Sociologists have long claimed that civilization has used fear, shame and guilt as the social building blocks for societies worldwide.
In the Middle East in particular, leading sociologists describe countries of the region as ‘honor/shame societies’ as opposed to the ‘guilt based’ cultures in their Western counterparts.
In such social paradigms, behaviour and reputation is everything as it plays a key role in upholding the honor of the family or tribe. On the other hand, not living up to the standards set for maintaining one’s honor is what brings shame on an individual which in turn reflects on his or her family; this is where the concept of ‘3eeb’ comes into to play. Native middle-easterners or foreigners who’ve lived in MENA for awhile know what we’re talking about.
Although often used interchangeably with the infamous ‘haram’ in Arabic, what constitutes ‘3aib’ has nothing to do with religion. Rather, what will cause someone to cry “3aib!” (shame!) or “3aib 3aleek” (shame on you!) is determined entirely by social cues which are mostly rules of obvious courtesy, etiquette and good behaviour. But sometimes the obsession with honor and shame has taken on absolutely ridiculous proportions and its rules can baffle you.
In fact, Arabs take the concept of honor and shame so seriously it has led to some pretty awful consequences. In extreme cases, acts of violence such as revenge, honor killings or suicide are considered the only way to remove shame and have honor restored.
However there are some 3aib do’s and don’ts which can take even the most seasoned foreign veteran by surprise. Here’s Al Bawaba’s foolproof guide to some of the most surprising and downright bizarre things that are considered ‘3aib’ in the Arab world.