Tayyeb Afridi is visiting KUT from the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, a region that borders Afghanistan. He is on a US Pakistan Journalism Exchange through the International Center for Journalists.
From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was struck by how different everything looked – especially the way people dressed. If I were to judge Americans’ dress by Pakistan’s dress code, they would be considered nude. I saw men and women both showing their legs, arms and sometimes even midriffs. I had to remind myself, “Hey man, this isn’t rare; it’s the culture of America. That doesn’t mean that short dress should be a sign of nudity.”
I was really looking forward to a wonderful adventure of 33 days in the United States of America. The first six days flew by. It was very busy, so busy that I didn’t have a chance to think about what I had seen on my first day.
But I decided, I’ve had the opportunity to be here and I can test my perceptions against what I thought American would be. But what about other people who haven’t been here to experience the American culture?
In the Tribal regions, people think that Americans don’t believe in family, that they’re drunk on alcohol all the time and are promiscuous. That’s the way we learned about America – some of that through Hollywood movies.
Pirated versions of Hollywood movies are still rented and downloaded in North West of Pakistan – and it’s cheap and easy for someone to get any kind of movie --from pornography to action or drama. In my opinion those movies do not portray the real America - just one side of the coin.
In Pakistan, some young people think American’s all about the girlfriends, the Johnny Walker (alcohol), and jeans. But that isn’t the whole picture of America, either.
Other people in Pakistan listen to jihadist songs and read on the internet that American culture is imperialist and that the Muslim religion is under threat and they must defend their religion from America’s influence.
The messages Pakistani folks have been receiving through films and such propaganda is all about the nasty parts of American culture. There are people in Pakistan who have been educated in America or who have seen American culture first hand. They say that Americans like to read; that Americans try to understand the rest of the world. These Pakistani academics also say that Americans have a big sports culture. But no one believes!
Another nasty theory about America is that American businesses are only out for profit, they don’t care about people. They engage in business and when they get the job done, they never look back unless the next time they have business. The Americans don’t understand friendship in the way the concept exists in Pakistan. They think Americans just don’t care about anyone else. And that if you remind them they need to be more careful they would say, “It’s just a job,” that would end it.
I don’t know enough about American yet to say whether that’s true or not. But from what I have observed so far, Americans keep their word: In any kind of business, if they say they’ll do something, they will. If they say they won’t, then they won’t. There is no middle ground.
This is my first time in America and I don’t know yet whether when I leave, I will keep my friendships with the people I have met here. Only time will tell.