Things are different in Palestine and it can be a shock to westerners. Coming to Palestine from a western nation could be a shock for many as they volunteer with us at the Excellence Center. There are some aspects of palestinian culture that are very different from some western nations. We would like you to know some of the main cultural differences as our volunteers compare them to their home countries.
The people in Palestine, Hebron especially, are unusually friendly. Many people that you talk with will ask you to join them for coffee or tea. The people are curious about forigners, they don’t get a whole lot in the city. They will stop you on the street to greet you and ask where you’re from. They’ll want to know your name and what you do. Children will walk the streets and try to hang around with you. Some of them will ask for your number or facebook information after just meeting you. Elanor, a volunteer from the United Kingdom participating in the Teach English, Speak Arabic program says that “they really want to practice their English,” and internationals will give them that opportunity.
Hebron itself is a very religiously conservative city within Palestine. You’ll hear the call to prayer five times a day, and it will wake you up in the middle of the night for the first little while.The city is dry, so you won’t find any bars around and drinking alcohol in general is forbidden. You will want to wear generally conservative clothing. This means that you should wear long pants/skirts and other clothes that cover your arms and legs.
Most women here wear the Hijab, but many of our volunteers do not without any problems at all. During Ramadan, which is one month out of the year, everyone fasts during the daytime, and it is actually illegal to eat in public during the daytime. But dont worry, we do provide kitchen accomadations at the center and time for you to eat if you do not observe Ramadan, and most of the time people are caught eathing during the day, they are just asked to stop and not formally punished. At about 7:45PM people can eat again and all of the city shuts down for the breaking of the fast (called Iftar). During this time, Hebron is like a ghost town. After people eat, the night life begins, and the city explodes back to life. All the shops and restaurants open up and everyone is out in the streets shopping for much of the rest of the night.
Driving around Hebron and the rest of Palestine is very hectic compared to Europe or America. Road lanes are more suggestions rather than boundaries. Drivers don’t use turn signals. They use their horn a lot, drive quickly and close to the cars ahead of them. Drivers here use their horns for many reasons: to alert other drivers of their presence, catch the attention of foreigners (mostly taxi drivers), or to try to clear up backed up traffic. Elanor says that “they [Palestinians] really like to drive. My host family will pile into the car to drive around the corner to grandma’s.” Drivers will not stop to let people walk across the road, most people need to find a large enough gap in traffic and walk very quickly. Once in the roadway, drivers will slow down to not hit you as you cross the road. Because of all this, there are a lot of cars on the road in the cities, but traffic is always moving, and it moves quickly.
Family is one of the most sacred things in Palestine. In the United States, at least, there is a culture of just putting you parents in a nursing home when they can’t take care of themselves, visiting only a few times a year. In Palestine, things are totally different. Entire families of 12 or 15 people will all live under the same roof. The elders are given lots of respect and authority, and are taken care of by the younger generations. Elanor remarked that “They have massive, massive families” and from her home it is “astounding for families to have 6/7 children, but not here [in Hebron].” Elanor also noted that “everything is family oriented. It is not uncommon that everybody knows everybody or is related to them.”