The Etic Eatery

We have a cafeteria at GWA that reaches new heights in etic imposition. They began requiring all students to use a thumb print today in order to eat. I'm told these machines are actually fairly cheap. I'm not sure what this will mean to constant thumbs being swiped over and over again on the same spot. Though I'm sure all the students regularly and consistently wash their hands with soap, it does make one wonder what the results of the GWA Pathogen Transference Study will be next year. Especially considering the recent study that indicate handles or anything regularly touched by humans contain 400x more bacteria than a toilet seat.

Because the cafeteria was able to save so much on these machines, and by paying the cafeteria workers the typical going wage in Morocco of around $200/month, they are able to spend a great deal more on beautification. While it might be thought that there were perhaps justice issues relating to salaries of workers who work 12 hour days with one 20 minute break, they do get paid the standard fare for Morocco. And though we have mostly upper middle class and upper class students attending GWA, and food costs on average 2 1/2 times as much as a typical eatery on the streets here, it would certainly be unreasonable to presume that the school had the wherewithal to provide for the workers to a greater extent, or that the administration had the power to change cafeteria policies. And lets be honest, part of that higher price for food goes into maintaining higher health standards then you get in the average street restaurant.

And some of that money has been spent on the aforementioned beautification. One would be hard-pressed to consider a more American theme, or at least one more stereotypically so. I know, Americans overseas should be considerate of the cultures they are in, and try to adapt to them and blend in, and work to counteract stereotypes, such as that we are all "cowboys". But we are an American school, and that is our primary goal- to fully be what we were created to be. And so the cafeteria theme, laid out in all it's ostentatiousness, is the American Cowboy- with constant signs to guide the way, in case one missed the point. This includes pictures of cowgirls with the mid-riff showing- yes, contrary to student dress code and actually probably too sexist for most American schools which are actually in America, but without it, the cowboy theme wouldn't really be complete, would it? There are even fancy wooden swinging bar doors and pretend wooden Most Wanted! posters. And so, without a nod to the Moroccan culture (for such is hardly necessary when you are surrounded by Morocco, at least behind the high walls of the school), without a doubt the most elaborate area of the school- and indeed in all ways to the superlative degree- is now the cafeteria.

At least, the part where the food is served. We still have birds flying around the eating area and leaving their comments behind for us to sit on and ruminate upon.


scot toler said…
Interesting, so what's the other side of the story I wonder?
@bdul muHib said…
That's in someone else's blog :-)

Seriously, let me have a go at it.

We are an American school. The students come here to experience American education. American education can not be divorced from American culture. The parents repeatedly say they want their children to experience American culture. Therefore we should try to be as American as possible.

We are trying to get funds from the US government. The US government has directly said they want us exporting American culture if we are to get funds- like celebrating Halloween and Valentine's Day.

American morality is superior, for it is based on democracy.

English is increasingly the language of commerce, therefore it should be taught. And again, the language can not be divorced from the culture.

We should encourage the most wealthy, as they are the leaders an opinion makers in society.

The workers are paid a decent wage by Moroccan standards. The hours are normative in Morocco.

There's nothing wrong with clothing styles if they reflect American styles in the American norm, as we are an American school.

The money paid for food goes to health standards.

The fingerprint identification system can be purchased for only about 1000 dirhams.

The finger are on the machine only for a moment and that lightly, so the risk of pathogen transference is slight.

The fingerprint machine has many other uses as well, that can be used by the school in the future.

Cultural exchanges are a great thing, and it's great for different countries to know about the highlights of American culture.

We are interacting with many aspects of the culture, not just the upper class, such as the women who we provide work for by letting them clean the school- they come from the nearby village.

There are plans to deal with the birds, and some of them have been killed already.

Citing a study doesn't make it true. The study could be biased in favor of clean wipes. It could be limited in it's effects. There could be differences between a door handle and a thumb print machine.

These might be some of the arguments made on the other side.
Mike said…
Cowboys?!?!! Really?!

I enjoy reading what you write, but I've never felt compelled to respond, since you cover things so thoroughly. In this case, that just seems outrageous, not just for the reasons you mentioned, but because cowboys are so passe. I think there are 10 real cowboys left in the U.S.

If they truly wanted to Americanize the place, they should have shown soldiers invading countries for no good reason.

Sorry. My cynicism is showing.
drh said…
I think the decor was, in truth, arranged by the North African kitchen staff. Just a little more food for thought...
@bdul muHib said…
Good point. I added the information. But there are many groups within cultures around the world who don't have interest in accentuating their own culture, and instead look to the West. Witness the Cargo Cults, or "going white" in African-American society.
drh said…
What is the difference between a person of African descent acculturating to North American culture and a person of European descent acculturating to North African culture?
@bdul muHib said…
A good reasonable question. I'd say they are about the same issue. But what is key is where they are. If the person is of African descent, in America, then I expect them to acculturate to an extent. And if European, but in Africa, I expect them to do likewise. There is a danger of loss of culture if large groups come over to a different land and expect the culture to adapt to *them*.

But there is an added burden on Westerners- a true white-man's burden, if you will. That's to not repeat the egregious mistakes of the past. When Westerners have such great power, economically, politically, militarily, and culturally, they need to be careful how they use it. When American music is quickly picked up all around the world, along with American values and TV and everything else, there is an added concern by Americans to be careful that they do not contribute to a greater cultural influence.

We are guests in this country. We have the privilige to learn from those within the country. And both biology and anthropology teaches us that there is one niche for every species, and every culture. Two cultures can't survive in the same place. Inevitably, the stronger one wins. In this case, in this world, at this time, this is America. And slowly, shwia b shwia, Moroccan culture is disappearing under the anslaught of American and French culture. I certainly don't want to be part of that.

No culture is wholly good, or wholly bad. America, Morocco, N. Korea, the Vatican- all have their goods and bads. And yes, we should work to change cultures, to bring them towards good, with fear and trembling, reconizing that what we think is good could not be, and there is a lot of bad in our own culture. But every time we consider something, especially from our own culture, we need to ask ourselves, "Is this truly good?" If it is bad, we don't want to import it, but also if it is neutral, it is not necessary, and will supplant that which is in this culture, and then we will be at greater loss in the future, for the lack of diversity present. And frankly, I'm over here to learn from their culture, not my own.

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