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Reporters on the Job

Idiosyncrasies of Iraq: Monitor staffer Howard LaFranchi visited Sadr City several times to complete the reporting for Friday's story about efforts to sow grass-roots democracy in Iraq (page 1). One night, afterwards, he got a haircut and a beard trim, that included removing facial hair with a thread. Now back in the US, he finds himself thinking - and chuckling - about some of the other cultural idiosyncrasies of his trip.

"For example, in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Najaf, and elsewhere in Iraq they place a glass or vase with neatly folded tissues on the table - and that' s your napkin. Finger food is common too, so after downing a plate of hummus, or lamb kabob, or even the delicious masgoof (a grilled fish dish), at the end of a meal you see piles of Kleenexes on a table."

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And sometimes, you can "grow" a white beard over a meal. "As The Dallas Morning News reporter Tod Robberson pointed out to me one evening - when I was apparently beginning to resemble St. Nick - the tissue tends to come apart and leave little wisps behind when it's rubbed around on an unshaven face at 7 o' clock in the evening."

Howard met plenty of Iraqis who spoke English, if not always perfectly. "Many Iraqis had an endearing way of using 'hello' interchangeably for 'hello' and 'good-bye.' I got used to hearing the greeting as I was leaving someone, but I'm simply unable to erase the mental picture of the kind desk clerk at my hotel waving to me as I departed and saying, 'Hello Mr. Howard, hello!'"

David Clark Scott
World editor