“How big is your house?” was a very common question we received in the Middle East. Time after time we answered that we don’t have a house, we live in an apartment and it’s only one room, 30 square meters big. Or small, if you like to think so.
“Really?” They said, perplexed and confused. Thinking we must be rich, traveling around the world, and here we are telling them that our home is a one room apartment! It doesn’t fit in their picture of a rich person. What they don’t count in though, is that Swedes rarely live the whole extended family together, as they often do themselves. Of course they need a bigger house than we do, we’re only two!
When two people are getting married in most Middle Eastern countries (and they do it like every day), the bride moves into the groom’s house with his family. If the family has many sons, they will expand more and more as each of them is supposed to get married and have children. Only the families with many daughters might shrink, since the daughters move out.
In the Middle East, people simply see no reason for a person to move out before he or she gets married. So unlike Sweden where many teenagers already live on their own while studying. It sometimes happens that bride and groom move to a new home after the wedding even in the Middle East, if the father of the groom wants to buy them a house. If he can’t give them a house, he might buy them a car, “at least”, as a friend in Iran said.
Let us assure you, we’ve written these facts down carefully to teach our parents the proper way of treating young lovers. Just as carefully as we’ve noticed that every person out of the 500-1500 on the guest list in a Middle Eastern wedding must bring an equal amount of gold as a gift.
This is a sort of life insurance for the young couple. Zarah, a young mother who we met in Kurdistan explained, as she flicked through the 3000 photos from her wedding (one with each guest): “Here in Iraq, we love gold, very much!” Of course we let all our friends know about this important tradition as well, as soon as we got home ;) …
That couples in Sweden can live together and even have children without getting married, has been very hard for our Middle Eastern friends to understand. Same thing when we told them we only see our parents every now and then, not on a daily of even weekly basis.
Male friends in Pakistan told us they prefer their mother to find them a good girl to marry, since the relationship between the mother and the bride is more important than his own relationship with his wife. Because the bride and the mother will spend a lot more time together. We learnt in Pakistan that a man’s worst nightmare is to come home from work and find his mother and wife quarreling.
So the mother simply shows a photo of a nice girl, and asks her son if he would like to speak to her on the phone. “Then we speak, sometimes two of three times, and then we agree to get married.”
Marriage based on love is considered very unstable and weak, since love can come and go. “And if you already know each other, then what’s left to discover? Nothing!” This is very difficult for us Swedes to understand. We can’t think of any friends who would marry somebody after just speaking on the phone a few times. Most couples would live together for at least a few years first.
But the family situation in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan has really inspired us. How highly valued the family is, and how close people stay together! We actually try to meet with our families more often since we came back to Sweden. Except for the father-of-the-groom-paying-for-the-new-house and the every-guest-has-to-bring-gold-to-the-wedding-traditions, we probably found the importance of the family our most important lesson from the Middle East. It’s well worth to think through. Now – time to go to grandmother’s over Easter.