Cultural Differences You May Encounter in Palestine: Upon arrival at the Excellence Center here in Hebron there are some very noticeable cultural differences you will be exposed to. We feel these are positive attributes of our culture yet we believe it is helpful to lay them out before you come to the West Bank
The first and most notable is of course the hospitality of the Palestinian culture. From your first day you will encounter this welcoming and caring spirit from all Palestinians. In both Palestinian and Muslim culture guests are to be taken care of and welcomed with open arms. Your hosts will want to make sure you are fed, looked after and comfortable in every way possible. Their constant attention and offering of food and company. This may feel overwhelming at first and also will most likely feel completely foreign if you are from a western country however you must remember this is just normal in Palestinian culture. Your hosts often feel that they are failing hospitality if they leave you alone for too long. The concept of alone time to recharge does not really exist in Palestinian culture.
The second difference that our international volunteers speak of is the difference of family connections and togetherness. In most western countries families can be spread far apart. Alexa from the United States tells us, “at home in the U.S. my family is spread al up and down the East Coast from Florida up to Philadelphia,” she continues, “one of the things I most admire and find most difference from the most inspiring is the connection between family.” A second volunteer from the United States gives us her thoughts, “families here are so close knit, everyone lives in very close proximity to one another and they are constantly in each other’s lives on a daily basis,” she tells us more, “if anyone is sick someone is always there for them.” A third volunteer, Pauliina from Finland speaks with us, “my host mother’s sister just delivered her baby, all of the sisters go to her house and clean it for her, brining fruit and making food for them family as she recovers from the birth, it is really beautiful.”
While walking the streets of Palestine and Hebron in particular you will find that great attention is paid to you. This is also something of our culture that you must adjust to. Young school children and youth will often yell out to you, “hello!” or “where are you from?!” with smiles and interest on their faces. It is not uncommon to be invited in to stores by shopkeepers for coffee or tea. This is another form of the hospitality we spoke of earlier. Additionally you will sometimes be invited to the homes of locals for meals or coffee, this is completely safe. Palestinians in Hebron live by the tenants of Islam and will thus not harm you in any way. The attention on the street can also be overwhelming but you must remember Hebron in particular does not currently get a large amount of foreign visitors so you will stand out as you make your way through the streets.
Though there are quite contrasting differences between Palestine and Western cultures all of these differences come from a positive place. It may take a little bit of time to get used to. However, soon you will recognize that all of these things come from places of warmth and welcoming.