Making an effort to learn the culture of other countries is necessary if one wishes to enhance their worldly views on social interaction andcustoms; not all cultures are the same, and differences exist even among countries of the same race. Just to give you an idea, I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, lived in Egypt for one month, and have been in Morocco going on seven weeks now. I can tell you for a fact, the customs vary greatly between each country. Experiencing each of these Arab countries’ cultures has given me even more insight intoeach area’s values and customs. On the same token, however, while each of these countries has a certain aspect of their culture that is unique to them, there aredefinitely existing aspects of cultural overlap among them.
One of the commonalities in Arabic culture is trust. Trust is of utmost importance, and is held in the highest regard possible.Inthe Arab world, one can easily make deals without the need for lawyers, contracts, or other documents, because theparties involved inherently trust each other. The following story exemplifies this completely: while visiting a friend in a different part of Morocco, I accompanied them to the local grocery store to help them with their shopping. He picked out all of his items and I helped him carry them out. It took me a few minutes to realize that I hadn’t seen him give the owner any money for the groceries. I asked him why the owner let him leave without paying, and he laughed. He explained to me that he did not have the money on him to pay, so the grocer just jotted down what he had “purchased” and kept a tab for him. He could pay for the groceries he took, the next time he came to the store. I was utterly shocked that the grocer trusted him that quickly with about $50 worth of groceries.
Another common trait across Arab cultures is the aversion to uncomfortable situations, rather than argue one’s way out of something. For instance, Arabs have difficulty outright saying“no” to someone’s request or suggestion, so he or she might say something like“Well, it seems like a good idea, but let me think about it a little more,” instead.
Also, “face” or dignity and prestige, is an essential part of the Arabic culture. Losing face creates a feeling of shame andembarrassment. One example of such a situation is when a Marlboro cigarette agent builta mosque in an Arab country. No one attended the mosque because it had been built with the money the agent earned from his cigarette business, which is considered an undignified business. The Marlboro cigarette agent was forced to turn the mosque into a lecture hall instead.
Arabs are considered a collectivist society. They tend to their family not only in the traditional sense, but also spiritually. Family members act for the good of the group. In Arabic culture, the “avoidance of shame” is the primary motivator.For example, if an individual invests in forbidden or shamefulbusiness practices, such as selling cigarettes or drugs, not only would that individual’s family put a lot of pressure on him to quit that business, but he would also encourage his family to pressure him into leaving such a business. In general, Arabs have varied opinions concerning outside nationalities, so it is wise for Westerners to set positive examples of their cultures, so as to act as ambassadors of their home countries.
In general, the concept of time in Arab countries differs from that of many Western cultures. It is commonplace for Westernersto be on time to dinners, gatherings, and events, but do not expect the same from your Arab friend or host. Arab people as a whole are very relaxed about time and are therefore usually running behind, but this should not in any way imply a lack of respect or interest in the party they are meeting with.
The Arab world is famous for its warm hospitality. When a visitor comesto an Arab country, they are treated with the greatest courtesy.Traditionally, it is considered rude for visitors to refuse a meal, place to stay, tea, or an invitation of any sort, as the invitation is always made with the most sincere intentions and is never just a formality. It ispart of the Arab generosity to provide a large meal to guests, and in some circumstances, the meal may even be too large to finish; this is a sign of complete hospitality. It is wise for Westerners to avoid discussing politics and religion duringany dinners, parties, or other Arab gatherings. However, sports and culture can be a good topic of conversation. It is important to note, when visitors enter the host’s home, they should immediately remove their shoes, unless the host indicates otherwise. In the Arab world, people often eat with their hands andhave to wash their hands before sitting to eat. If a foreigner feels uncomfortable eating with their hands, they may use silverware.
An understanding of Arabic body language would really help Westerners create good impressions overseas in Arab countries. For example, an Arab might hold his/her friend’s hand, which is a physical expression symbolizing deep friendship. Americans might find it strange to see men walking down the street holding hands or with their pinkies interlocked, but in Arab countries this is nothing more than a sign of close friendship. Arab countries tend to not have a stigma against friendly physical closeness, the way Westerners do. Arabs tend to be more friendly right off the bat, and will talk closer to you than you’re used to, but it’s nothing more than joviality.
Some offensive gestures to be aware of if visiting an Arab country sometime in the near future, include using one’s feet to point to anything, especially people, andturning your back to someone while they are speaking to you. In addition,belching and spitting are considered impolite gestures, especially inSaudi Arabia. Furthermore, speaking loudly and in an animated fashion is considered rude,especially in public.
Etiquette is very important, and it can make or break arelationship, so Westerners should be extra familiar of cross-culturaletiquette. Also, it is advisable for Westerners to try their best to accustom themselves to the cultural differences, and at the very least be aware in advance how to act and behave in particular situations that may be new to them. For example, there is a great difference between the Western world and the Arab World, especially Saudi Arabia. Taking the time and making the effort to learn about another culture before visiting that country, shows great respect for other cultures, and regard for differences among customs.For example, if one is going to visit Turkey and wishes to tour the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or the Blue Mosque as it is commonly known), one should know that women cannot enter a mosque with their hair, arms, or legs exposed; and men cannot enter a mosque in sleeveless shirts or shorts above their knees. This knowledge will most certainly result in a more successful experience.
Posted By Mohammed Alshubrumi
Posted Aug 1st, 2013