Valentine's Day, or عيد الحب (the Holiday of Love) as we call it, is a surprisingly big deal here. Everyone wears red, and street vendors market and sell anything and everything they can on the premise of the Hallmark Holiday. Radio stations play love songs exclusively (which isn't too much of a change from the norm because pretty much every Arabic song ever sung is a love song), and people celebrate the day with an excited and nervous fervor similar to that of American middle school students.
This widespread enthusiasm is a bit surprising to me, because the conception of love here is quite different from in the United States. Relationships here, as a general rule, develop after two individuals are engaged. Most people my age don't interact with members of the opposite sex on a regular basis unless it's through mutual friends, and they only ever do so in the company of others. Men and women don't even sit next to each other on the bus unless they are engaged. Marriages are often arranged by family members, but can also be left to personal preference. Those people who are allowed to choose will often get engaged very shortly after meeting one another. Some people get married immediately, but some will remain engaged for a long time as they get to know one another and develop a relationship before they tie the knot.
There are, of course, exceptions. The lady who supervises my gym told me she and her husband were in love for 5 years before they got married. I'm not entirely sure whether or not they were engaged for that length of time, but it didn't seem to matter - they were just taking that time to become close and get to know each other before they sealed the deal.
Yes, I did have this fairly intimate discussion with someone I barely know. Arabs are considerably more open and direct about personal subjects than Americans. "Are you married? How old are you? What is your religion?" All of these are conversation-starter topics appropriate for discussion with just about anyone, from a close friend to a taxi driver. The whole political-correctness barrier doesn't really exist here. There actually isn't a specific word in Arabic to describe the concept of PC. Strange, huh? Maybe we're better off not having to worry about hurting someone's feelings.
Well, that's it for me tonight. I'm going to go pass out. Have fun at the library, all you Cornellians for whom it's only 5 o'clock! Bahahaha