x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Ask Ali: Showing respect through body language, plus the story behind ma

Ali Alsaloom tells us about the body language of greetings and a traditional wooden box.

Dear Ali: What are the ways in which Arabs show each other respect through body language? Is there any kissing involved? RK, Abu Dhabi

Dear RK: Body language is a crucial method of communication, and we Arabs tend to use it a lot. One way in which we show respect to other people, believe it or not, is by kissing or hugging. Let me explain.

When Arabs greet their family members or close friends, they will usually do so by kissing each other's cheeks. When they meet older people, you might find the younger person kissing the forehead of the older one. In our society, this is a great gesture of respect. Between acquaintances or strangers, it's perfectly acceptable to kiss on the cheeks as long as it's between members of the same gender.

The same happens when a groom meets his bride at their wedding ceremony. The first thing he does is kiss her on the forehead before sitting next to her, to express how genuine his affection and respect for her is.

If you watch TV during Eid, you might remember seeing the sheikhs welcoming the public to their majlises to exchange greetings. Most of these men will greet the sheikhs with a handshake and a kiss on the shoulder. That is also another way in which we show respect to a person of high status.


Dear Ali: I have noticed that every time I go to a local person's house I see a big wooden box with gold designs on it in some of their rooms. Why, and what are they? BM, Sharjah

Dear BM: I believe you're referring to the lovely giant wooden box called the "mandoos", which has so much history in our region. Our ancestors used to utilise the mandoos to keep their things stored safely. Women would keep their beauty items such as kohl, jewellery and oud perfumes and even clothes in that box, and men would store their daggers and related equipment to keep them away from children or strangers. It always made a great wedding gift for the bride as everything new that she bought would go into that box.

The mandoos required great craftsmanship, as back then at least, the gold patterns and the box itself were handmade. Many mandoos come in different sizes and patterns, and some boxes have compartments to store different possessions as opposed to tossing everything together. Various types of wood are used to make a mandoos.

The metal designs are made of copper and come in different colours and patterns. I keep some prayer mats inside to keep them clean and organised for when my relatives or Muslim friends visit me at home. Often a mandoos can easily reveal where its owner comes from, as each Gulf country has developed a unique design that has almost become like a brand.

With the development and modernisation of the UAE and changing tastes, the mandoos has somewhat lost its original purpose as storage piece. Instead, it is used as a decorative item in the homes of Emiratis to display our pride in our architectural and artistic heritage, while reminding us of our ancestors. The mandoos makes a great souvenir gift as it is also designed in smaller sizes for tourists to take home.


Language lesson

Arabic: Khashmek

English:Your nose

Don't be alarmed by the English translation of this word. "Khashmek" is another way to indicate that you're about to greet someone and you invite him to do so by indicating his nose. It's like saying "Gimme five", which indicates a winning gesture or praise, or simply to say hello. Gulf men mainly rub noses when greeting each other. If you are a man, the next time you meet an Emirati colleague, shake his hand and lean towards his face while saying the magic word "khashmek". Then check the look on his face.