Prejudices, Human relations, Individualism, Love and more. These are the topics that move me.13 min read

Is it more important to identify our similarities or our differences? Are the Swiss among the happiest nations? and what does this mean anyway? How should we live our lives, collectivistically or individualistically? What about love? Is it meant to be eternal or is true love rare?

Here are the questions and topics I write about and you can read soon.

A few headlines of latest and coming-soon posts:


What about love? Part one: Can love be eternal? Is it true love even if it does not last? Why do so many people end their relationships believing love is gone? It can be true love and still not last. Part 2: Can we make it last? True love and monogamy. (Published)

A culture of Individualism is bullying us. The central idea defining most modern Western cultures is that people are capable of living most prosperously as independent autonomous individuals. The basic contention is that we are primarily rational beings and self interest, our main driver. Both premises were proven false. We are fundamentally collectivists species and need interdependence more than we might think. Emotions are what drives human beings; they are the root of what we perceive as deliberated decisions and behaviour. There is a growing body of evidence across many scientific fields that belonging to a community and living with others interdependently is a core human need. It is in our biology. Our evolutionary history proves that it had adaptive benefits and so it is in our genes. (Post coming soon)

The so-called happiness index: Why do many ex-pats roll their eyes up almost every time a study is mentioned where the Swiss are among the happiest people on Earth? Do we have different conceptions of happiness? How subjective is such an abstract and ambiguous marker? Do different cultures vary in their definition of happiness or in how it should manifest to the world? There are two types of happiness that we referred to when we talk about the subject: The first one is more a question of whether you spend your time happily and the other one is more about how you perceive your life.  Are you happy about your life? Or are you living your life happily? Are some cultures more conducive of happiness? If we cover basic needs (safety, shelter, security….) what distinguishes cultures from a happiness point of view? It is not climate – (What about the importance of social capital?)



My experiences gave rise to multiple cultural questions. (see my bio or  my Journey from Egypt to Switzerland) These questions did not at first evoke a strong or deep reflection. They lurked in a cloud above my head in my daily life, without interfering with it. And over the years, these ideas accumulated and became brewing issues that surfaced occasionally.

I gathered all the pondering that constructed the broad frame of my inquiries and tried to arrange them in topics. I also constructed questions that make some food for thought.

The first one was perhaps on the day of my civil marriage when I was asked: “Will you change your name?” I was struck by the question because I had never contemplated that I would ever change my name. This somehow nurtured the thought that I could change who I am. It was not before years later, that this subject hovered back in my head. I wrote about the experience  in one early post  Why would I ever change my name? and about all the deliberations I went through later in my life about that topic.  When I listened to the stories of other women I got to know, I realised that this is a very contentious topic with relevant implications on the discourse over gender relations. It shines a light on a topic that has been, in my view, neglected.

In general, most of the stories and experiences I have gathered gave rise to a few underlying questions that have occupied my thinking:

Why do people behave and feel the way they do as individuals and as groups? In other words, what is culture and how does it shape us?

How do we perceive the other side to a story? Where does empathy come from and how do we mobilize it? Why do some people change their view and others not? What are the barriers?

Do we often mix the things we all share with the differences that are part of each cultural group? Differences that are inherent in different socialization process?

Living these past years here in Switzerland where the extent and type of social interactions is very different from where I come from, I became curious about how relationships can vary across cultures. I wondered: A good talk about things that truly matter – Can it be summoned? Can we schedule these talks with the people we care about? Or are they only likely to arise in a conducive environment of trust and intimacy and long conversations about other many insignificant things?- In other words,  spontaneously? I came up with a few ideas. Just like trust, you cannot summon intimacy; You build it. You build it over long talks and many many shared experiences.

My interests primarily lie in understanding how and why people are divided and in identifying the roots of those divisions. I wrote my masters thesis on the divisions among middle and upper class Egyptians. I am now preparing a piece explaining my own working hypothesis of the power of narratives and their link to conflicts. 

How do you change culture? One of the hardest changes to advocate for are cultural changes. Because no one knows how you can go about it. How do you induce cultural change? Collective social action is perhaps our best shot. There is a term, moral revolutions, that was used by Kwame Anthony Appiah, and he argues that such revolutions come about by collective social movements. Historically, it has always been, that a small group, deviates from the mainstream in their thoughts and it is this small group that triggers a movement, which throughout time gathers speed and grows by attracting and pulling from the mainstream.

I also wondered: Why does it feel so lonely here? And how does everybody else feel? In every corner of life around me here, I perceive life being lived in isolation. I asked myself, “Why do I feel this way?”

Is growing up in an individualistic society impairing to happiness? Harvard said loneliness is toxic. Meaningful relationships are what makes life healthy and happy. Edith Perell said in her talk about desire and love in marriage, that in our modern times, we have replaced a whole village with one person. We expect him/her to provide us with protection, predictability, reliability, and also adventure and mystery. We want that person to be our soulmate our best friend and also mysterious and aloof. Does that increase the likelihood that you will be bored in marriage?

Can we have a conversation about culture and cultural differences without offending anyone? By virtue of my preoccupation (rather obsession) with cultural topics, I often found myself defending my discourse and fending off accusations of simplistic generalizations and crude simplifications. So, I learnt how to explain to people the difference between making conversations about cultural traits and wrongful stereotyping. (This post will have to be pinned as a foreword to all posts)

Are we all similar or all different?First I thought we are all the same, then I realized we are different and now I think we are all the same again.Reading a book about the Harem gave me an unexpected insight – 1) I’d rather be suppressed in a community than empowered in an isolated society and  2) We often mix up what is universal and what is cultural in the human race– which made me think about the importance of informal community.

I have often been confronted with my almost absolute disinterest in experiences centered around nature. Why am I not a nature kind of person? Culture is all the more fascinating for me. I am also often struck by the quality of virtuousness accorded to preference to nature versus people… countryside vs city. Is it indeed more honourable to find more beauty in nature than in people?

I have had the support of a very tight group of female friends. I began to think about the role that played in my life. A female coalition is ever more needed in our societies. In our evolutionary history, the hindrance of female coalitions caused by an ecological accident is why today we and the chimps are in a violent society that also suppresses women (females) while the bonobos are not. We must find ways to rebuild society and rid our gender from the penalty of childbearing that our biological identity prescribes us. Otherwise we will continue to be victims. (the importance of social female capital.)

My silent cultural shock – adapting to my new life in Switzerland was harder than I liked to admit. I look into the many factors causing this. I address loneliness, the orderly factor, the notion of privacy, the quality of daily interactions with strangers, the nucleus family structure and the role of a mother.

When I faced an identity crisis after becoming a first-time mother in a foreign country and culture, I realized that being a mother is culturally defined– being a good mother varies in meaning across cultures. The role and the duties assigned to us mothers vary across cultures while motherhood in its affective sense is universal.

I was a stay home mother with help – a nanny. I carried this as a badge of shame until I realized it and got the courage to face this crisis. Nanny or mother…who is who?

On the predicament of women in general, I worked out a few ideas,  which I would like to expand on as well. I talked about changing their names, I talk about being a mother, about what it is like to be a trailing spouse so finally I want to make a case for women:  Forget about equality; We want justice. My case for women rights.

Also, I stayed home for my children, I like fashion and I believe men and women think in profoundly different ways. Can I still call myself a feminist?

Is the Western way of life truly more empowering? There is a myth of human empowerment in individualism that unraveled to me. Some core values of individualistic cultures -just like neo liberal economics –  should be reexamined or even discarded altogether as fundamentally impairing to human prosperity, happiness and well-being.  Time and time again – the myth of human beings being primarily rational in their motivations has been dispelled. A universal truth has been unlocked that by and large, human beings are not prewired individualists and happiness is mostly found in ‘other people’. I believe we still haven’t learnt the lesson. I believe we are not primarily autonomous beings.

I had this awkward encounter with the woman selling cheese in a supermarket in the mountains.  It made me think how different communication can be among different cultures. When we say things, we do not mean them the same way. Also, purpose of communication is different. So I wanted to share the story of the woman selling me cheese.

Most societies are organised in either of two ways: A place where an organized institutional system provides community support (effective state system) or in the absence of that, an informal social community (made up of people in closely tied relationships) provides support. Can’t we demand to have both? Does one exclude the other? Are there only 2 extreme poles of going about things: a preference to cutting corners almost endemic or a strict and sometimes nonsensical sticking to the rules?

When I was discussing a book called “Dreams of Trespass” with a friend of mine who is French, she and I admitted that we were both surprised with the characters of the women in the harem. We assumed that since they belonged to this culture, they would be naturally more submissive. I realised that we often mix up between what we share as human beings and what distinguishes us culturally.

Why are Germans often perceived as humourless when they are perfectly capable of making jokes and laughing hardbut in the right time for jokes! Are Germans really as humourless as we think or is it something else? The main difference we perceive with German culture when it comes to humour is more about the stronger boundaries between work and private time. I believe it is a cultural trait -A compartmentalization of their activities and their actions that fall into domains with very clear separations between them.

What Linguistic convention do we come from? Language is not the same concept as linguistic convention- you do not get very far just learning the codes of another language, the semantics. You need to know the length of pauses, the order of words, the contextual position and relation to the language by which people think….it does not matter that my husband and I both speak in English to one another; Linguistic conventions are how the world is structured and constructed in our minds by different ways primarily defined by the language we first speak. He thinks in German and I think in Arabic mixed with English. That creates an entirely different communication space when we talk with one another. Challenges that are unique to this combination. I tend to first set the context and then build up slowly to the news. He starts with the news. Also, Arabic is an extremely high context language where a lot is unsaid (relies on a shared context and is best suited for personal interactions) whereas German is one of the most explicit languages (perhaps best for professional communication, contracts and manuals)…etc

Often we hear one say, “I have only loved once” or “I have loved 3 women in my life.” “My husband is my one true love.” What do they all mean? Is it implied that we all love the same way and it means the same thing to everyone?  Is it because there is a definition buried somewhere and we have all checked that box saying, I have read and acknowledged what love means and will use it as such in all future conversations? Is there a universal consensus on what constitutes love? Is it always unconditional? Otherwise it loses its meaning. And if its conditional, is it still love? Is it a thrilling sensation or a chronic bliss with one particular person. Some say, a true life-time partner is your soulmate and your best friend.  Not all agree. Some say love goes through stages that start with bliss but change with time. Love has different meanings but we speak of it as if it has but one. People disagree on the definitions but they don’t question the meaning. They know they are talking about the same thing. People speak of love often as if it were a precise state or feeling.

When a Russian acquaintance of mine saw me smothering my oldest son with kisses and I said “I could eat him up”. She looked very confused and said “why?” I realized that we conventionally attach pleasure and joy with food, while some other cultures do not. And we assume we share such meanings. We are oblivious most of the time to these differences. This was one of my earliest moments that mark the beginning of a time when I got very curious about cultural differences and languages beyond code.