Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bill's Blogging has a New Home

Howdy, Y'all!

Well I just don't know if anybody is ever gonna look at this blog again, it has been dormant for so long.


I thought I had better let you know that I have a new blog! That's right, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I'll be telling ridiculous stories from across history over on my new blog at "What Up, Nerds?"

So far I've told folks about Hussites and Popes and German Emperors and Vikings in the south of Italy--so why not check it out--and Get Your Nerd On!


Monday, May 2, 2011

An Interesting Morning

This morning I woke up too early, the light a little too bright and blinding in my eyes. Not quite recovered from waking up at 5:45 the morning we left Jordan.

I stumbled into the next room of Tory's empty apartment. I am the only one here right now because he had to go to Tel Aviv for a night. I check Facebook. Ten new notifications. Happiness at that.

Then I stumble back into the next room and turned on the TV. Aljazeera English fluttered onto the screen, "...dent Obama had this to say in his announcement two hours ago."

"Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children."


Not sure exactly how to feel, what repercussions there might be. But want to do something.

So to celebrate I went and bought breakfast at KFC. This KFC.

It is different from your KFC. Very different. I bought a chicken dinner with two pieces of Dajaaj, fries, and Xubaz for fourteen shekels.

Then I walked back to the corner store and bought a two-liter of coke.


The Beginning of Bill's Odyssey

I woke up in Jerusalem this morning. I walked out to the old
city's wall and paid a kid a buck to show me how to break past the
fence and get on the wall's ramparts. I then walked those for a while.

Until I realized that the Dome of the Rock (Site of the first and second Israelite temples, Theoretical Eden, the sacrifice of Isaac, Mohammad's ascention, etc) was right fracking there. It was then that I realized I had to run back to the Austrian hospice in order to check out in time.

After taking Pictures, of course.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wiki It

Oh man. A week and a half left. It's the Home stretch in Amman, and I gotta get to running. Three Arabic tests. Two Political Economy Tests. An Art & Culture Portfolio. Last days at JICRC. Planning for the post-Jordan...

Stress, and emotional turmoil. Point is I been neglecting this Blog for a little too long, and while I got a decent post in the works it ain't gonna get here today.

Instead, you might want to go to Wikipedia and look up "JICRC" or "Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center." It's where I have my internship, and I just spent a lil while making the article.

Assalamu 3aleeekum, y'all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


These are pretty trying times in Amman, difficult things become more difficult. And now that coming back to America is becoming imminent, it no longer has the tremendous attraction it used to have. I been wanting in the updating of this blog, and I'm about to add to that some more.

At four o'clock this afternoon we Earlhamites are meeting at Seventh Circle and trundling into some cars and driving on up to Ajluun. It's apparently a lush high place with a very Mediterranean climate. There's green everwhere, it snows in the winter months, and they say the mountains are stunning. We're going to be staying up there. We'll be staying in cabins and bumming around the campfire. We got hikes and lecturers lined up. We're gonna see the castle, and the panoramic view of Galilee and the Golan Heights. It will, I think, be great.

But there'll be no internet. So, y'know, no more posts 'til Saturday night.

See y'all.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Arabs Talk

How you talk matters a lot.

It's not just what things you're trying to say, but the actual way you say it. It's how fast you talk. It is how long you wait once the other person stops talking until you start talking. It's how loud you like to make your voice and it is how emphatic it is appropriate to let your voice become. It is about whether you should use a calm voice or whether bouncing and rising and falling tones are better

It's how much deference you're supposed to show to whoever is speaking. It is whether it is an insult to talk along with and over somebody else as they speak, or whether talking along and peppering in questions is just a way you show that you're listening.

It is whether it's rude to ask a question directly or weak to use euphemism. It is whether you are just allowed to ask about anything you want to know. It's whether it's comfortable start a conversation talking about each other, or whether it is more comfortable to start with your the weather, your surroundings, other people.

We each have our own norms. There's mine. There's the Jersey. There's the Minnesota. And there's the Arab.

Everything is relative. Take the Minnesota standard stereotype. From my perspective someone talking with it sounds slow, it sounds derpy and timid. Meanwhile someone talking in the Jersey style is loud and obnoxious and generally asinine. But from a Jersey view a Carolina stereotypical style might sound derpy and slow and weak. There's been peer reviewed psychological research (but I am too lazy to link to it here. look it up yourself if you care that much) to show that the exact same thing said in each conversational style has an entirely different impact. The difference is just in the relative traits of the conversational styles. There's always some style is slower and sounds stupider. And there's always some style who is louder and faster and sounds like an asshole

Well. That Arab conversational style. Arabs are the loudest and the most passionate and aggressive and emphatic speakers I have met yet. When the talk to each other they almost always sound like they are at each others throats. It is upsetting, it is off-putting, it can be repulsive. From my conversational style's point of view.

A while back I was catching a ride home with this awesome Arab guy. He told me he was going to meet his mother at the Jabri where he was dropping me off. A minute before we got there he called his mother, and after a moment of pleasantries he started shouting, screaming, mouthing-off venom into the phone. I was embarrassed and looked away. When we pulled up he got out of the car and he was still shouting as he hung up the phone. He hugged his mother while apparently screaming, and few seconds later their fight broke into a round of laughter.

I've seen many repetitions of the same basic interaction since then. And it isn't fighting. It sounds like it, but it is not fighting. That is just how Arabs talk.

They adapt for Americans though. Most adult Arabs I have met tone it down when they talk to us. They keep it calm and simple and they don't shout. Kids don't always realize they should do this, but to a certain degree that is just how kids are.

Most Arab people don't get boundaries and American-appropriate conversation though. They'll ask how much you weigh, why you don't get a haircut, why aren't you a Muslim, why you don't have children. That's just small talk, nothing to hide in shame. They are just self conscious about other things then Americans are. They are reserved about their own issues.

Still--even realizing what incites ya' against them--seeing Arabs talk the way they do makes it hard for me not to harbor a sneaking suspicious feeling that they might all be jerks. So maybe it's just the social norm of how ya' talk. But ya' still sound like a jerk.

What might be the worst is trying to work within those cultural norms. The Jordanians have been living with these standards for their whole lives. They know how to work with them and move within them. As an American I can't seem to get their conversational style down, I get nervous and I get rushed and end up saying things that are just plain stupid. All the while reminding myself that no it does not make them a jerk to ask this, it don't make them a jerk to talk like that. Trying to use somebody else's style is a recipe for awkwardness.

In the end I am sure there's a bunch of Arabs who have thought that I'm an idiot. There's a few Arabs I have decided ain't good people.

Which makes it convenient that what we think of each other doesn't really matter. Even a lil bit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Arabic Is Not a Language, it Is 22 of Them

Okay. So you’re going to live in Jordan for a semester right? you want to spend your time trying to engage with the city, right? You want to learn the language before you get there. You want to be ready.

So you go and you study Arabic. You figure out the grammar, you learn yourself some vocabulary, you’re on your way to getting the hang of talking it. You decide to test yourself out. You go online and watch some Al-Jazeera. You understand it. Oh man this is great, you’ve totally learned Arabic before you get to Amman.


Not really.

You studied the wrong language.

You learned Modern Standard Arabic. That’s what they talk on the news. What you wanted to know was Levantine Colloquial Arabic. Those ain’t the same languages.

You won’t be totally screwed coming to Amman if you only know M.S.A., or fusha as the Arabs call it. Most people speak it some, or at least understand it. It is not their first language though. People speak it on the news and people learn it in school. There are some similarities but mostly there are differences.

The Arabs may say they all speak the same language, but they are wrong. Arabic is in reality a bunch of languages. There are like twenty-two different Arabic languages that are widely spoken.

They are a lot like the Romance languages. All of the Arabics are descended—a millennia and a half ago—from a common daddy-language. Like all of the Romance languages all used to be vulgar Latin. In Italy, Gaul, the Pyranese, Occitania, Spain, Portugal, North and South Italy, Sicily, and Rumania they all used to just talk Latin. Then they all developed their own weird accents and idiosyncrasies.

After a few hundred years the accents and idiosyncrasies got so bad that the elites decided they needed to consciously improve their Latin. They purposefully went back to the old ways. When they did that the difference between the people and the elite grew, and people realized they weren’t speaking bad Latin, they were speaking a new language. Latin, as a language, died.

Time went on. The new languages evolved. The number of mutually unintelligible or semi-intelligible dialects rose and fell. Isolation let you get your own incomprehensible funny accent, and then some empire came in and told you to start speaking “proper” Spanish or French. And then you spoke that way.

C’est la vie.

Some of the dialects changed very quickly. It started with a few yokels talking like hicks and lazy-bastards, and ended up with French. Because it changed so much, the French are completely unintelligible to anybody else. Some dialects changed slowly and were conservative, they stayed rigid and hard. Even after two thousand years, theses are semi-mutually-intelligible. Spanish and Standard Italian have many similarities, and even if a Spanish speaker wouldn’t be able to automatically understand Italian, there are still many similarities. And if you learn a few linguistic shifts, you can learn the other language pretty damn easily if you know the other. And if you look at Catalan and Portuguese they are extremely similar to Spanish. You can learn them with less effort than Italian.

So time took one language and made it into many.

Well. That is what happened to Arabic.

The Caliphate spread across the Middle East quickly after Mohammad died, and Quranic Arabic spread that distance. It slowly took over from the languages that had been there before. But the Middle East is friggin huge. In the Levant and in the Bedouin areas around the Red Sea and In Egypt they all developed their own accents that turned into their own languages.

Egyptian, Levantine, and the Bedouin areas are like Portugal, Catalonia, and Spain. They are conservative languages. And they’re fairly understandable to each other--as long as you’ve been having a little bit of exposure to the other variants here and there throughout your life. Mesopotamian Arabic over in Iraq is to Levantine Arabic like Italian is to Spanish. Not mutually intelligible, but it is easily learnable. Apparently Gulfi Arabic is about the same, or something

The French of the Arabic world—the stuff that nobody can understand—is North African Arabic. Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, all the way down the list it is just completely incomprehensible. They can all sort of get each other, but they are all still just crazy-talkers. It is ridiculous.

When you talk to the Arabs though, they say they all speak the same language. The only way this could possibly be a sane statement is if they mean fusha, if they mean M.S.A.

Fusha is like the European elites trying to go back to “proper” Latin. Some people will correct you if you try and speak colloquial, telling you to go for the fusha instead. Even though they and everybody they know speaks a different language. They took Quranic Arabic and simplified it a tiny bit, and called it “Modern Standard.” It is mostly the same aged and anachronistic language.

Arabs don’t just figure fusha out on their own, they learn it in school like people used to learn Latin. Then pan-Arab TV (most of the news) is broadcasted in fusha. Written Arabic is mostly fusha. In newspapers and books, it is the Arabic literary language. People just happen not to speak it.

But don’t tell too many Arabs that their colloquials are all different languages. A lot of people think of their own “right” language, and every Arab’s “right” language, as fusha. They see it like this. That they are all Arabs, that they all have a common national identity, and that they all speak the same language.

So, you come to Amman speaking fusha, and you’ll be okay. They mostly talk fusha. But they mostly talk English too. Neither of them are their first languages. You won’t be talking in the Jordanian’s native tongues.

Luckily, colloquial Levantine is a lot easier. It lacks the endings, you can just throw the right words out there and folks will be smart enough to figure it out. It is still a new language to learn, but it is not as frustrating a-one.

So, that’s some things.

Next time, stories about Amman?

Bashuufkum ba3ade’een.