Things which drive me mad about Pakistan
Don’t get me wrong – I love Pakistan, Pakistani people, and life in Pakistan. If, while reading the following blog post, you begin to doubt my sincerity in saying this, please refer to my Love Letter to Pakistan, posted in 2014. I even got it translated into Urdu, as a means by which to share the love.
But every now and then, there are things in Pakistan which drive me mad. They drive me so mad they make me wanna…. write a blog post about why they annoy me!
The geographically challenged
A visitor to a country sometimes takes a greater interest, or perhaps a different perspective, on the nation than locals. But in Pakistan, it reaches new heights where people almost redraw the map with their knowledge (or lack thereof) about their nation; “Don’t go to Peshawar – the Northern Areas are very dangerous…”.
A lot of people find simple facts simply baffling. Take conversations about my job, for example;
“I’m an English teacher” seems to be met with “oh… and what job do you do?”.
“That’s my job, I’m an English teacher.
“Oh… ok… so what about in Australia. What job do you do there?”
My response that “I’m an English teacher there too..” is usually met with an awkward silence, and then a pleasantly surprised expression. Is it really that hard to believe? You should see their faces when I tell them that I chose to be in Pakistan of my own volition. Stunned.
Hard of hearing?
When I first arrived in Pakistan, a friend told me that “one of the biggest problems you’ll encounter is that Pakistanis don’t listen”. At the time I wrote this off as being overly critical, but it’s true! Ask someone where they do their shopping from, and you might be given the answer “On Saturdays.” Ask them why they want to go to Murree for their holidays, and they’ll tell you “With my friends.” Ask how many brothers and sisters they have, and they’ll say “Actually my sister lives in Dubai with her husband – he went to GCU.” So… one sister then?
Trust versus naivety
This one is kind of sweet. Or stupid. or both. So many Pakistanis tend to trust each other so much, to the point of blind faith, that they are often astounded when things don’t turn out perfectly. I have heard so many stories of siblings who put thousands of dollars into their brothers’ businesses, only to see them fail and the money disappear. Then you ask what sort of business they were doing – he had invested it in a pyramid scheme which was “meant to work” – and he didn’t have any previous business experience, nor his own savings, nor a day job. And everyone is simply astounded (and bitter) that things didn’t work out.
Endearing or naive?
And not just to women, but by women – and to everyone. If I had a rupee for each time I’ve had to listen to explanations about how “Pakistan is a Muslim country…” after four years of living there, I’d be a millionaire by now. Other explanations abound too; “in Pakistan we drive on the left side of the road”, “in Islam we believe in one God” and even “men are different than women”.
Attend any Pakistani event where speeches will be made, and expect the first five minutes of each speech to be spent delivering verbose thanks to every individual in the room. “Thank you to my highly esteemed dear colleague, Mr Syed Mir Abdul Ghafoor Hussain Shah Saheb, son of the respectable Ustaad Syed Hussain Shah Saheb from Mianwali, for giving me the golden opportunity to present this cherished speech. And thank you also to…”
I actually don’t know how these speeches end – I’m normally asleep by that time.
Speculative medicine (times two!)
Fall sick in Pakistan, and open yourself up to a whole world of speculation about how you fell sick. “Maybe someone is doing black magic on you.” “It must have been the vegetables – you need more meat in your diet.” “The heat causes the pain.” “You ate too much yogurt.” Speculating on how someone fell ill is a national sport. And it was probably none of the above – it was probably the chef who didn’t wash his hands after taking a dump.
Which brings me to point two of speculative medicine – the idea that spicy food is the cause of all illness in foreigners. “Hygiene in Pakistan is usually ok, but foreigners can’t handle the spice” is something I’ve been told a thousand times. Believe me, Pakistani food is nowhere near the spiciest I’ve eaten, a lot of foreigners handle spicy food better than many Pakistanis, and again, it was probably the chef who didn’t wash his hands after taking a dump.
Many Pakistanis seem to think that the rest of the world operates in a way completely at odds with that of their own country. Sometimes the “only in Pakistan” label is actually appropriate; you see some 7-year old kid riding his dad’s motorbike to the shops, or a father fires a few rounds into the air from his AK-47 to celebrate his daughter’s birthday party, and you look at each other and say “yup – only in Pakistan!” But then someone turns up 5 minutes late to an appointment, or a car breaks down, or you have to walk across a lawn (instead of a paved path) to reach a gate and your friends roll their eyes and say “only in Pakistan.” Um, actually, no…
But on the flipside, we are so happy to be Pakistani when it suits us. 2 hours late for an appointment? Completely ignorant? Bankrupt? Don’t worry, just say “well, we’re Pakistani after all!” Is that the reason, or just an excuse for how we are?
“Are you a spy?” No… but if I was, is that the kind of thing I’d share?
“Can you give me a visa?” No, that would be the Australian embassy in Islamabad
“Are you a Muslim?” Yes, are you?
“Can you eat Pakistani food?” Are you referring to ability or permission? Either way the answer is yes…
Wake up and smell the coffee!
Few things make me as liable to become physically violent as Pakistanis’ attitude to coffee. Like any committed drug addict, I become fiercely protective when my my relationship with the brown liquid is challenged. And in Pakistan that happens frequently. My closest friends know how to stay alive and uninjured;
- No substitution of coffee with tea
- No mention of coffee being a ‘winter-only’ drink
- No amazement if I have it without milk or sugar
- No shock and horror that I can have it “so early in the morning” (i.e. – with breakfast)
Having almost finished this article, I realise that I’m now obscenely guilty of one of my pet peeves about Pakistan, and that’s all the Pakistanis who complain about their own people. “Pakistanis are all chors (thieves)”, “Pakistanis are all dishonest” and “Pakistanis are uncivilised people” are common refrains from the general populace, both in social gatherings and in the media. Thank God they’re not in charge of the country’s tourism promotions!
And things which drive me mad about Australia? Don’t even get me started…