British ‘Fuddling’ in Oman

From Arabian Assignment: Operations in Oman and the Yemen, by David Smiley. (The Extraordinary Life of Colonel David Smiley Book 2; Sapere Books, 2020), Kindle pp. 63-64:

The proceedings followed the ritual prescribed by Arab tradition, beginning with the conventional exchange of civilities with our host: ‘Ahlan Wa Sahlan’ [Welcome], ‘Salaam Elykum’ [Peace be with you]. We arranged ourselves in a circle on the cushions, contorting our limbs into attitudes that for me at least meant almost unendurable discomfort, and taking care to ensure that the soles of our feet were never facing our host — or any of the guests either. Even when there was business to transact, it was very impolite to mention it for at least the first five minutes, when talk was restricted to irrelevant pleasantries and platitudes. It was also considered very bad manners to speak to anyone during the course of a meal — an excellent convention, in my view — and so all conversation took place beforehand, while the party ate mezze — hors d’oeuvres of bread and goat’s cheese — and drank black coffee poured into small cups by black slaves out of a huge coffee pot from a great height and with unerring accuracy; when we had had enough — it was usual to accept two or three helpings — a guest would shake his coffee cup to show he wanted no more.

Then servants would bring in the meal, a single enormous dish, usually a whole sheep or goat on a vast pile of rice. There were no plates or cutlery, and everyone helped himself with his fingers from the dish, using only the right hand, which he would wash carefully after he had eaten. At the end of the meal slaves would carry round an incense burner, from which the guests would waft the smoke over their beards with their hands; beardless Europeans would make the gestures of wafting it over their chins. As a final ritual the slaves would sprinkle rose water over the guests’ heads. The guests would then rise, shake hands all round, and depart. I must have attended hundreds of these ceremonies, which we called ‘fuddling’, from the Arabic fadal meaning ‘please’; the British troops called them ‘mutton grabs’.

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Filed under Arabia, Britain, food, language, travel

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