Mondays in the Middle East is a collection of emails. David Cross and his family lived in the Middle East for many years, where he studied the culture. Every week on Monday he would send an email home to friends/family as a way of giving updates on what was going on in his world. These emails usually contained cultural stories, similarities or differences, often with a bit of humor to them. The emails in this collection talk about things that happened in Oman, Bahrain, and Egypt, though primarily the first two.
I’ve mentioned in the past that my sister has spent years in the Middle East, first in Yemen and now for the last three years in Palestine. She comes back to the US for a few months every year, and the stories she relates about her experiences there are very similar to the way the emails in this book were written. Jason asked me, when he found out what this book was about, if these usually-funny anecdotes were written in a way that treated the people in the Middle East as “silly little foreigners.” So many Americans, I’m sad to say, often treat other cultures this way, but I’m glad to say that these stories were not at all like that. They were far more like the ones my sister tells, with full respect for the culture, and often poking fun at the respective narrator for bumbling around trying to figure out what he/she is supposed to be doing. I never felt like David Cross thought of the cultures he was living in as inferior or silly or wrong. They were different than his Midwest-Wisconsin culture in some ways, similar in others. He was able to compare and contrast without any sort of judgement, which was lovely.
There isn’t too much else I can say about the collection. I laughed quite a lot, I learned about Bahrain and Oman (and definitely want to travel to both now!), and there were several stories Cross told that made me get all sentimental and almost weepy. I’ve not spent much time in the Middle East myself, just ten days in Palestine when my sister got married, but I recognized a lot of cultural things, particularly the friendliness and generosity of many of the people in that region. My favorite story was when Cross recounted the efforts an Egyptian salesman took to make him feel welcome and happy. This man spent hours of his time and a (comparative) good amount of his money in just being friendly. That friendliness is something I loved about that short time I spent in the Middle East and what I think very few Americans see when they hear news stories about that part of the world. In a time when “Arab” and “Muslim” has become synonymous with “terrorist” in the minds of so many in our country, it’s books like this one that really show that those things aren’t really one at the same. Cross really shows just how beautiful and wonderful a culture different from ours can be.
I should mention one other thing about the collection – the only thing that bothered me in it. Each email ended with the phrase, “that’s just another Monday in the Middle East.” Because these were sent as a series of emails once a week for many years, this was probably just fine for reading on the original schedule. However, sitting down to read twenty emails in a row one afternoon, the phrase becomes irritating very quickly. To make sure it didn’t influence my feelings on the collection as a whole, I just trained myself not to read the last sentence of each email, which worked pretty well for me.