Oh, Kanaka!

Posted on December 2, 2006


I have a friend who manages to, outstandingly enough, combine being an Egyptian se3eedi and a Canadian newfie (from Newfoundland – the se3eed of Canada). In addition, he works at the Canadian embassy here in some sort of military capacity, a state of affairs that engenders much derision.

Um…I forgot where I was going with this. I feel like some sort of amusing anecdote lost its way out of my head. Anyway, he sent me an invitation to a Canadian embassy party, to which each Canadian could invite two non-Canadians. There being three Canadians amongst us, we managed to fit most of our friends in, except one friend who was knocked off because it was deemed an injudicious use of the Canadian taxpayer’s monies to send a non-drinker when an able-bodied drinker was ready and willing. The invitation was expressed in military time; the party actually started at 4:30 and ended at 10 (but I couldn’t tell right away because of all the extra zeros). Pathetic time frame. But with the light of subsidized alcohol shining in our eyes we obediently marshalled ourselves in front of the Canadian embassy at 7 pm. We allowed ourselves to be stripped of all electronics, bra underwires beeping. Turns out knowing the door guy doesn’t mean you get to keep your cell phone (although it does mean getting an extra friend in).

On entering, I pointed out to M a recycling bin in the corner. Ever since he got here he has kept a neat little pile of plastic water bottles by the door of his apartment in the hopes that Egypt will begin recycling any day now, only to throw them out in despair. I’ve explained that there is a whole community of people who root through the garbage and reuse it, but he wants something more developed than this scenario, I think. When he saw the familiar triangle of arrows on the bin he actually rushed over and gave it a big hug, eyes squeezed shut in ecstasy. I averted my eyes from the embarrassing display.

We went through to the party area. This was clearly an office foyer, with those tables you had in primary school. Formica, is it? All of us were forcibly reminded of 2nd grade experiences in divergent parts of the world. Everything in the entire place had clearly been shipped from Canada – when is the last time any of you saw those cubicles that have the little hole for computer wires to go through the desk? Or a correctly spelled “emergency” sign? In front of each chair at the tables was a little Labatt Blue beer coaster. I seized upon this much-missed item with joy and instinctively secreted one in my handbag; for what purpose, I don’t know. I should probably have put my drink on it, I think. When I turned around to express my joy to my friends at having located this hallmark of Canada (well, for me anyway, considering the law-school-induced alcoholism of yore) they were in the middle of the throng at the bar.

My friends and I appeared to be the only Egyptians at the party, at first glance. Most of the other people were either clean-cut youth of university age wearing hoodies – garments I had almost forgotten about – or people in the 40 and up range. All of them were white. I hadn’t seen such a racially uniform crowd anywhere in Canada. What is more, lots of the young men looked a little bit like M, minus a few years and muscle fibres. Creepy, but reassuring to know that I can find more when mine expires. After a bit we started noticing that there were Egyptians, but they had blended in and could only be identified through speech.

We started sampling every sort of drink, as they were heavily subsidized. We had to get them by buying coupons. When I went to buy a 20 pound drink coupon, the middle–aged woman selling them said, “Come on…just twenty?”…and that, my friends, is the kind of attitude Egypt needs. Vices really need to get more play around here.

I went and ordered two drinks at the bar, and then stood to one side to let the people behind me get their orders in. Some woman next to me made a comment about how people should stand in line and gave me a filthy look.

“I was standing in line!” I snarled. She apologized. Bitch. Since when, anywhere in the world, has there ever been a line at a bar? Not in any Canadian bar I’ve ever been in. And that my unusually polite moving-aside should be so passive-aggressively criticized! I resolved to bring back Egyptian line-cutting. The drinks were watered down, too. I had three and felt nothing.

The music was terrible. It vacillated between odious trite Canadian music (Bryan Adams!) and Christmas hits sung in nasal tones. As the lone black guy remarked as Jingle Bells played, “White boys can ruin any good song.”

We noted that there was generally a lot of interjection into our conversations. When a friend commented to me that she hadn’t been in so sterile an environment in a long time, a random guy behind us burst out laughing and started talking to us. A German guy and his girlfriend started talking to me and some of our friends in the food line, on overhearing my American friends commenting on how fearsomely polite and fair Canadians are. M told them that anytime now their mocking was going to bring on a whole Tsk Tsk. Indeed, when I noted that my hamburger patty was the smallest one the world had ever seen, the barbeque guy said “You’re right…the rules are that each burger has to be 120 gm – we weigh them out. I don’t know how that one got through,” and produced for me a new, large patty. He didn’t even take the small one away – something an Egyptian vendor would most assuredly have done had this kind of protest even been heeded. M fell about laughing at this exchange.

At 10 pm we all left, and all the Canadians horsed around outside the door carrying each other around and kissing exactly as if we were not in Egypt. The embassy security were agape, and commented to one of my friends that those people should be ashamed of themselves, kissing without shame like that. Then they asked my friend if he had some hash. Egypt, eh? Where hypocrisy flourishes like the cotton plant.

In other news: I recently learned from the most reliable of sources that Shaa’ban Abdelrehim’s real name is actually Kasem Abdelrehim. Yes, he actually made his name more bee2a (low class). Hilarious!