Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Syrian Proverb

Syrian proverb:  على قدر بساطك مد رجليك

English translation:   Stretch your legs as far as your rug allows.

What do you think this proverb means? 

(a)  The proverb is about the importance of experience as a way to understand the world.  Instead of getting an education only through books, it says we should experience life for ourselves.  

(b)  The proverb is about setting ourselves high goals, and pushing (i.e. stretching) ourselves to achieve them.  It says that anything in life is possible if we work hard enough.  

(c)  The proverb is about knowing your limits.  The rug represents a person's place in life, and says that we shouldn't try to be something we are not.  

Although most people from Western cultures would choose (b) as the best interpretation, the answer is (c).  According to  The Canadian Centre for Intercultural Learning, social classes are very defined and dictate your future in Syrian society.   Social classes in Syria have different lifestyles, and mobility between classes is low.  This proverb represents values that are the opposite from typical Western values which encourage children to set high goals and 'reach for the stars.'  A similar proverb in Egypt, 'stretch your legs as far as the edge allows' is similar, but carries an additional meaning of fiscal responsibility: i.e. only buy what you can afford.  

Thanks to my student Omar for sharing this proverb, and my colleague Afraim for helping in the editing process.

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