Today in class, I noticed that the topics of many people’s stories centered around how eye contact is a sign of respect. However, being from the Middle East, respect via eye contact is gender specific. Since the majority of the Middle East is a patriarchy, usually men do most of the social interactions and women tend to be in the background. So, for a man, making eye contact with another man when speaking to them is a sign of respect. But, making eye contact with a woman is a sign of disrespect. For a man in the middle east, he must only acknowledge and make eye contact with other men and basically ignore the women even if he knows them. The same goes for women. A woman in the Middle East can only make eye contact and interact with another woman. It is disrespectful if she were to make eye contact with a man, especially a man she didn’t know. Hence, being a man from the Middle East, I was very shocked when I came to US and saw men and women interacting with one another publicly freely. I thought that the people in the US lacked all respect for one another since I was taught that it is respectful for a man to not make eye contact with women. The women I met here also thought the same of me. I hadn’t realized that not acknowledging the presence of women is disrespectful and so, I was called out for it in school.
It took me a while but I soon learned that the customs here in the U.S differed from those of the Middle East and realized how disrespectful my behavior must have been to them. I learned that respect isn’t universal and one has to be cautious of one’s actions when they go to a new place.