Monday, January 24, 2011

Generation Gap Meets Cultural Divide

They live upstairs. I think they're Persian, but I haven't asked. They pile into their Ford Focus five times a day and head to the mosque up the hill, to return about 30 minutes later and complete the ritual by backing into their parking space. Under normal circumstance, the driving right falls to the youngest female, who appears to be in her late 20s. I refer to this custom as, "She with good reaction time and spacial relations shall grip the wheel."

Unfortunately--or fortunately, for her--she is forever 8.9 months pregnant and can barely fit in the front passenger seat without crushing her child to be. As her mother is of some sort of higher rank, and as her brother and husband are male and therefore must be served, grandma drives.

The security garage door opens with a groan. I'm out of my car and waiting for the elevator with bags of groceries, cat food, litter and a fidgeting dog, but when I see their vehicle round the corner I decide to hold the i-n-f-u-r-i-a-tingly slow device for them. Pregnant women and long waits don't mix.

Grandma guns it, slams on the breaks, guns it again and heads into their parking space at around 10 miles an hour and at a jaunty angle. The car that parks next to theirs is a late model, deep red, positively lickable Mercedes, gifted to a brother and sister from wealthy Indonesia by their wealthy-beyond-measure father. Tension fills the air. Grandma slams the breaks just in time, and all passengers lurch forward and back.

The passenger door opens and the daughter looks at the painted line between spaces, sees that it isn't where it should be, rolls her eyes, gestures toward her grandmother and says, "Go ahead. This is going to take a while."

In this moment, my universe shifts. The contents of that car becomes a story steeped in tradition, yet firmly seated in the modern world. Sarcasm: the great equalizer, transcending religious and political opposites. I've found a friend!

Their nomadic roots mean carrying family wealth on the highest ranked female (or so my slim research reveals). When I catch a glimpse of the middle mother, I see what appear to be rhinestones and sequins. My second glimpse tells me that her head and neck are draped in real gold and diamonds. Hundreds of diamonds. There must be two million dollars peeking out from her plain chador--the headscarf that allows a woman's face to show while still covering her neck, hair and shoulders.

She is regal, indeed. She sits up straight and strong and emotionless in the middle of the back seat. To her right is her son. I estimate his age at 20. He opens his door to proofread his sister's assessment that the car is nowhere near where it should be. He is disgusted, as is daughter's husband all the way on the left, and barks an order at his grandmother to try again.

The doors slam shut. I pick up my groceries and pull Sam into the elevator. I'm looking forward to my vertical pilgrimage through Russia (second floor), China (third floor) and Algeria (down the hall) before finally making it home.


  1. Interesting and captivatingly written interlude with sarcasm as it transcends culture and age. Very entertaining, I'm glad I visited.

  2. Thank you, TSSB. You're welcome back any old time.


  3. This piece reminded me of my five-month Peace Corps stint in Afghanistan forty years ago, mostly because of the obligation to pray five times a day. Afghanis, however, were and remain grindingly poor, and they responded to the call to prayer with a fervor I had not seen before and never seen since. Thanks for revealing the inner workings of the family hierarchy.

  4. I've learned mostly through observation of body language, mannerisms, who feels comfortable speaking to me, etc. and perusing search engines for more clues. I imagine the family structure would appear very different if they were in their home land, or in a different socioeconomic bracket.