Category Archives: Culture

When do Americans read newspapers?

An Arab friend of mine delivers one of the local daily newspapers. Here is a conversation that took a place one day around 5:30 pm after he was done with his route.

Me: I still don’t understand your business. Did you just deliver today’s newspapers or tomorrow’s?
Him: Today.
Me: Who reads newspapers after 5 pm?
Him: You still think of the Arab culture. There employees buy newspapers in the morning and read it at work.
Me: I see. I have never seen an American reads newspaper at work. And this makes sense now since you deliver newspapers after midnight during the weekends.

Of course not all American newspapers are delivered after noon but at least I know of one and I know why now.

American employees, in general, work from 8 am to 5 pm. If their productivity level is measured in hours, the majority of them have a productivity level of 8 hours a day. That is, from 8 am to 5 pm, except the lunch hour, they work very hard. Because they know they may lose their job any day if they slack. America is no place for slackers or lazy people.

In Jordan and many other Arab countries, the productivity of many employees is definitely way less than 8 hours a day. Unless, we make sure that we all work as hard as possible and do our best no Arab Spring or whatnot can help us advance and be among the industrial countries.

Early Happy International Workers’ Day!

p.s. International Workers’ Day or Labors’ Day as know in the U.S. is celebrated on May 1st. In the USA it is observed on the first Monday in September.

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The etiquette of correcting others

I overheard the following conversation at our workplace:

Woman 1: I think I need a cleaning lady in the house.
Woman 2: If I have extra money I will definitely call a cleaning service.
Woman 1: I shouldn’t have said cleaning lady, it is probably sexist. I should have said cleaning service.

You have to admit how intelligent both women are. I am fortunate to be working in such an open minded environment.

This story reminds me of Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons, Al-Hassan and Al-Hussain. While both were performing Wudu’ they noticed an old man performing Wudu’ incorrectly. Because of their young age they thought it might be insulting to the old man to be corrected in public and may be out of respect to older people. They went to the old man and said, “My brother and I disagree over who amongst us performs wudu’ the best. Would you mind watching us make wudu’ and be the judge to see which one of us indeed performs wudu’ more correctly? Could you please correct us wherever we are wrong?” The man watched carefully trying to judge who is better. In the end he understood what was going on and said “By Allah, I did not know how to perform wudu’ before this. You have both taught me how to do it correctly.”

Knowledge is power. We should use this power for good. If we find someone wrong there is always a good way to correct this person. Insulting is not one of them. We are not supposed to think alike. Can you imagine if we all do? There is a reason God created us this way. We are not robots. One can really learn more from the mistakes of others.

Girls Lead in Science Exam, Especially in Jordan

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html?hp
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/04/science/girls-lead-in-science-exam-but-not-in-the-united-states.html?hp

“We see that very early in childhood — around age 4 — gender roles in occupations appear to be formed,” said Christianne Corbett, co-author of the 2010 report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.” “Women are less likely to go into science careers, although they are clearly capable of succeeding.”

Researchers say these cultural forces are strong in the United States, Britain and Canada but far less pervasive in Russia, Asia and the Middle East, which have a much higher proportion of women in science and engineering. In Jordan, for example, girls score more than 8 percent better in science than boys do.

“For girls in some Arab countries, education is the only way to move up the social structure,” Mr. Schleicher said. “It is one way to earn social mobility.” [source]

Although girls in Jordan scored much better than boys their score is much less than girls in many other countries. Nevertheless, this difference says a lot about women in Jordan. I salute their determination to become better and improve their lives.

Who is supposed to give the Dowry?

One of my lab mates is going back to his country in Africa to get married. Me and him are the only non Americans in the group. Our all male group members were shocked to know that the dowry system works different than in the USA. I always thought that the dowry is paid by the groom (or the groom’s parents) to the bride (or the bride’s parents) except in India.

One of the Americans noted that giving money to the bride’s parents is like selling your daughter. According to my American friends the bride’s parents should pay for the wedding.

It is a very interesting subject that I was hoping to learn more about from the Americans. I want to know what is their perspective about the dowry system and why they believe that the bride should pay the groom not the other way. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish our discussion so hopefully I can hear your perspective about the subject.

Who should give the dowry? And why you think he/she should do that not the other way around?

Is there a contract between American Christians between the bride and the groom like Muslims do? In Islam, the contract should specify what the bride is offering and the responsibilities of both sides. In addition, it includes the amount of Nafaqa in case a divorce happens.

I wish also to hear what Christians in the Middle East do. Who give the dowry?

Segregation in Jordan

Some countries like India and Mexico started the service of “women-only” buses to solve the problem of sexual harassment from male passengers. I think this is a good idea especially in crowded cities were passengers in public transportations are crushed together while standing. In such cases men and women may be too close and it becomes inevitable for their bodies not to rub against each others. And the worst could happen.

Some people living in ِNorth America or Europe may think this is ridiculous. But we should never judge a solution unless we experience the problem.

Jordan is not as crowded as India and Mexico hence we don’t have such problem in the public transportations. But we still have cases of sexual harassments in the streets. The worst is of course when there is touching but the common one is verbal. To solve verbal abuse restaurants in Jordan have two sections; one ‘for families only*’ and another for single men.

Most restaurants in Jordan have a section that is limited to families only. The purpose of such segregation is to eliminate the looks and the bad mouthing from single men sitting near by. This segregation is not religious gender segregation but a culture thing.

I don’t like such thing because it can be very stupid. Here are a few examples why “For Families Only” is a bad idea:

Story #1:

I entered a coffee shop in Irbid called “Friends”. There was no sign that says “For Families only” or “Wait to be seated.” So, I pulled my laptop from my bag and put it on the table while three staffs were looking at me. When I was ready to sit, one of the staff came to me and told me this section is “for families only” and he pointed to a coffee table near the entrance that I can sit on. I didn’t care much because I understand the culture but when I was ready to sit on the other table I found it is very close to the entrance door and whenever the door opens a cold drift is going to hit my face so I decided to change the coffee shop.

Now, the section that is according to the staff is dedicated to families only was occupied with girls. My shock was when I found that all girls there were smoking hookah not because they were smoking but because it was 11 in the morning. Who smokes hookah in the morning?

I am 39 years old who has 15 years of experience teaching college students yet the coffee shop denied to serve me some respect in favor of college students who smoke hookah at 11 am.

Story #2:

My cousin (he is my age) traveled from Irbid to Amman (90 km) to return an item his wife bought from a mall in Amman. The security guard at the door refused to let him in because that day the mall is limited to families only. My cousin tried to explain to the security that he traveled 90 km just to return this item but his pledge met only with denial. My cousin is an optometrist and a father of  two daughters.

Story #3:

Three 30 something men (two optometrists and one medical doctor) and their 45 year-old Jordanian friend who is visiting Jordan from Italy for the first time after 12 years decided to go to the Dead Sea only to find that they were denied entrance to one of the beaches because entry is for families only. Traveling 173.8 km from Irbid, being 30 something and married, and having a 40 something tourist from Italy with them were not enough reasons for these poor men to enjoy seeing the Dead Sea beach.

This shows how hard it is for single men in Jordan to be treated with respect. Regardless of age or status, men are treated with no dignity or respect if they are not accompanied with a female. Maybe it is time for a business man in Jordan to invest in opening an escort sevice**. How else would a single man be treated with respect in malls and restaurants?

*’For Families only’ sign means a man or men not accompanied by a female regardless of her age are not allowed in.
** I am being sarcastic of course I don’t agree with such line of service.

Q&A about Arab and American culture

Someone sent me a long list of questions about Arab culture. It is difficult to answer all of them in one post. So, I will try to answer a few in different posts.

How has the US changed since you first came here?

  • It became more expensive.
  • I used to see more people reading books everywhere now people at coffee shops are mostly on their electronic devices.
  • American TV started depicting Muslim characters on TV shows as normal people. The stereotype is still there but at least they are not terrorists.
  • I became more adapted to living in the US since I came here 10 years ago.

Knowing both US and Arab culture, would you recommend a cross-cultural marriage to a sister or brother, cousin or friend? Or would you strongly caution against it? Why?  Would you recommend this couple’s children be raised in the US or be taken back to Arabia or somewhere else? What other advice would you give?

I am no longer against cross-cultural marriage, as I used to be, because I have seen successful ones. I know Arab-American, Arab-European and Arab-Asian couples who live happily. Cross-cultural marriage can work if both belong to the same religion.

Where the couple lives is not a determined issue for a successful cross-cultural marriage. And also it doesn’t matter where the kids are raised as long as they live with their parents either in Arabia or in the USA.

As in any arrangement both must be clear about certain issues. They should know marriage is not about physical attraction only. One issue I have seen repeated many times and American women can never learn a lesson no matter how many times they read about it. A Muslim Arab man in his mid-twenties or early thirties falls in love with an American woman. Although he is a Muslim but he is not practicing so he is okay with his American wife wearing what she used to wear before marriage. At some point in his life the Arab man decides to be a devoted Muslim. So, he asks his wife to become a Muslim if she is not or to wear hijab if she is a Muslim. Maybe he will ask her not to go the yoga class wearing these tight pants. Or maybe when the couple has their first baby, naming the baby becomes an issue.

My recommendation in case of inter-cultural marriage is to ask questions before marriage.

What did you find different about American Christians compared to Middle Eastern Christians?  In what ways is Christianity different here than you expected?  Do you believe there is an element of American culture within American Christianity?

Middle Eastern Christians are more conservative than American Christians. In the Middle East, many Christians identify themselves to be Christians. In the US, it is not easy to know if someone is a Christian or not. People here don’t like to talk about religion. I don’t think I have seen a man or a woman wearing a necklace with a cross. In the Middle East, this is very common. One might say because they are a minority in the Middle East so they like to be identified. I feel in the US, some people feel shy to identify themselves as Christians especially among college age students.

In the Middle East, religion is the identity of people. In America, it is not. I think the more dominant factor here is race.

Do you say D for Dog or David?

Culturally, there is a plethora of differences between Americans and Arabs. Many of these are just normal differences between any two cultures like the culture of celebrating the Halloween. Few others I can’t figure out like why men take showers in front of each others TOTALLY NAKED in the Gym.

Here is one that I also couldn’t figure out; Americans LOVE of dogs. This love relationship is not just a love between a pet and his owner. In some cases, dogs are treated, or may be considered, like humans. Some dog owners pay ten of thousands of dollars to cure their dogs. A professor in my former university paid a huge sum of money for his dog psychiatrists.

Here is another example how dogs are not just pets here. Guess what was the first mission of the White House when President Obama won the presidency back in 2008? Yes, finding the president’s family a dog. I still remember the media coverage over this story until Bo is finally found. This shows how for the president to be close to the citizens he must own a dog, like any other American family.

In my 10 years in the U.S. I don’t think I have met any American who doesn’t own a dog. I have seen people here who get offended when someone says something bad about their dog, like he is loud or she misbehaves. Similar when a mother is told that her child misbehaved or something.

It is very often that dogs are referred to as a member of the family.  Many times I heard someone say “I don’t have kids but I have two dogs” or “I have two girls and a dog.”

So, for a society that has such fond of dogs you have to expect to see them everywhere you go. I have seen dogs in many private businesses as well. This is a big problem for some new comer Muslims. Dog owners expect others to pat their dogs and act like when an adult sees a baby. Dogs  here are nice and friendly. Unlike cats, dogs like to play with strangers. So, you can imagine the reaction of an Arab when he enters an office and a dog jumps and licks him.

As you may or may not know Muslims don’t have such fond for dogs. Mainly, because in Islam dogs’ saliva is considered not clean. This is an important issue since Muslims pray five times a day and they have to be clean before praying. Having a dog at home would be a problem for Muslims.

There are some different opinions about dogs. Some Muslims, mistakenly, think that touching dogs nullifies one’s Wudu’. And many Muslims also don’t like dogs thinking they are not clean. But many Muslim scholars agree that it is the dog’s saliva that is not clean not his body. And for this reason owning dogs are not haram in Islam. Can you imagine a bedouin or a shepherd  without a dog? But here is the thing that might be shocking for Americans, dogs can’t stay inside the house. There are many Muslims who love their dogs but they are not allowed inside.

Here is a funny true story told by a friend who was on the phone with a customer service rep:

American Customer Service Rep: D as in dog?
Arab Customer: NO! D AS IN David!

My friend laughed at his reaction but he was convinced that saying “D as in David” is better than saying “D as in dog.”

When an Arab calls someone a dog it is a big insult. Americans say “You dog.” But I don’t think it means what Arabs mean, it is not an obscene or a big insult.

Picture America: Promoting Christianity on Campus

A woman on campus spreading the word about Jesus. This is something common here on my campus. A  Christian man sometimes hand students pocket size bibles for free. Some other Christians come to campus and talk passionately about controversial issues like homosexuality and abortion. Also they talk in general about sins, punishments and repentance.

 

Richer countries trust more

In my previous post I talked about Trust and Customer Service in USA. After I published the post I came across a study, while learning about Model Thinking, that is very interesting about Trust and GDP. In the survey, people from different cultures were asked “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted?”

Sweden 70%
Italy 33%
Turkey 10%

That is, 70% of Swedish trust others while only 10% of Turkish trust others. The figure below is very interesting!

Source: OECD iLibrary

Trust and Customer Service in America

Unlike America, trades in the Middle East do not involve fine prints chosen carefully by a group of lawyers. In the Middles East, a transaction between a merchant and a customer is so simple. Shops have only one policy. The shop’s policy is written in a large print and hanged up inside the shop in a place the customer can see it as soon as he enters the shop. Many business owners hang it up behind the cashier.

If you saw an American tourist at an Arab shop, especially a boutique, pulling her hair out you should know it is because she can read Arabic and that she read the large printed sign.

The one simple policy is “Goods sold will not be replaced or returned.” Meaning, once you paid for an item you can’t have a second thought. You should be 100% sure that the dress fits you perfectly and you like the color and everything else about the dress. This is customer service in the Middle East in a nutshell. Very simple and clear!

In the US, customer service has a whole different meaning. Its entire economic success is due to almost a perfect customer service. Unfortunately, customer service here is deteriorating due to outsourcing and to foreigners exploiting this new culture of customer service experience.

Many big companies, moved their customer service to India. One major problem is the language. Many of the reps answering the phones overseas don’t have good communication and English language skills. A friend who worked as a customer service rep in India, before coming to the States, told me that his American company employer had daily screening of the American sitcom Friends.  The company wanted their customer service reps to practice English and also learn about the American culture as well and they were forced to speak English only as long as they are inside the building.

Two days ago I was on the phone with a customer service rep. The young guy on the other side of the world wasn’t from India but from some other Asian country. His English was so bad and I am very good at interpreting broken English. I am very sure if an American made that call he would have never stayed on the phone beyond the first sentence. The culprit company is Simple Mobile. Unfortunately, they decided to move their customer service to even a cheaper place than India.

The other reason customer service is not as good as it used to be is because foreigners from South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe countries, are not used to such customer service luxury. Sadly, some of these people made an unlawful profit, or exploited or misused this great service. Here is how:

  • Stealing: Someone would enter Walmart pick up a TV go to customer service and tell them he wants to return it back. Yes, back then you can even return an expensive item without a receipt.
  • Exploitation: Someone moves to a new house and finds out he needs to use a drill to hang up some frames. He goes to Walmart buys  one and returns it back once done.
  • Misuse: We have an Arab proverb that says “If your lover is made out of honey, don’t lick it all.” Meaning, if someone is very kind to you, don’t take advantage of the situation. Some people think because they can return goods they should do it all the time.

I am not saying that only foreigners do this but they take advantage of it more than locals who worked very hard to establish this amazing customer service. Because of the above three examples, customer service is not as used to be in the US and also is different from one city to another. I heard that in big cities like Houston for example their customer service and returning goods is not as easy and good as here in Columbia, MO.

In general, there is no difficulty in returning purchased items here. In some cases, you can even return goods without having a receipt.

Now, here is a story that will blow your mind, if you are an Arab. It happened to me and it definitely was quite an experience:

One week after returning from Walmart, I found out that I was missing a couple of things I bought.  I think I have forgotten to put one of the plastic bags in the shopping cart after being registered by the cashier. I know exactly what I had in the bag because that day I only bought few items including two duct tapes I went especially to buy.

Anyway, about a week after this purchase I decided I want to use the duct tapes so I went to Walmart to buy new ones. When I entered Walmart I thought maybe first I can ask the customer service to check if they have my bag by any chance. Here is our conversation:

The customer service lady, lets call her Kim: How may I help you?
Me: Hi, I was here about a week ago and it seems that I forgot to pick up one of the bags at the cashier. Is it possible that you may have it?
Kim: Do you remember when was that?
Me: Not very sure. More than a week ago.
Kim: Do you know what is in the bag? [Meanwhile, she opened a huge notebook]
Me: Two duct tapes, hand lotion, … [I mentioned few other small items that I forgot now what they were]
Kim [looking into the notebook and turning over pages]: mmm… I am afraid I can’t find it.
[I didn’t know Walmart keeps a record of uncollected bags.]
Me [preparing to leave while smiling]: Okay, no problem. I just thought to give it a try.
Kim: Tell you what go get these items and I will bag them for you.
Me: Oh, are you  sure? I don’t have the receipt!
Kim:  That is fine!

I went to get the same stuffs I bought thinking what made her “trust” me that I am not going to throw a couple more things in the basket or buy the more expensive brand instead of the more affordable ones I usually buy. I was happy I asked but was more moved by such great customer service which after all depends mainly on an important human trait called trust.

Later, during pondering of this experience I remembered what the Egyptian Muslim Scholar Muhammad Abduh said more than 100 years ago when he visited France and England, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”

Sadly, at some period of time -not sure when- something happened that changed Muslims. I am struggling to understand the reason behind this change. I don’t know how many authentic Hadiths are there but there are as many, more or less, Hadiths about Muslim’s relationship with Allah as there are about his relationship with others. Sometime ago, Muslims abandoned the quite many and sufficient Hadiths about ethics, manners, morality, behavior and what not and concentrated more on Muslims’ relationship with Allah.

The same Muslims who know by heart the virtues of fasting on the day of Arafa (Islamic holy day) are the same who speak ill of others. Our relationship with each other is as important as our relationship with Allah. This dual relationship between a slave and his Master and between a slave  and another is one entity.

Here is a recent TED talk about the importance of trust in successful businesses: