Now though it is true the Americans invented and popularized the notion of drive through service, I don’t think anybody enjoys it more than Omanis.
This American practice started in the late forties and fifties. Life was in full swing; men were in homecoming from the war. There was a new initiative by the government to reintegrate men in to the workforce. The economy was booming and so were the kids. Female domestication and child rearing was incentivized through the media and pop culture. Lives became easier; we invented some shortcuts, and ready-made housing in gated communities. People received monthly gelatin and Bundt recipes in the weekly catalogue promotions. Then, the humble drive through was invented, that prompted the word’s fascination with fast food and heeded to our impatience as a species. So that was my abbreviated history without the Internet, relying on my memory of my most wonderful 6th grade social studies class. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
Now many business practices develop to fill a consumer demand or evolve with other cultural practices to meet gaps within the fabric of society. In our open exchange of communication that has become the 21st century, it is easy to pull from other cultures and adapt and build upon these specific business practices as they can relate to commonalities within many cultures. So in many ways, Oman embodies in part a similar disposition as the American 50s.
In general Oman’s economy has made out very well through the oil industry along with the diversification of other markets like tourism. People here love their cars. If you were being cynical, one could say this love of luxury cars represents a status symbol or a means of superficially inflating ones appearance, but honestly I think there is more to it than that. Omanis are very private people, both culturally and religiously so. It is unrealistic to think the public transportation system here would ever reach the same success it has elsewhere in the world.
It has only been in the past 20 years that Oman has really experienced such an influx of foreign workers, and with that, the addition of these new breeds of service jobs. This has made for an interesting dichotomy between different business sectors and economic classes here. Most men who work at the convenience stores and fast food chains are of East Asian descent. I have heard it is quite similar throughout the gulf, but people here are very privileged. People here are more dependent on the help of these expatriate workers, even if from a western viewpoint they may lose a sense of self- sufficiency in their daily lives. Whereas in the U.S, the constant assistance of others to perform and organize the smaller aspects of your daily life might seem invasive; here, it is a matter of convenience and luxury.
When I first arrived I was surprised that at any schwarma place with a honk of the car, a shopkeeper would come rushing out to assist you. Like some sort of under cover business deal you drive past the shop in your car and exchange money. After five minutes a man comes running out with your food. So this drive through is a little different. Even the other day, when I went to a small neighborhood toyshop, a similar phenomenon happened. My family spent the afternoon picking out their desired appliances, paid at the cash register, and ushered me to the door. Walking out of the store I was very confused. We had definitely paid, but my family had seemed to forget the purchases. Two minutes later a man came out of the shop carrying the shopping bags and loading them into the trunk.
At first glance this practice seems a little odd or at least uncomfortable from an American viewpoint. Once you put this concept of what I call “the flexible drive through” in perspective, you can learn a lot about Omani culture. As long as all working individuals are respected, it is not necessarily bad. The gulf has evolved at a very rapid pace commercially, yet people here are just as much concerned in preserving the traditional aspects of their lives. Because of the rapid change and outside influence, it is inevitable their society will be slightly tiered.
The honking here is not just a practice, but also a way of life. And just like at one point in the U.S, families here are still expanding very rapidly. The quality of life for this generation of Omani children has changed so drastically since their grandparents. Children have very many opportunities, and with increased opportunities, parents want to provide the best they can. The other theme here is not only protecting their children but also protecting their traditions, so part of that means maintaining some privacy. The next time you hear a car honk on the street, maybe it will lead to a very long, rambling story as well.