01 October 2010

Perhaps we should have an office Project Runway party

Afghanistan is frequently referred to as the Graveyard of Empires, perhaps to the point of cliché.  If this truism holds, I feel that it is also something of the fondue pot of their cultures (sans white wine, of course).  Afghans have tremendously strong cultural and tribal identities, and are a remarkably proud people.  This does not, however, mean they haven’t soaked up some cultural touchstones from their various occupiers and neighbors.  Notably this does not include the Chinese, for whom Afghans seem to hold a special disdain.  India, though, is fair game.  Many people learn to speak Urdu and Hindi simply by watching copious amounts of Bollywood movies. 

The sub-set of Afghans I typically associate with, that is, young, educated men, display an odd combination of American mannerisms with Euro-trash sense of style.  This week, a quote from American Pie kicked off a comparison of everyone’s favorite comedies (the American Pie series, The Hangover, and unexpectedly, Sex and the City were all cited), culminating in surprisingly academic consideration of streaking and Tantric sex.  In the meantime, they’re traipsing about the office in acid wash skinny jeans, designer shades, muscle shirts, with Ed Hardy and Diesel being very popular choices, and Italian-style shoes with elongated toes.  The vast majority of these styles are Chinese rip-offs (another point in common with the US!).  Fashion really marks the only time Chinese goods are considered acceptable, as their versions make for more bedazzling and random accessorizing.  Our office is a glorious mélange of clashing patterns and dizzying colours, all topped with the ever-present scarf (it works in nice counterpoint to my own depressingly monotonous wardrobe of khaki.  It seems everything I own is khaki).  The bold styling reminds me a lot of Russia, actually, with their loud post-soviet styles.  There was a similar dramatic cultural shift, I suppose; not so much an awakening as an explosion.

Fashion is a frequent topic of conversation, as the guys argue about what color pallets match (green and gray are, they maintain, a no-go) and preferred designers (Gucci was the consensus).  When I tried to round-out their cultural reference points by offering them the New Yorker, they asked if it wasn’t a fashion magazine.  In fairness, they also thought the Corn Huskers were a fashion magazine from Nebraska.  One assumes it would be heavy on denim.  I ended up compromising a bit, and giving them Vanity Fair.

They do have a number of pop-culture pursuits outside of cloathes.  They had a rather nicely choreographed air guitar routine to Kid Rock the other days, are voracious pool players, and can curse like, well, soldiers (in minority of cases, sailors).  Indeed, the English-language vulgarities were quite fluent even during Ramadan, when it was technically proscribed.  They managed to avoid food and cigarettes, but cries of ‘cocksucker’ abounded.  Deadwood is also very much in vogue in these parts. 

I’m often called upon in my capacity as font of Western knowledge, asked wildly random questions about such myriad topics as university accreditation, GEDs, birth control methods (I didn’t ask), and Islamophobia in Texas (the vast majority of linguist émigrés to the States seem to go to Northern CA, VA, or Texas.  I suggested they consider avoiding Texas).  We’ve even had a few tentative discussions of alcohol.  I’m uncertain if my co-workers are embarrassed to ask about alcohol because they feel that, as devout Muslims, they shouldn’t talk about drinking, or because I’m a chick and they’d prefer not to know about my imbibing.  Mostly, they stick to things they think I should know, as an American woman.  I’ve been quizzed about divorce rates, religion, politics, pop culture, medical school, and rent in various locations.  I’m asked about grammar, which I’m good with, and the availability of whores, which I’m not (as for why that’s fair game but booze isn’t, search me).  It is an interesting collection of facts I’m meant to have in my head.  Between me and Google, though, we usually cover it.