We were invited to a small rooftop party last night, but when we arrived at the house, we had trouble parking. Apparently there was another huge party at a neighboring house. The road was clogged, with cars double parked and dressed-up people everywhere.
We found a space to park and made our way past the other-party-goers, heading toward our own party.
It was a mix of Jordanians and Americans, which can sometimes produce stuffy, overly-business-like parties. But in this case, all of the invitees were friends of the hosts, so it felt like a real party rather than a business event.
I met a couple of Jordanians and started making small talk. (Aside: one of them went to the same school that my kids currently attend, back when he was a boy. Fun to hear his stories.) We looked down from the roof at the crowds in the street below, still going in and out of the other party.
"That must be quite a party," I commented. "Look at all of those people."
But the Jordanian guest corrected me. "It isn't a party," he said. "Someone has died, and people are offering condolences."
What? How can you tell it's for a dead person, I wondered aloud, and he told me there was a sign in front of the house, in Arabic, that said "with sympathy," or something obvious like that. Obvious, I mean, if you happen to read and write Arabic. Which clearly I don't yet, despite my 4 hours per week in the classroom. Sigh.
He then went on to say it wasn't as big of a gathering as it would have been for a Muslim family - apparently, the deceased was Christian, and their deathbed events aren't quite as large. Somehow, this man was able to tell that it was a Christian family, but I've no idea how.
I saw a crowd and assumed: party.
The Jordanian saw the crowd and understood: Christian wake.
There are so many things that you miss when you're living in a third culture. Things that are obvious to the people around you just fly right over your head sometimes. Every time I start to feel at home in a place, something like this crops up and reminds me: I still haven't a clue how things work around here.