Understanding Arabs: A westerner's guide
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The more traditional will believe that bad times and experiences are a gift from God who only sends these things to strong people for them to be tested. It is very rare to hear the phrase “It is not fair…”
To the Arab a person’s dignity, honour and reputation are of paramount importance and should be protected vehemently. Any damage to these qualities is hugely detrimental to not only the individual but also his extended family and should be avoided at all cost.
Loyalty to one’s family takes precedence over any other responsibilities. It is not considered unusual or inappropriate to cancel any engagements or appointments in order to settle family business. Regular contact is very important, hence the popularity of the mobile phone as an easy and convenient way of communicating in the Middle East. Where large families are no longer living together it is important to keep in touch on an almost daily basis.
Unmarried children will live at home; it is very unusual and much commented on by the older generation for a single child to live away from the family unit. The trend for young married couples to live with the husband’s parents is less usual these days, where alternative housing abounds. However, families get together often and always on Fridays when it will be expected for there to be no interruptions from business colleagues.
Although women are subservient in public, they are not necessarily so at home. The woman will usually be in complete control of household expenditure as well as the welfare and education of the children. Any money she inherits remains her own and she is not expected to contribute to the family pot. Mothers are treated with the utmost respect, to be obeyed at all times. This respect increases with her age. On marriage, the woman does not take her husband’s name, she is proud of her own lineage.
It is believed that age brings wisdom; the elderly will always be brought to the front of the queue and will always be greeted first in a room full of people. The concept of a nursing home for the elderly is an anathema to an Arab. Often an unknown elderly man will be greeted “Haji”, a term of respect, connoting the fact that this person will definitely have been on a Haj pilgrimage at some point in his life. A similarly sincere greeting for a woman would be “Umm” meaning mother.