One of my great regrets about living here is that I don't like the taste of coffee or dates, since coffee and dates are the two most prominent symbols of Gulf hospitality. I always feel like I'm insulting Emiratis if I turn them down, since they are so justly proud of their hospitality. I occasionally try a small cup anyway out of courtesy. I especially like the the ceremony involved and love to watch my Emirati co-workers.

If you don't know, the coffee is served in very small cups (فنجان [funjan]). If you want more you hold your cup out to be refilled. When you have had enough, you gently shake the cup.

Today we had a lunch at work, and coffee was served before (and after), so I tried a cup and talked with my co-workers about it. One told me that each cup has a meaning: the first cup is for hospitality, the second is for your well-being, and so on. Also, that when you visit someone to ask for a favor, you don't drink that person's coffee until he has agreed that he can help you.

They also told me a very funny story about what happens if you don't understand the ceremony. Siad Barre, the Somali head of state, came to visit Abu Dhabi, and was of course served coffee. He drank the first cup and held it out to the servant so that it could be taken away. The servant instead refilled it, which is what that motion indicates. So Barre drank that one and again held the cup out, trying to get rid of it. Again it was refilled and emptied and held out. And again. And again. Finally Barre just took the cup and stuck it in his pocket, the the great amusement of his hosts.

1 comment:

secretdubai said...

I am not a big coffee drinker, but I do like the qahwa they serve here. It's more like herbal tea than coffee, and it comes in such tiny amounts that it's more of a mouth refresher than a drink. But sweetening it by eating dates

The other thing I have found is that Turkish-style Arabic coffee (thick and black) is amazingly palatable if it has cardamon ("haal") in. I can barely drink weak black western coffee even with loads of sugar, but coffee has cardamon in I can drink it as black as tar.