When my family first told our friends that we were going to visit my father’s side of the family in Iran, they were surprised that we would go to a country full of bombs and radicals. With the attitude toward Iran and the Middle East in general being somewhat hostile or wary nowadays, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went. How would the American be treated when she walked down the street?
Once there, I blended in much more than I expected. My cousins and I drove down the streets of Tehran and no one noticed that I was different- I was just a little paler than your usual Iranian. My Farsi, however, leaves something to be desired, so I generally spoke with my cousins in broken English. Impromptu Farsi and English lessons were started countless times everyday.
One day, a few of my cousins and I were shopping in Tehran when we went into a jewelry store. The people in the store heard us speaking in English and one group of boys about my age were trying to listen to what we were saying. One of the braver teenagers went up to me, grinned, and asked my cousin in Farsi where I was from. She replied that I was an American and his grin broadened. The tall, olive-skinned young man turned to me and asked, in heavily accented but clear English where I was from. I replied that I was from California. He was delighted and turned to his friends and said something excitedly. The next thing I knew, he was singing “Hotel California” to me in the middle of the doorway to the jewelry store. My cousins, the other customers, and the store clerks all stopped to listen to this boy singing to the American girl. I was startled, but then I started to grin just like the young man. I looked around, and everyone else in the store was also smiling or laughing. When he was done with all the words he could remember, I thanked him in Farsi and English and he gallantly bowed and exited with his laughing friends. After that encounter in the store, I never hesitated to tell people in Iran that I was an American by birth. They were glad to talk to me about Islam, politics, Bush, and MTV.
I believe that we are all the same inside and can connect to people anywhere in the universe once we learn to ignore the labels we’ve stuck to each other. That young man in the jewelry store and I share a common background but a very different upbringing, yet “Hotel California” was sufficient to bridge that seemingly impassable gap of thousands of miles and thousands of words.
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