.One of the things I struggled with during my early days in Libya was the relationship between honesty and politeness. In common with many other people in the less developed world, Libyans really disliked saying "No" to any requests from friends and to foreigners visiting their country. (The concept of hospitality is very important throughout the Mid East and Africa.) As they saw it, saying "No" implied that you didn't want to help the person concerned. So if you asked a Libyan for help or information that he couldn't supply, he would always say "Yes" - but then wouldn't deliver.
I experienced a typical example of this when Sue and I invited a Libyan friend, Mohamed, to our house for dinner. The agreed day and time arrived but Mohamed didn't. Time was a flexible concept and so we waited patiently. One hour went by. Then two. Finally, I called our friend's house.
"Hello. Can I speak to Mohamed."
"Sorry but he isn't here. He's in England."
"In England? Oh, did he have to make an unexpected trip there?"
"No. He arranged the trip months ago."
Clearly at the time that Mohamed accepted our invitation, he already knew he wouldn't be able to come to dinner with us. However, it would have been rude for him to turn down our invitation. So he did the polite thing and accepted it, knowing full well that he couldn't come to dinner!
A potentially more serious situation occurred when a group of teachers from our school ran into the politeness/honesty problem in a village outside Tripoli. The first I heard of the incident was when the teachers returned to work the following day. This is what had happened.
While driving around, they stopped in a village and noticed an interesting, small mosque. An old man, presumably the imam, was sitting outside. They greeted him and he returned their greetings. As he seemed to be very friendly, they asked him if they could take a quick look inside the mosque. "Please," he said and motioned for them to enter. They removed their shoes and went in.
The man immediately and went reported the teachers to the local police. The latter came and arrested the teachers for having gone into the mosque. Luckily, when the police called the Ministry of the Interior in Tripoli for instructions, they got through to one of our students, who told the police to let the teachers go.
I tried to explain to the teachers why the imam had done what he did. They didn't get it. As far as they were concerned, he was just a crazy old man who said they could do something but then had them arrested for doing it. I suppose that's one way of looking at it!