds in Qatar right now is West Bay Lagoon. It is known for its beautiful houses, large parks and international atmosphere. During class this week, we spoke about subcultures and the interaction theory, which I believe relates to this modern compound. Westbay Lagoon has a specific identity as they are portrayed as open minded individuals across Doha. They are considered a subculture as they have distinct characteristics that separate them from the rest of Qatar's population. Although there are a variety of different cultural backgrounds that live in this area, they consider each other family whenever they meet one another. This also relates to the looking glass-self theory as the residents in West Bay lagoon would not have this image if it was not for the rest of the society believing they are active individuals. In addition, the residents flaunt this image through their dress code and daily activities.

          When I was at the compound, I tried to relate it to the interaction theory. This concept is implemented when culture is created, diffused and consumed through social interactions among small groups of individuals such as friends and neighbours. West Bay Lagoon compound have a specific culture and it is especially exposed amongst their parks. The compound can also be classified as a subculture as we are a smaller group from Qatar’s population with certain beliefs and habits. A majority of residents in the compound have the same hobbies and most families have similar reasons to why they chose to live in West Bay     
           I visited one of the parks which is a 'scene' to this subculture. It is a place where members of this community interact and create a shared identity. I saw many families dressed in sportswear playing outdoor activities such as tennis, football and cycling. If one were cycling anywhere else in Qatar, the cars driving by would stop and stare. However, it is considered a norm in this community. This park is classified as scene because it caters to every single person in this compound. They have sections for different activities and therefore it became popular in a very short period of time. The residents demanded for more parks and thus every street number have a park to themselves. Although this decreases the chances of families interacting with one another from different streets, it is common to jog through all the parks of West Bay Lagoon, allowing them all to be filled with life and happiness.

      While walking through the parks, I tried to think like a sociologist and observed the activities that were being held. Every park had a tennis court, basketball court, a large grass field and swings for the younger kids. It was interesting to see how every park consisted of families doing the same activities even though they all came from different backgrounds. It was the norm for children to be playing sports while their parents walk around and enjoy the scenery. This standard behaviour could only be considered ordinary and expected through the interaction of families within this compound. In addition to the park being defined as a scene in the West Bay Lagoon subculture, I would classify it as a symbol as well. The families interact in this space, they exchange thoughts and ideas of what they do during their spare time. Therefore, this park symbolises friendship and is one of the main reasons this subculture was formed.

Identity through Covers

Today, I have been to Virgin Megastore at Landmark where all the awesome music and video games can be found. One thing that grabbed my attention was how each music genre has a way to express its music theme through CD Album covers. An example would be rock music . This type of music culture has many prominent and district features in its CD covers. The overall look of such covers is sort of gothic with skulls and people screaming and all. However, we can also see that rock music is divided into many subcultures such as metal, hard, emo and alternative. Each division has its own way of presenting its music and the overall look. I am honestly not suprised at how the identity fluidity had increased in the past couple of years given how music from all types of cultures is sold everywhere.

One of the interesting rock genres that should be touched upon is emo rock. Emo rock bands try to express their sorrowful way of life through singing. The emo fashion is getting more and more widespread especially these days. The performers usually have lengthy dark hair, with highlights, covering their eyes and wear tight fitted jeans. And whether the performer is a girl or a boy, the makeup is all over their faces. I think it is pretty interesting that this sort of subculture has local, translocal and virtual scenes almost everywhere in the world. Although emo is not very accepted in the middle east, there are some concerts that occur in Dubai in the “Dubai Rock Festival.” Below is a self-explanatory video of how emo people act and dress

Anyways, so back to Virgin, my friend showed me one pretty interesting thing. The cover of the Transformers Collector’s edition has the regular Optimus Prime character icon on it. However, when you flip the cover upside down, you can see Darth Vader from Star Wars. This is a very impressive form of product placement. Although the producers of the Transformers and the Star Wars movie franchise are not the same, this indirect form of advertisement happened. I find it amusing that companies find these indirect ways of advertising. This is much more interesting than watching a movie trailer about Star Wars on TV. This is mainly because people hate watching advertisements especially while they are watching their favorite TV series. It sort of feels like we are being interrupted somehow.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Truth revealed

In the following post, the term product placement will be used a lot. Product placement is a form of advertisement where branded goods or services are placed in a context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, TV shows, or news programs.

I was looking through movie trailers when I noticed the sequel Fast and Furious 6. While watching, just the trailer, contained unbelievable amounts of product placement; the movie contains that multiplied by a hundred. If one were to watch the entire movie they probably wouldn’t notice any of the product placements in it. But after having learned about product placement and its role in the media, it’s hard not to notice it anymore.

An action movie like Fast and Furious probably costs the producers millions of dollars to make, $160 million dollars to be exact. And then I remembered a film I once watched. The greatest movie ever sold. That film showed us how a producer can fund their entire movie solely on the income they receive from companies requesting product placement. Product placement achieves success and profit for both sides. The producer will get the majority of the budget for their movie, and the “investor”, lets say, gets their product advertised, while making sure people can’t skip it like a regular Ad. Both side’s benefit, and both sides get millions or even billions back in profit.

If we consider just the cars used in Fast and Furious 6, and set aside all other brands being advertised to us in the movie, we still find a great deal of product placement. The owners of those companies are paying millions to have their cars used in a movie like Fast and Furious. Think of how much increase in sales they’d achieve. And the movie would just look good for having mind-blowing cars like these in it, and of course, having most of it’s budget already taken care of. So everyone comes out a winner.

The funny thing is, the person who owns the car company, might also belong to the same organization that owns the production studio. In that case neither of them have to spend any money whatsoever because they’d be working as a synergy. They’re benefiting each other, multiplying profits by thousands, and not spending a dime out of place. That’s how the culture industry works. You never know which companies or corporations are working under the same umbrella, and most of the time they shock you. But at the end of the day, they have profits pouring in, and we have no idea where the money we pay actually ends up. We probably don’t even care where it ends up, as long as the process of spending it brought us joy and entertainment.

Global Citizenship

I am often confronted with the puzzling question "where are you from?" Hmm.. this seems like it should be an easy one, shouldn't it? I was born and raised in Doha, Qatar, in 1991. My dad was born in New York, moved to Canada, finished his last year of high school in Egypt, and came to Qatar, where he remains to this day. My mother was born in Qatar, and both of my grandparents have mixed national backgrounds.

I went to a British kindergarten, an American primary and secondary school, and an American Jesuit university. I speak predominately Arabic with my mom and predominately English with my dad, and travel often, exposing myself to different cultures and languages. So whenever I'm confronted by the topic in a conversation, I usually announce, proudly and with a sheepish grin, "I guess I'm a global citizen then."

People often discount such a statement as too cheesy or cliche; however, rare is it when an individual realizes the implications of such a statement. I'm not saying I'm profound or anything, I'm just a byproduct of this global culture, of the phenomenon obsessively termed globalization by the masses. It connotes Western ideological domination over the East and Northern economic supremacy over the South. However, in his book Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture, sociology professor Roland Robertson, described the process of globalization as "the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole," and sociologists Albrow and King define globalization as "all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society." Waters concedes that it is a "social process in which the constraints of geography on economic, political, social and cultural arrangements recede, in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding and in which people act accordingly." I see this everyday in Qatar; expatriate, or non-Arab/non-Muslim kids saying insh'Allah or getting karak,

or a Corvette with an American flag bumper sticker driven by a young Qatari male, or a non-married Arab couple walking and holding hands. More and more everyday cultural norms are readjusted and boundaries redrawn. The sheer proliferation of mixed-sex education in the Middle East shows the ideological rearrangement between what once might have been mores or even taboos (such as having Qatari men and women in the same classroom socializing outside of an appropriate cultural context). The fact that I sit in the atrium of Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, where education based on the Western Jesuit experience is imported from the United States of America to Qatar, writing on a laptop that was manufactured in another part of the world, wearing clothes from designers that claim to be Italian but have factories in China and India. All our societies are connected on a microscopic level, and our ancient cultural heritage, although to be held with pride and regarded as majestic, has slowly changed and molded itself with the proliferation of mass media and travel, exposing a majority of people in all corners of the world to an ever-flowing milieu. For our last class, on Wednesday, we discussed functionalist theory, which views that different social environments maintain an orderly and consistent status quo, where people actively endeavor to maintain stability and order. David Grazian believes that popular culture is functional for society, acting as an agent that maintains stability the systematic nature of social worlds. Popular culture, accordingly, includes rituals and totems that are shared across the world through the appropriately titled "popular culture." Rituals are cultural acts of solidarity, social cohesion, and rebellion, according to Grazian, and that they enable groups to gather and enforce their collective identity. Through globalization and mass media, especially through popular mobilization media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, we see people that would never otherwise have met build relationships and experiences vicariously. They become desensitized and their sense of understanding of the world they inhabit expands outside their immediate national sphere of influence, and a supra-culture that transcends national or regional boundaries is developed. Popular culture, as base and denigrating as it can get in some cases, unites people through ideas, songs, dance, blogs, personal pages, and other forms of expression, forming a massive culture paralleling the consumer culture, although more and more we are connected by ideas in lieu of commercial products.

Robertson, Roland. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage, 1992. Waters, Malcolm. Globalization. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2001. Albrow, Martin, and Elizabeth King. Globalization, Knowledge and Society: Readings From International Sociology. London: Sage Publications, 1990.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tifo Culture

The tifosi are one of the most interesting cultural phenomena in Europe. The word tifosi has Italian roots and literally means supporter or enthusiast. These groups of people are supporters of football or basketball teams and their unconditional love and loyalty towards the club is to say the least outstandingly interesting. The tifosi or Ultras are far more than just sport spectators; they have norms, rituals, language and leaders which constitute a culture. It is a socially constructed system of values which is embodied in recognizable form. They have taboos and a system of sanctions enforced by the very group. They have totems and symbols with which they define their identity. From a sociological perspective, they can be classified as an ingroup most accurately because of their astounding loyalty to the club as well as the hatred towards opposing rivals. The sense of collective effervescence which is a shared feeling of identity among its members strengthened by the emotional bond with the club is the main driver of these groups making the hugely popular amongst the young population, and difficult to abandon by older members. This is what a tifo group actually looks like. I briefly mentioned the norms above, but I will now elaborate on them to show why it may define them as a culture. The first and most important norm of a tifo group is that you always stand and never sit during a game. This is what distinguishes them from regular sport’s spectators. Sitting during a game while on a tifo section of the stadium may result in severe social sanctions such as comments from group members around you or even a violent removal from the stand’s section. Another norm is that one always follows the leader’s instruction to sing the chant he starts. The tifo sactions of the stand are extremely loud which enhances the notion of collective effervescence and the adrenaline rush of singing in unison with hundreds of fellow members is sensational. Also, a norm is to wear the team’s color’s or merchandise to the game, but recent subgroups such as casuals break the norm and wear brand name clothes to make it more difficult for the police to identify them in the case of chaos. The logic is that police discriminates based on appearance which represents social class. The norm is also to stand your ground in case the group is attacked. Fights among groups happen constantly, and in fact one of the greatest fights in tifo history is said to have marked the beginning of the Yugoslav war between Serbian tifos and Croatian tifos. These are only some of the norms embedded in the tifo culture but there are many more to say the leasts. Totems are prominent in the culture and they are expressed through banners representing the groups. The tifo group’s name and the club’s name are written across them and they are main symbols of the group. Some of the banners are decades old and are a crucial part of the group. If a group loses the banner, the unwritten code of the Ultras is that the group must disband. Banners are captured by attacking the stand where the other member group is based in or even devising carefully planned schemes to steal them. Banners are not the only target, any sort of merchandise is targeted and losing merchandise hurts the group’s reputation. However, beyond the negative context of this culture; these groups play an important role as well from a functionalist approach. Functionalists view social worlds as stable orderly and systematic and that everything has a purpose. Society according to this theory is a the equivalent to a machine and everything has its own role. So what is the role of the violent havoc creating problematic tifosi? They make sure that traditional landmarks such as football clubs for a city remain free from corruption and the best example for this kind of effort are the Grobari of Partizan. They battled the management of the club for over a year because of large corruption going on within the club such as fixing games, delaying salaries to players etc. They used their vast membership to popularize the issue and save the club from demise. They sang chants about the management and put them under immense pressure resulting in their resignation and the beginning of a new era for the legendary club of Partizan Belgrade. To sum up, it is obvious that this is a culture within a culture which we can modestly describe as an ingroup. It has negative even destructive aspects, but ultimately these individuals are driven by blind passion and collective effervescence. As a former regular visitor of Skopje's Smugglers I remember the first game i decided to stand instead of just sit and watch. As soon as the game began, we started the oldest chant we have about our club and a big banner was raised above me which had the name of our club. Another banner was put down which said "Sloga, I cannot live without you!" It was then when I understood the power of collective effervescence and what it feels to be a tifo; to jump and chant in unison with hundreds for something that we all cherished and loved. This is an under-investigated sociological phenomenon which I find extremely interesting and worth sharing with everyone. This barely scraping the surface of the ultras culture and the tifosi.

On the Cultural Significance of Sham El- Nassim

Yesterday we had an unusual banquet at our house, one that particularly smelled horrible! Yes I did say this. It was a celebration for the ancient dating feast of “Sham El Nassim”. While most Egyptians today think Sham El Nassim is an Arabic word (شم النسيم) meaning the “the smell of the Zephyr” because it is celebrated during the spring time, the word was found to be more ancient than one could think of. This feast of Sham El Nassim has ancient Egyptian origins with the word "Shemu" being used in the ancient Egyptian culture during harvest days meaning “the day of creation”. Greek historians of the first century have recorded accounts of ancient Egyptians eating salted fish, lettuce and onions. That’s what I meant by the horrible smell! Egyptians were thought to celebrate the Shemu since 2700 B.C. and surprisingly it is still celebrated to that day with minor changes.

Later on, Coptic Christians in the second century A.D. found that the feast came during the Christian Lent and were not able to celebrate and eat the salted fish during that time, so they moved the feast to the following day of the Easter. The day of Sham El Nassim has to occur on Monday, since Easter has to be on Sunday. It’s also interesting to mention that the ancient Egyptian word “Shemu” developed to the Coptic word “Shom Ennisim” then finally to the Arabic transliteration “Sham El Nassim”.

While this blog post was not intended to be a historical class, it was important to give a brief background to understand the culture behind what we just celebrated yesterday.

You are probably wondering how the feast is supposed to be on Monday while we celebrated yesterday on Friday. Indeed “Sham El Nassim” is celebrated on Monday following the Eastern calendar of Easter which was meant to be on Monday May 6 this year. However, due to some family circumstances and traveling the feast was postponed a little bit.

Let’s just get to the sociology of this ancient feast!

According to the functionalist approach, Sham El Nassim can be seen as an event with its own rituals and practices that brings people together in social solidarity. Sham El Nassim, as a collective celebration, that makes all Egyptians, regardless of their religion; join together to celebrate in the same way. Also, what is more fascinating is Egyptians in Qatar who unite in family groups to celebrate this event. To us, Egyptians, the culture of Sham El Nassim meets the four characteristics of popular culture: being well liked by everyone, is easily recognized by all Egyptians, all classes in Egypt understand the rituals associated with the feast and finally everyone can relate to it in different ways.

The main practice in Sham El Nassim is family gathering either in public parks or in houses. Yesterday, over seven families came and joined our feast at our house. None of these families are direct relatives of ourselves, but they are friends who we relate to when living abroad. Such a family gathering makes us all appreciate the unity it generates and the sense of togetherness.

The main ritual of Sham El Nassim is to eat “Fisikh”, which is an Egyptian dish of salted fish, and onions, as you can see in the images below. However, yesterday I noticed that the table of fisikh was 80% women with only two or three men only eating fisikh. Those who found fisikh distasteful, like me, were mostly men who had another table with other types of food like pastas, kofta and salads.

Even though everyone who attended enjoyed the family gathering on Sham El Nassim, not everyone enjoyed the rituals of eating fisikh. Therefore, I do wonder with Grazian in his book “mix it up” if such a ritual will continue to be passed through the main agents of socialization. And even if it did will it still generate the same sense of social solidarity and unity amongst the celebrating community?

I also noticed the segregation that Fisikh has made, most women sat on the Fisikh table and most men and children sat on the normal food table. It could be because of health or dietary choices, especially because Fisikh has direct correlation to high blood pressure, dehydration and occasionally food poisoning if not cleaned well. But this phenomena of less than 50% eating Fisikh could be also because of the other options that were available that included Italian pasta. Hence, globalization can be a factor that interferes with cultural elements of Sham El Nassim.

Will the feast that survived more than 4700 years be able to survive the 21st century? While, globalization might seem to be destroying the rituals of eating Fisikh on Sham El Nassim, it has given me an escape from eating it so maybe having more options can be good! Yet fisikh lovers like my mother will still love Fisikh anyways.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beyond Boundaries and the Karak Culture

When I have to write something I usually take a drive down in my car to some coffee shop in Qatar. I keep a notepad in my car so that I can jot down points on my way to the café and then develop those ideas later on. I did the same last night, after a long nap till 9 pm, in order to brainstorm ideas for an active blog post. One of the first things I asked myself was, “Dona what do you do everyday on a regular basis in Qatar? What is that one thing you missed on your trip last time outside Qatar?” What I missed the most was, going to Bandar, the “tea – port” of Qatar” (Facebook page link:

I could write pages on how much I missed the idea of all my friends driving up in their Cruisers, and me in my Chevrolet Aveo forming a large circle in front of the Bandar seaside. Each of us would have a Karak in our hands. Karak is a traditional sweet-tea brewed in teapots. For us, this is pastime. We do occasionally go to the City Centre or Villagio malls for a movie or to some hookah lounges for a time of Sheesha or a card game, but Bandar is where we meet, every single day after each of us get done with our work shifts or college. This is how we socialize. I like to call this the “Karak culture.” In my recent readings from Mix it up: Popular Culture Mass Media and Society, author David Grazian writes about how a culture is not the product of a solidarity person, rather a product of collective activity generated by interlocking networks of culture creators. Within his study of sociology, there are  four significant criteria that define culture: 1) the culture must be “well-liked” by the masses, 2) easily recognized and widely used, 3) It must be a mass culture intended for general consumption and lastly, 4) It must relate to folk expression. The “Karak culture” conforms to all four of these criteria, as it is a well liked, an easily recognized mass culture that relates to folk expression.

Hanging out in the streets of Chicago, where I did my residency two weeks ago, I lived through a different pastime. As a Chicagoan for three months, friends took me to several museums, a Cubs game at Wrigley Field or to Second City for an evening of laughing. I would sometimes wander around Macy's on State Street, spend a few bucks on some Frango Mints or walk leisurely along North Michigan Avenue (called "The Magnificent Mile") looking at the people and the fancy shops. This post is not about the difference in pastime cultures between two cities. Rather, about the sanctions I receive regularly from different people based on my lifestyle in Qatar. Sanction is a kind of control that the society holds steadfast in the minds of the people living within the community. To act differently means to receive negative sanctions from the people who adhere to the norms in the society.

I have been stopped several times on my road trips with my friends because I’m a female and I have male friends. I would be sitting on a brick wall, across the sea in Bandar, with a Karak in my hands, and a Fazaa (cop car) would drive by. He would reverse back and ask for my Identification Card. “Do you know what time it is?” a cop would ask. “1 a.m.?” I would mutter something like that. “Who are these people? You should go home and sleep,” he would say. “These are friends and I just woke up.” I usually answer. They never take action, because obviously I’m not doing anything wrong and there is no law in this country that states that I cannot hang out with male friends past certain hours of night.
I’m being deviant certainly, straying away from the standard norm of the people in Qatar. A young lady sipping on her tea past mid-night with a bunch of guys is just unacceptable.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Northwestern University

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Northwestern University’s main campus in Evanston, Chicago. It was my first time, and thus was curious to compare it to Qatar’s campus. I was extremely surprised with large number of students involved in extra curricular activities and clubs, and most importantly their respect towards Northwestern’s traditions and rituals. During today’s class, I thought the functionalist theory was extremely similar to the social structure in NUE. The campus is stable, orderly and systematic. Everybody has a specific role and are divided into groups; resulting with the lively and outspoken campus we have today. They all collaborate together and respect one another’s opinions, even though they may not agree with it. For example, there are many accapella groups, sororities and frat houses spread across campus, and although each group may have different personalities, they all acknowledge each other in a mature manner. I believe this campus also relates to the functionalist theory because without the help and organization of these students, professors and faculty, Northwestern university wouldn’t be moving forward. The campus would not be stable or as productive. Even social problems such as two clubs fighting over the historical Northwestern rock can make a positive contribution to the society. This will motivate them to stick to the rules to see if the other group will give up on guarding the treasured totem. It will also allow the Daily Northwestern to have a story to write about. Another concept that we covered in class today, which reminded me of Northwestern’s main campus, was the idea of collective effervescence. During my trip, there was a baseball game that is extremely popular amongst Northwestern students. There are a certain number of seats saved for students in NUE and usually there is an extremely large turn out. During this event, there is a shared feeling of identity in which each student experiences waves of similar emotions and a sense of togetherness. They are all rooting for Chicago and wear Northwestern jerseys and sweatshirts to support their team. This is also considered a ritual as it forces students from different groups and organizations to gather together and reinforce their collective identity. Why do we have students, professors and faculty in Northwestern University and what do they contribute to that specific community? Why do we have different organizations and clubs? Why is there a different positions and roles for every individual? Without this structure, Northwestern University would not be able to manage all of their students or provide everyone with an activity that meets their needs and expectations. Although many sociologists criticize this theory, I personally believe it is an excellent fit for this university. Photos: The first photo is one of the many acapella groups in Northwestern. They are called Purple Haze. The second photo is how the rock looked like after we painted it. The third and fourth photo are from online sources