Guests of the Sheik

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Ethnocentrism: The Cultural Differences between Western and Middle Eastern Cultures

Through its ethnocentric tales and family based beliefs, Elizabeth Warnock Fernea’s Guests of the Sheik suggests that to find the true representation of Islamic culture, one must leave ethnocentrism behind. Not only will we discuss ethnocentrism and the cultural differences between Western and Middle Eastern societies, we will also take a look at the women of El Nahra and family within the differing societies.

Fernea entered El Nahra naïve to the culture. However, was an innocent bystander, she became indignant because of the reference of wearing the abayah, “ because she viewed the “abayah” as not being a part of her culture and did not have to wear it, “Why should I have to wear that ugly thing–it’s not my custom” (1965: 5). However, through her stay in the small Iraqi village, she gained cultural insight to be passed on about not only El Nahra, but to all foreign culture. As Elizabeth entered the Sheik’s village, she was viewed with a critical eye, “It seemed to me that many times the women were talking about me, and not in a particularly friendly manner” (1965: 70). The women of El Nahra could not understand why Elizabeth was not with her entire family, and why it was just her and her husband Bob: “Where is your mother? Kulthma asked. I told her she was in America far away, and when Selma repeated this in a better accent, the women clucked in sympathy. Poor girl, they said. Poor child. To be alone without any of one’s womenfolk was clearly the greatest disaster which could befall any girl” (1965:36). The women did not recognize her American lifestyle as accurate. This is not only ethnocentrism on the part of the El Nahran women because of their belief system that you are suppose to have your parents living with you or near you but American’s do not see this as a bad thing to live far from ones parents. Conversely, Elizabeth–BJ or Beeja, as...
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