Nothing spreads faster than a rumour, especially in an ex-pat camp. It takes me back to secondary school, with everyone whispering about who did what at Saturday’s party. Rumours abound on every subject, from personal to political. The longest standing rumour is that the ex-pat alcohol licence will be scrapped leaving us dry, something which strikes fear into many, but this one has been circulating on and off for the entire time I’ve been here with no truth to it yet… After I’d been here for a while I learned to take these stories with a pinch of salt although occasionally something you hear will turn out to be true. Personal rumours are, in my mind, much more damaging and, unfortunately, more likely to be grounded in the truth (although often grossly exaggerated by the time they’ve circled around). This type of rumour can be quite damaging, and it doesn’t take long in such a small community for it to spread. Before long a person can end up with a reputation from a single incident which elsewhere would have passed unnoticed.
I’ve never been one to gossip much; celebrity gossip magazines don’t interest me and I dislike talking about people behind their backs. Neither can I be bothered speculating about something that will probably never happen. But many people seem to relish it. Is it a case of using speculation as a topic of conversation amongst people who often see each other daily and have few fresh subjects to discuss, or a ghoulish joy in discussing doomsday scenarios? (For many people here, running out of alcohol would appear to fall under the latter category.) Or perhaps it is a coping mechanism for living in a country with different ideas and values from their own? Laws can be brought in here with barely a day’s notice, leaving people unsure of what is right or wrong, and of course there is always some fear of the unknown. When I first arrived I was afraid of offending someone through a careless action, such as pointing with my finger instead of my thumb – something which took a while to adjust to and which I had been told to avoid as it would be considered offensive. However, no one seemed to mind about these small, unintentional slip ups and the funny looks I get back home when I point with my thumb get a bigger reaction than anything I have experienced here.
Sometimes gossip can be good; if word gets out that someone isn’t well, for example, then it can be very reassuring to be inundated with offers of help and support. There have been a few tragedies affecting families on the camp over the past few years, and it is amazing how much the community comes forward to support them. Likewise I have been surprised at how small-minded and interfering some people can be, such as the stranger who sent me a message on Facebook when I purchased a barbeque from the’ Buy and Sell’ site, asking me why I was buying a cheap barbeque when I could have paid twenty times more for the one she was selling (I forced myself to refrain from pointing this out to her, but did gossip about it freely for the next few days). And in this case it was a funny story to discuss, as perhaps most gossip is. There’s no harm in that, is there?