"Amin, I see you as someone incredibly unique. You're not 100% Iraqi, and you're not 100% American," says a good Iraqi friend of mine as we drink tea in front of his restaurant in the Gaslamp. "I feel like you don't know your identity, yet you can control yourself very well in both cultures, it's different."
"I think me not being able to fluently speak the language isn't the problem, habibi," I tell him. "I think if you want to live in America, you have to be American. I just don't want to forget the endeavors my parents have gone through."
We watch the young and drunk people across the street mingle with each other, making little Iraqi quirks and jokes about how this guy probably smells bad or this girl probably didn't change her underwear. At the same time, we question how American culture works, and soon we start opening up to each other about sexual life in America and in Iraq. "Back in Iraq, I had to drive thirty minutes to see my girl friend once a month, and I would only be able to see her for an hour. So in that hour, we would have to do everything. Talk, eat, and foreplay. If someone found out about us, they would force us to get married, or they would leave us both out on the streets," my friend tells me.
"It's not a whole lot different for me growing up here," I tell him. "My parents still restricted me from going out, drinking, and having girlfriends, but after a while I definitely learned the language that I can use to talk to girls here and talk to my parents the same way."
We kind of stand there for a second, and then he finally asks, "What do you mean?"
"Well, in Iraq, we have a beautiful language filled with simple details. If you want to say something is beautiful, then we would have to pick something to describe about that beauty, and put it into our explanation," I say. "We don't just say 'aeyouneha jameela (Her eyes are beautiful)', this is too simple. We have to say 'aeyouneha hadeya min al rabi (Her eyes are a gift from my lord)'. Get it?"
He shakes his head in disagreement, as we both kind of laugh about the concept. At this time there were two girls walking by, and I decided to hail at them in order to put my example into fruition. "Excuse me ladies," I say, showing them a friendly smile and body language for them to be comfortable. "My friends and I are talking about world cultural languages. Let me ask you, in America, what do guys usually say when they think you're pretty?"
The girls look at each other and one of them says what I wanted to hear, "Guys usually just say you're freaking sexy, or some kind of profanity."
"Exactly, that's the cultural language here. If I were to say, 'Your eyes are a gift from my lord', would you think it's weird?" I ask.
The girls looked at each other again, laughed at the saying, and said "Yeah, it's weird, only because we never hear anyone say something like that."
I look at my Iraqi friend and smile, telling him "You see habibi, girls in Iraq wouldn't like to hear 'Your eyes are a gift from my lord', because that's something they always hear, but if I were to use the same concept in American English, then I would garner interest because I say something different."
My friend smiles at me, and we drink our tea. The girls kind of stood there for a little while longer, and we ended up scaring them both off by asking them overly sexual questions that normal perverts would ask. I think we only did this to scare them off, not to get some play.