My First Tribal Exchange

Last week a lovely Iraqi acquaintance stopped by my desk to ask me a Protocol question. I saw this interesting sparkly bracelet on her hand and I asked, “Is that a watch?” Her eyes opened wide in excitement. As she reached her wrist towards me she stated with great pleasure, “Yes, it is a watch. Do you like it?” I swallowed as I replied, “It is so unique!” At that, before I could blink, she took the watch off her wrist and thrust it towards me as she said, “Here.”

As sheer panic spread across my face, I remembered training class… and ‘ol Jerry and how he told us that if you compliment an Iraqi they will give you whatever you like. Because of the tribal system they have no problem with generosity because it is expected to be returned for another favor.

“Here, it’s yours.” She said.

“Oh, no…that is so generous, thank you! But no, I cannot take your watch off of your wrist…uh…ah…uh…how will you know the time?”

“It’s a gift!” and with that, I blushed as I accepted my new watch.

I racked my brain thinking, Beth! You knew about this. AND IN CLASS, WATCHES WERE THE EXAMPLE GIVEN!! Many Ambassadors and visiting diplomats from DC would go to dinner and they would be complimented on their Rolex and would immediately be prompted to give their watch away. After a few times, they learned not to wear jewelry or only wear cheap watches.

However, the Embassy is so Americanized, I don’t withhold compliments here because most local hires are Jordanian or Lebanese.

Well, I as I contemplated this and thought what will I do, I remembered that I’d put my lovely, two-toned Anne Klein watch in my desk drawer… [the day I went to the bazaar and bought a $10 Rolex.--It would’ve fooled you!-- I was excited to wear it, so I dropped my watch, in my drawer and immediately dawned my new *bling*bling. The next day when I came into work an hour late, I realized it doesn’t keep time, so now it just sits in my room as a $10 fashion accessory] …I knew what I had to do.

I walked toward her and said, “Here” as I extended my hand holding the perfect two-toned watch I searched years to wear, “It is a gift.”

I saw the same look of panic in her eyes that I had felt moments before.

She said, “No!”

I said, “Yes, you must take it. You gave me your watch, please take mine. Whenever I look to see the time I will think of you fondly.”

She took my watch and said, “I will do the same, thank you.”

My first tribal exchange.

As she squeezed the skin on her wrist in order to close her new Anne Klein watch, I could not help but catch the light flicker of glitter reflecting off my computer screen. I looked at my new sparkly watch and glanced at the time on the bottom of my computer screen. It keeps time!

Not an hour later, one of my assistants came to my desk smiling and said, “Bet, what phone you use most?” Confused, I said, my Iraqna because it has better reception. (You know I am always dropping calls when I call home on 914-) He said, “May I see your phone?” Uncertain of what to expect, I handed over my phone. He turned his back to me, and when he turned around I had a new cell phone charm attached to my phone.

A stuffed puppy.

I was speechless.

What a surprise. Astounded, a hysterical smile beamed across my face as I thanked him.

I could just imagine the Ambassador looking at me on my phone with a stuffed puppy dangling from my chin.

So, here you go. I could not make this up.

I truly enjoy this puppy. It makes me laugh out loud as I walk through the halls and he hangs out of my suit pocket, smiling at co-workers in the hall. Not too many people have noticed, or at least mentioned the dog. Two agents referenced my dog bite when they saw it, which gave me an even bigger laugh.