Thursday, March 25, 2010

Coffee Talk - Living in a Shoebox

It was agreed today among us, the ever-wise expats of Westchester, that the secret to happy living in America is to find a culturally appropriate shoe box and align oneself with its occupants. You can never be just American. You have to be a hyphenated American. The closest to my heritage would probably be Arab-American!
But after observing closely the local AA community I had the chance to meet here, I realize that I don’t quite belong there. They are the Louboutins of the Arab World, or at least they behave as such. I’m more of a Nine West girl or recently, an Uggs fan. Does that make me Australian-American????? I can already see Katie’s face cringing at the thought 
But it’s true, as my friends said today, that we hang on to our heritage much tighter when we move away from our homeland. I’m more Egyptian here than I ever was when I lived in Cairo. I cook Egyptian, I dress Egyptian and I behave Egyptian. Or at least that’s what I believe when people give me that quizzical look and I justify myself with a mischievous smile and a wink and I say: Oh I’m Egyptian.
The truth hits when I go back home, summer after summer, and I find that in Egypt, I don’t eat Egyptian. I don’t dress Egyptian and in all honesty, I have no clue what behaving like an Egyptian means!
So back home I don’t fit into the regular Bata box (Egyptian national shoe brand), and here, I can’t seem to find a box that gives me room to happily wiggle my toes.
I think of Roumi cheese.
I don’t eat Roumi. I never even liked Roumi. It’s so sour and oily; and in the presence of the infamous Gruyere and Kashkaval, who wants to have Roumi in their fridge?
I miss having Roumi in my fridge. I even threaten anyone who comes to visit without a pack of Roumi. Yes it’s that bad! I crave Roumi cheese and I would love to feel its oily tongue- nipping taste in my mouth right now.
I come to New York, and I just want to wear Azza Fahmy jewelry. I fill my house with Arabian horses Рon oil paintings that is. I drive a distance to the Arabic shop to buy my monthly stock of Montana Molokheya and other Egyptian crudit̩s.
I try to watch Egyptian television and if you happen to catch me cheering our national soccer team in front of a pathetically weak cyber feed, you’d think I was born a soccer fan. I never even liked the game before I left Egypt!
So what does this say of me?
That I’m holding on to my heritage in an effort to find myself a fitting shoebox in the new world.
What I found today- unfortunately after my friends had already dispersed - was that the box I need is right there at my fingertips. It just hasn’t received its proper label. And it’s neither a Louboutin (with great sorrow), nor a Bata either (woof, sigh of relief).
So today, I’ll propose a few labels for my new shoebox: The Exp Factor- The Expat – GC (Global Citizen - thanks to Alex) – Rrrrrrrrrr (for Roamer) - Shoes For Lovely People (this brand actually exists!) – but my favorite so far is the one I found on Zappos: Zoo York!
Any brilliant ideas??
I extend the invitation to all UN spouses and expatriated wives to claim their rightful place in my shoebox and celebrate our common identity


  1. Love the way you have expressed being away from the "homeland"... wherever that is... You are a talent my friend... please keep the posts coming! Bisous from your Pakamerinadian friend living in Sydney... "Citizens of the Globe" I say!! :)

  2. One thing is for certain habibti Laila, you are no Air-o-soul! I adore your blog. xo, Nina

  3. Laila, I like this blog entry and excited you wrote it's going to be a series, so will be back to read more (yes, feel the pressure ;o)

    As for finding a shoebox to fit in... I am glad you're finding your own! I can tell you as a half Western-half Eastern mix you grow up NEVER fitting into either "shoebox" and ultimately live in your own (wish BTW is WAY more fun) .... and get attracted to other quirky "half-half shoebox" folks... isn't it funny Asiyah commented on this blog entry too ;o)

    I think the shoebox is "Laila's shoebox", and I look forward to many coffees there :)

  4. It's interesting to see that only you girls found it in you to post your comments on my blog. If you take a look at the comments posted on my facebook wall, you'll see that guys, like us, go through the same identity crisis and deal with it in similar ways. They have great insight and can really add meaningful thoughts to this conversation. If only I could convince them to post their views for the whole world to see !

  5. ya laila , i never managed to post my comment , i guess i was a bit behind blog technology and didn't have the time to figure it out until 10 seconds ago . im sure there are many others like me :)
    and on your blog and writing i must say i'm thrilled , first , because it is ll brilliantly written . second, because i totally relate and in my current cocoon i cannot find it in myself to express anymore so here u are doing it for me . i love it and not to your surprise anymore i love you . xox. please keep it up until coz its great and you may actually can help me find my voice again !