I was born in the 80s into the Atari generation and the mana'eesh zaatar at lunchtime at school. I laughed at Zingo & Ringo (Pat & Mat for non-Arabs), cried over Sally's misfortune (the anime known as Princess Sarah), and believed the only way to meet "the one" was by physically bumping into them on some busy stairs.
These are what I would call the happy days.
But we live in the 21st century and no one carries books and papers anymore or gets close enough to you to actually body bump you. Instead, we now carry smartphones with apps on them to play games, virtually order mana'eesh zaatar, watch Netflix (Sally who?), and even meet the love of our life.
And that's how it all started for me.
I've been living in Dubai for the past 15 years. I moved there in 2005 after graduating from university and had no idea what was in store for me. I never would've imagined meeting my future partner on a dating app, but life surprises you sometimes ... and I, for one, can't complain.
After agreeing that we like each other enough to share a Netflix password and spend the next 50 years or so together, I decided it was time for him to meet the family. But there was a teeny tiny pickle, my boyfriend is European and my parents Arab.
If you grew up in a traditional Arab household, you probably know that the words "Arab parents" and "boyfriend/girlfriend" don't really mix. The minute my parents sniffed any sign of romance with one of those "brothers" (aka male friends), that poor guy had to go … evaporate … disappear from the face of the earth.
So now, not only do I have to tell them that I have a boyfriend (a non-Arab one), but I also have to explain to them how I met him. So, here are the realities of introducing your European boyfriend whom you've met on a dating app to your Arab parents:
1. The "how did you guys meet" question
Have you ever tried to explain the concept of a dating app to your Arab parents? Well, take it from me, just don't. How would you tell them that it involves posting really attractive photos of yourself online for random (sometimes creepy) men to see, zoom into, screenshot, and even save? And then, how do you explain the whole swiping thing?
Luckily, my parents took it well and weren't appalled by the idea. I sugar-coated a few things, not gonna lie. For example, I told them I had only one grainy photo on the app (not four) and that I didn't use my real name (I did).
Jokes aside, I have to admit that I'm lucky to have progressive, open-minded parents who didn't confiscate my smartphone for having a dating app on it. Either that or they were just happy I finally found someone regardless of the method (my naseeb was here!).
2. The proposal
Cultural clash alert!
In Europe: Boy meets girl, boy chooses ring, boy gets down on one knee, asks girl to marry him, girl freaks out a bit then says YES! Parents and friends hear the news and congratulate them. Boy and girl post a picture on Instagram. Everyone lives happily ever after.
In the Arab world, the story is slightly different. My partner did the whole "I came here today to ask for your daughter's hand in marriage" while my parents formally sat there listening to my translation of the whole thing. Yep, I had to translate my partner's proposal to my parents which was not how I imagined this moment to be.
When he said "I want to marry your daughter," I didn't know if I should tell them "he's saying he wants to marry me" or talk about myself in the third person as if I'm not there. Language barrier aside, everything went well and we even had "sharbat" afterward. But now, I'm still waiting for the European version of the proposal.
3. The "lost in translation" part
Because of the language barrier, I can't leave my partner with my parents alone for a long time or the awkward silence will fill the room as will the excessive smiling (for no reason).
But that also means it's hard for them to bond properly and share stories and get more familiar with each other, which makes me sad. In a bid to bring them closer together, I introduced my partner to tawlah (backgammon) and tarneeb, and arranged a game night with my parents, and the rest is history. (Needless to say, I asked him to let mom and dad win every single time.)
4. The "when is he converting" question
Although my parents aren't extremely religious, they expected I'd at least marry someone from the same religious background. Not only am I not doing that but I'm also not going to ask my partner to convert. Because "to each his own" should be the basis of every relationship.
It's the person himself, his personality, attitude, ambition, dreams, and emotions that matter, not his religious background. I explained my perspective to my parents and though there was a little resistance, they eventually understood.
They still raise the subject every now and then to remind me that it's just easier if he did convert from a "legal and logistical" point of view. My dad sometimes says he wishes my partner would convert, but never went beyond that. He's never gone against "us" as a couple.
Again, I am really lucky for having such understanding parents and I know many Arabs struggle with their families over the whole religion/sect issue. It's the sad reality but there's a ray of hope that that'll change in the future.
At the end of the day, what matters is finding that one person who loves you for who you really are, appreciates and respects you, tolerates your mood swings and midnight shawarma cravings — regardless of their color, race, religion, or gender.