When you’re a stranger, people tell you their secrets

So, a couple months back, I went to visit my old roommate in his hometown, Rabat, Morocco. Like most unmarried guys there, let’s call him A, still lives at home and so I became quite close with his mum. This was my first experience with “the secret women-only culture” I’d previously read about in something related to Anthro class. Since her own daughter had moved to the States, A’s mum had no one to share her female-only secret indulgences with. Secret indulgence number one: Smoking, although both her husband and son smoke, A’s mum doesn’t want them to know that she does because many men in Morocco view women who smoke as trashy (and maybe even a few stronger words). As such, I became her scout, on watch for any men closing in. The scenario was actually quite comical, watching a mum rushing to put out her cigarette before getting caught by her son, the same way you might find a North American teenager doing to escape parental disapproval. Soon I became her confidant with anything she didn’t feel comfortable sharing with the men around.

But! the divulging of secrets to the foreign girl doesn’t just go for women, the same thing happened with A’s dad! One night we were watching TV, and when everyone else had briefly left the room, he softly whispered to me that he was born Jewish; his parents reasoned that it was best to join the predominant culture of their country and so he became a Muslim, hiding his secret background from everybody, including his wife! At that point, when I was brimming with family secrets, I decided I had made a good choice in ditching my previous career path, since if I’d actually continued with Psychology the confidentiality restrictions would have driven me mad.

Back in Turkey, last week I met up with a girl I’d met at a Couch Surfing meeting I’d been dragged to as a wing-friend.  To be honest, initially I felt quite apprehensive about catching-up with her, since it didn’t seem like we’d have much in common; she’s about a decade younger and quite conservative. But anyway, she made it clear she had something very important to tell me so I suggested we meet up for Cay (Turkish tea).  As we starting talking, it became clear that she had been eager to find someone to chat to about things which are taboo in her daily life. The previous week, she had her first kiss! with a French guy no less. And two days ago, an Australian boy told her she was perfect at her current weight in contrast to her cousins’ accusations that she was fat and accordingly would never get a man. Of course, now she wanted to rub her newfound approval in her cousins’ faces but could not since they would then know she’d been hanging around boys. So that’s where I came in I guess. Someone to celebrate with, someone she could talk to about topics that those in her immediate circle might judge her about. And we had a lot of fun. She had tons questions to ask me and stories to tell, and I enjoyed offering my perspective on things as well.

In the end it’s kind of awesome to be a stranger people can relate to about things they don’t normally feel comfortable discussing with even their closest friends.

And before you guys think I’m a jerk or something, don’t worry I don’t advertise this blog on fb or anything so these stories are still effectively anonymous.