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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Where is the middle ground?

I think the US has a completely different concept of time and space. Let me explain.

This is the place that people claim they are from or live in without actually coming from it or living in it. Where I come from, which is Lebanon, if you say you're from Beirut then you live there, and most probably were born in that city. Sometimes you are even asked about your neigborhood or street (usually to identify your religion and sect). Here, I tell people I live in DC, but I really mean the metro area, or the area inside the beltway. We don't visit DC that often, but even this blog says I'm located there. If I were to tell people I really lived in Bethesda or Maryland it would not have the same impact and would cause them confusion.

When I first met my wife, and before we were together, I often heard her say she was from Baltimore. Sometimes she said DC. After marriage, or maybe while we were dating, I found out her parents really lived in a small town in northern Maryland that's 30 min from the city of Baltimore, about 1.5 hours from DC. To me that would be equivalent to saying I was from Sidon or Tripoli when I am really from Beirut, which is almost a blasphemy.

This brings me to an important issue. Space here is taken for granted. There is so much of it and people don't care if they had to drive for hours to get to work or for a meal (or claim it as place of origin!). For a long time my wife wondered why I became irritable whenever we drove to Baltimore or Virginia or another location that requires taking gigantic highways and spending a long time in the car just to meet people for dinner. It makes no sense to me. Although I have been slowly adjusting to the concept, I still find it to be an incredible waste of time and energy.

I think when people have too much space and they start to take it for granted and not think much of distance tarveled, they lose all sense of the passage of time. Why drive for hours on a highway packed with speeding cars driving like robots at intimidating speeds, just to arrive at a restaurant that requires you to wait even longer for a table, then pay a shitload of money for mediocre food? Can't we all live closer to one another? Do I have to lose nerve cells for conversations and meals that could have been had at a more comfortable distance??

But I guess when in Rome... do as they do. So I will try to get used to it. It's times like that when I miss home the most. Lebanon does not have comfortable roads and people drive like maniacs (and I hate them for it). But there is the knowledge that space is more compact and arriving at destinations is dependent on bad road conditions rather than vastness of space. Something about the abundance of space creates an unsettling feeling in me. In the past, long drives meant special trips you made on weekends when you knew it was a one time thing and that you had to start the trip back early to avoid traffic. You very seldom drove for hours to visit someone then drove back on the same day as if you were visiting your neighbours. It's not unusual here to still be in another state after midnight. While many here find that normal, I get very nervous and start thinking I was missing my flight or the last train home.

Things could have been worse, I guess. This post, one could argue, could be a waste of time and space. But who knows, maybe one day I will find a kind of "middle ground of time and space" between Beirut and "DC".

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