Klaa

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My wife and I don’t really care much about glass and crystal ornaments or matching cutlery. The few crystal vases that we own were wedding gifts from uptight aunties who felt it crucial for every household to have some Bohemia crystal vase to reflect taste; or a short noticed visitor, or one lacking imagination, who stumbled into a crystal shop on last minute to buy a useless artifact in order not to walk in empty handed. We have what we need, and when we don’t have enough, we improvise.  

In one of the times that we were entertaining a large group of guests my wife found herself lacking a bowl to serve the taboule in. She scurried into the living room in the whee hours before the guests start to arrive and found a big Bohemia crystal bowl grand enough for an emperor to use as a drinking basin. To get one thing off her mind she lined the bowl’s sides with cabbage and put the taboule in it to be served. Needless to say, amongst the pastries, finger foods, lasagna, and homemade pizza, the Bohemia bowl seemed terribly out of place. 

 

In the mid 70s or so there was a sudden surge of Levantine Arabs into the oil rich Gulf states who got very rich very fast. Although some of them primarily had previous glory days, the wars that tore through the region from the 40s to the 90s, had taken a financial burden on the inhabitants of the land. And so, when they flocked into the gulf and started making money, it was common, or at least easy to flaunt their wealth and aspired social status in either indirect or ridiculously explicit ways.

The common response to those who attempt to display their newly found or recently restored sense of belongingness to the velvet layer of the society, is “May God have mercy on you Grandfather’s soul.” Sort of “your grandfather would be twisting in his gave if he saw you now.” So whenever anyone would attempt to reflect high social status or “klaa” (an extreme, sarcastic French pronunciation of the word “class”), through either cultural mannerisms or prestigious purchases people would like to point out that their origins are far from the current fake reality they try to depict by saying something along the lines of “So and so bought a Porsche?! His grandfather used to ride a donkey! May God have mercy on his soul.” 

Another variant, said amongst the Lebanese, is the sarcastic phrase of “His grandfather’s tarboush hanging in the Champs Elysees”. An even more sarcastic and probably a tad insulting one is “His grandfather’s chapeau …”  to indicate that their grandfather didn’t even wear a tarboush but wore a more refined headwear that was adopted from the French colonization of Lebanon, thus forgetting who their original, tarboush wearing, ancestry were.

There is a grand importance that Arab place on origins. Probably due to the historical tribalism that went around the region in the pre-islamic “ignorance” age. So it is not uncommon to find people who take pride in where their grandparents came from or what they owned some 80 years back, and although the wheel of time was bitter on the financial well-being of many Arabs from the 50s onwards, several people try to bring importance to their petty selves by reminiscing on the riches that their grandfather owned. 

In all cases, this obsession that many people have to reflect social status and wealth, or to ridicule social status and wealth, is all driven by the lack of confidence that people have with their achievements on a personal level, and the lack of pride that people have with their countries achievements on a national level. We remain a people who are 100% consumerists, and import everything we consume. 

My grandfather, May God have mercy on his soul, spent the majority of his adult life in poverty. For my grandson, I think he is safe. If he turned into a shallow person who would brag about his social status, or who he knew, or wealth, or anything anybody in his lineage did or owned, and anyone would tell him “May God have mercy on your grandfather’s soul”, he can easily reply “My grandfather served his guest taboule out of a Bohemia Crystal bowl!”

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