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9:30 pm

Cultural differences are in the details; it’s the small moments that illuminate them best. In much of the West, Canada in particular, one boards a plane with an unsaid pact between yourself and fellow passengers.  This pact has its own guidelines: be polite, don’t rush, be demure, allow other passengers the right of way.  This unwritten social contract, embedded in a culture based on politeness and democratic consensus, seems to hold no water in most other places, especially in areas where South Asians are numerous, such as Dubai.  The Gulf is an interesting place in that regards – it’s acts as a sort of transit area for people in the Subcontinent, physically and mentally, not quite totally Eastern, definitely not Western in any non-superficial way.  Something happens to Pakistani travelers whenever they come here, a sort of shift in the mentality brought on by the presence of other Pakistanis, a shift towards a mindset slightly infatuated with chaos.  Lining up, for example, becomes a cause for concern.  It is de rigeur for Canadians if they wanted to board any plane, but here, as the announcement for seats has been made in an otherwise torpid lounge, things change.  The usual magnanimous act of asking families with small children to board first becomes an excuse for EVERYONE to storm the plane en masse, brandishing their boarding cards with a quite sense of entitlement.

This is not to suggest an intrinsic rudeness on the part of most Pakistanis.  Despite what I have heard from my elders about manners being in decline in the country, I really don’t think its that bad. More than anything this is sort of a cultural illustration of what I mentioned above, that subtle need for chaos, even a small, trivial chaos.  I think you can interpret it in a political vein as well.  Rules, arbitrary as they are, may be more readily adopted (ironically) in countries with stronger traditions of liberal democracy than in developing nation-states.  Or perhaps its something more specific, more particular to “consensus-building” cultures than those based on raw individualism. (People often say that’s what differentiates the U.S. from Canada the most.)  Rules tend to be applied on the honor system  in Pakistan, so even the simple act of lining up in the manner flight attendants ask you too tends to be adhered to with blithe selectively, if not outright dismissiveness.

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