Petra: Go For A Camel Ride Later?

Petra: Go For A Camel Ride Later? October 19, 2017

Even more than a year later, I still have photos and stories to share from last year’s trip to the Holy Land, which I have never shared on this blog. It was such a rich experience that I continue to think about it. And so, if and when I can, I may still go back to my collection of photos from the trip and tell further stories to my blog readers.

One thing that struck me on my first visit to Jordan was a turn of phrase that the children at Petra had picked up, presumably as they learned English by interacting with tourists who visited the site. The children would consistently ask us, “Go for a camel ride later?” It took me a while to realize that this expression most likely resulted from English speakers politely refusing the offer of a camel ride by saying “later” rather than simply “no.”

Have you come across other interesting turns of phrase that have come about through such cross-linguistic and cross-cultural points of contact? If so, please share them!

On a related note, one reason I couldn’t get worked up about the whole Covfefe thing has to do with a camel. There was an incident on the Butler campus once when the police were pursuing a suspect in a crime. Updates about the pursuit and places we ought to avoid were sent regularly by text and on social media. At one point, the message said that the suspect was seen “heading towards the camel.” They had meant to write “canal” but autocorrect had other ideas. This led to a whole lot of writing and programming about the Butler camel, with one student organization even bringing a camel to campus for an event. Typos happen. We may judge people for carelessness in ways that we would not want to be judged. And of course, Americans are notorious for judging people in other countries as well as their own who do not speak English perfectly, even while they themselves may not know any other language – and indeed, may not even know English as perfectly as they might.

I should also mention that a Bedouin woman at Petra tried to sell us a bracelet made of “Bedouin silver” – in other words, tin. A close look at the bracelet revealed that there was Chinese writing on it. I pointed this out, and she insisted that the design was Bedouin, but that they then have them made in China. This will remain one of my favorite memories from visiting Petra – although obviously the place itself is breathtaking. But I regularly find that the most significant moments for me, on my travels to various parts of the world, are interactions with people, and the opportunity to learn about another culture, laugh at a linguistic misunderstanding, or sometimes both simultaneously.

On a related note, I have a draft blog post related to Jesus’ sayings about camels, which I ought to finish and post, especially if your reactions to this one suggest that more about camels would be welcome!


Petra camel ride

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  • John MacDonald

    I think Jesus’ saying about the camel may reflect Nietzsche’s point about sour grapes in slave morality. Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25).” Nietzsche said that, sociologically, the lower classes would sometimes demonize the values of the upper class (wealth, power, etc.), while valorizing their own circumstances (poverty, meakness, etc.). On the other hand, the camel saying may more directly be carrying the sense of Proverbs 11:28, which says: “He who trusts in his riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.”

  • Eric M

    I got a fever and the only prescription is more camel