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Why you don't ask about another man's fiancée in Afghanistan

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

On a trip back to Afghanistan, I caught up with an Afghan friend and former driver of mine over the phone. He told me the happy news that he was engaged. “What’s her name?” I asked. He paused and mumbled a bit. Afterward, I asked another Afghan friend why the conversation had become awkward. You don’t ask details about a man’s wife or fiancée, he explained. It suggests you might be interested in her. He said a more appropriate question would be: “Are you marrying your cousin?”

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I learned recently that this other friend was now engaged as well and had shared a popular parable online: A guy asks a Muslim, “Why do your girls cover up their bodies and hair?” The Muslim smiles and gets two candies. He unwraps one and throws them both on the dusty floor and says, “If I ask you to take one of the candies, which will you choose?” The guy replies: “The covered one.” Then the Muslim says, “That’s how we treat and see our women.”

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I couldn’t help but respond with a similar parable to illustrate the American perspective: A guy asks an American, “Why don’t your women cover their faces?” The American smiles, gets two lanterns. He lights both, then covers one with a heavy cloth, saying: “If I ask you to choose one of the lanterns, which will you pick?” The guy replies, “The bright and free one.”