Building rapport with the Iraqis is always a good thing. Arabs value relationships, and will go to great lengths to build and support the friendships that come from good relationships. As an American in Iraq, I like building rapport as someday my Iraqi friends will tell me if I’m about to drive over an IED, or convince them to eat me last. Similar interests are great way to build rapport, and I try to work that angle through movies.
You’d think with Hollywood’s domination of global markets that Iraqis would have a working knowledge of classic movies like Star Wars, the Godfather and Ernest Goes to Camp. In all reality…not so much. Iraqis watch a lot of Egyptian movies, which I as an American can’t find at Blockbuster. I think Egypt stopped making movies after 1980, as nothing new looking is on the air.
A fellow officer polled some of our Sons of Iraq check points to see what the average Iraqi man’s favorite American movie was. Everyone he asked said they’d never seen an American movie. The area he polled was kind of a problem, as the area consisted of subsistence farmers with no electricity. After a few days and several hundred questions, the officer found an Iraqi answer.
He had to coax the answer out of the Iraqi, who was visibly nervous. The Iraqi said his favorite American movie of all time…Titanic! The officer started laughing, as this was hardly an answer that would make someone nervous. The Iraqi got upset, and said “What? Do you think that just because we’re Arabs we don’t have feelings and emotions that run deep?” The officer laughed even more, and all rapport was ruined.
That the highest grossing movie in human history is popular doesn’t surprise me. One Iraqi officer said it was “The most perfect movie” he’d ever seen. I, for the record, saw it once in the theaters. My girlfriend at the time drug me to see it (I think this was her fifth viewing, and she still cried at the end), and I admit it was an excellent movie. If I ever run into James Cameron, I’ll thank him for a conversation topic with the Iraqis.
Whenever I visit with my Iraqi counterpart, he usually has his TV tuned to an Arab satellite action movie station. Unfortunately, these aren’t good action movies. The movies are definitely in the “B” quality range and all star Dean Cain, oddly enough. Action movies and some dramas make their way to Arab satellite TV, never comedy.
I don’t think many comedies can transcend the culture barrier. I recently saw “So I Married An Axe Murderer” in French. The angry Scottish father did not come across well in l’Francais. The best jokes depended on the inflection and word play of the English language, which I don’t think the French could appreciate or translate.
Movies are not the best way to get to know the Iraqis, so I went a different route: