Friday, October 22, 2010

The "F" Word

I have a confession to make. This may put some people off, but I think it's about time. I am a fob.

The word fob, which stands for "fresh off the boat," is a common expression used among immigrant communities in the West to refer to people who have not quite assimilated to Western norms, whether it be in terms of language, dress, or general demeanor.

In truth, we all know that being called a fob is not exactly a compliment. There is a certain stigma that comes with being cultural, a sense of not being fully evolved. To complicate things even further, there are many different kinds of fobs. Not only does it depend on the person being labeled, it depends on who is giving the label. To a very Americanized Arab (perhaps third or fourth generation), any Arab-American who knows a few Nancy Agram songs and can say more than "hello" and "goodbye" in Arabic is a fob. (In actuality, these "fobs" probably make up the majority of Arab-Americans.) But what I'm more concerned with is what these so-called fobs, the average Arabs living in the West, consider a fob. Naturally, Arabs who have very recently arrived in the West are "honored" with this title. But what I find odd is that Arab-Americans even go so far as to apply this term to Arabs who have never left their countries in the first place. How can a person be fresh off the boat if he's never even been on the boat?

In my opinion, it all comes down to racism. Yes, racism can and does exist among people belonging to the same ethnic group. Arabs who have grown up in the West tend to think of themselves as new and improved, almost superhuman. Having the best of both worlds, many are arrogant, pitying those left behind. Did it ever occur to them that an Egyptian living in Egypt may be just as educated, just as well-traveled, and just as enlightened as they are? Or even worse, did it ever cross their minds that this intelligent, forward-thinking Egyptian may have no desire to leave his country and may it?

And thus, we deceive ourselves again, assuming that our way of life is the way, which brings me back to my point: how can we refer to a person as a fob in his own country? Well, we can't, or at least shouldn't. Therefore, as much as I dislike the term, if we're going to use it, let's at least use it correctly. So, if a fob is someone who has recently arrived in a country and has still not fully assimilated, then I am a fob. I'll understand if you unfriend me.