I went to Wal-Mart the other day and the “greeter” stared at me, speechless.
It was the week before Christmas and the Wal-Mart greeter wasn’t sure how to greet me.
“You’re not Italian,” he muttered in his broken English.
“You’re not Mexican. You’re not French. Not Russian. Not Hawaiian. You don’t look Jewish and you’re definitely not Irish,” he continued, rubbing his unshaven chin as he contemplated the stranger before him.
“I’m Arab,” I offered hoping to relief his anguish.
“Whew!” he breathed a sigh of relief. “Then Happy Ramadama-ding-dong.”
“It’s Rama-DAN,” I corrected knowing that most people who work for Wal-Mart have a lifelong difficulty with the English language anyway, so why expect them to be able to pronounce foreign words not common in the average American vernacular.
“Rama-DAN,” he corrected with a smile.
“Well,” I then explained further, “Ramadan has been over for more than two months.
“Well,” a belated Rama-DAN,” he said with a forced smile.
“And … ” I continued, “I’m not a Muslim.”
He stood staring at me for a few more seconds before he turned to his Wal-Mart “Manual on How to Deal with Diversity” that the store must have written when it decided recently to avoid embarrassing encounters like this one.
Catering to all religions
Wal-Mart began a new policy this year. Instead of saying “Merry Christmas” in it’s advertising, the ad copy must instead read, “Happy Holidays.”
God forbid that Wal-Mart, which caters to the poorest consumers in America, would offend someone.
As he flipped through the manual, he came across a section called “Other People.” I was definitely “Other” in his mind. I certainly didn’t look familiar to him and probably would fail his 10 question quiz on the idiosyncrasies of living in a Trailer Park, or identifying the 10 best moments on the Jerry Springer Show.
“Oh,” he blurted out like a burp. “Aaaah. Hap … py … Holi … days,” he said to make sure I understood him. “Enjoy your visit to Wal-Mart. We appreciate your debt, err, business.”
I wanted to tell him that I was a “Christian Arab,” Palestinian, to be exact, something that most Americans are surprised to learn exists.
I know that’s true because at a speech I gave on the merits of pursuing non-violent peace with Israel, a little old lady came up to me and said, “I can’t believe you gave up your Christian religion to become an Arab.”
How do you deal with that level of ignorance? There is no response. You just have to take it, shake your head, and move on hoping that other people are not as stupid as she is.
Names and meanings
The fact is the first Christians were Palestinian, Arabs. In fact, the first Christians, to be precise, were Jews.
My family name, “Hanania,” is a Hebrew word that means “God has been gracious,” or “God has forgiven you,” depending on the situation. And it is pronounced “Cha-na-nee’-ya.”
At least, that’s what the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban told me during a debate we had together on national TV some 30 years ago. We actually became friends. Eban argued politics.
I responded asking why my father, who was born in Jerusalem, couldn’t go back there to live. Yet Eban, who was born “Aubrey Solomon” in South Africa, could. He didn’t like that question one bit.
While I am a Christian Hanania, I know a friend and author in Los Angeles named Joseph Hanania, who is Jewish. And, I have a cousin who is married to a Wafa Hanania, who happens to be Muslim. (Hanania is both her maiden name and married name.)
Being Christian Palestinian puts me at odds with the reality of life, especially in America.
The fact is while everyone in America talks about “Muslims” in the context of the Middle East conflict and post-Sept. 11, the reality is the majority of Arabs in America are Christian. They’re rarely acknowledged.
In fact, most are ignored in America, discriminated against in the Muslim World, marginalized by most Muslim American organizations that claim to champion Palestinian rights, and are political pawns in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But, I sympathize with Wal-Mart. They have so many other challenges to deal with, like paying their employees an acceptable wage, keeping their stores clean, and finding enough illegal aliens to work at reduced salaries.
The Wal-Mart greeter couldn’t have known any of this. It wasn’t his fault. So, I shrugged and responded to his genuine “Happy Holiday” greeting with, “Thanks and happy whatever makes you happy, too.”
Christmas and Hanukkah both begin this year on the exact same date, a symbolic event that should not go unnoticed, especially by Christians and Jews in the Middle East.
So from all the Hananias in the world, be you Christian, Muslim or Jew, Happy Holidays. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas (now and in two weeks when Orthodox Christians actually celebrate it). Happy Kwanza for African Americans. Happy belated Eid al-Udha to Muslims.
And, most importantly, may God grant you all peace and prosperity in the coming New Year.
Aaaah, the New Year. Now that’s a subject for a different discussion.
Salam! Shalom. “Shalam!”
Ray Hanania writes humor and analysis for YnetNews.com. He can be reached at www.hanania.com .