The culture in the Arab world is very different from Western culture, but modernity has encroached into the region, so today, there are noticeable differences as well as similarities between Arab generations.
Although travel to the Arab region is not very open, if you have reasons to travel to an Arab state it is vital to know some of the Arab traditions and customs to ensure that you'll enjoy your visit and avoid committing cultural gaffes.
Traditional Arab customs and traditions
Before discussing the similarities and differences between the Arab generations, it is vital to first understand that traditional customs and traditions that Arabs follow.
- It is important to understand that the Islamic faith and the Arab culture are closely intertwined, as Islam is the most dominant religion in the Arab world although other religions are accepted and respected.
- Arabs believe that God controls most of the events that occur in a person's life. They also believe that the person's fate is given by God, thus, the person does not have the power to control most of the events that occur on his or her life. For this reason, affiliation to a religion is vital to everyone in the Arab world.
- Another thing they subscribe to is the belief that children who are still in school should be taught their religion. Arabs believe that that separation between the state and the church is non-existent.
- Despite the existence of different sects in Islam, Sharia or Islamic law is highly important.
- For Arabs, piety is the characteristic they most admire, so it is important for a person (despite his or her religion) should exercise it.
- Most Christian churches, although considered holy sites have easier and friendlier rules for visitors. But this conditions do not apply to Islamic mosques. For the Arabs, their mosques are very holy and require the implementation of strict rules for those who want to visit. So, if you have the chance to enter a mosque, ensure that you do not walk in front of a person who is praying. Taking pictures and videos of people inside the mosque is prohibited. Visitors are required to follow a dress code. They should not try to attempt entering a mosque if they are wearing short pants and short skirts. Women should not enter a mosque if they are wearing a sleeveless dress or a top with short sleeves.
- For the Arabs, faith comes first while family is a close second. Arabs tend to put family obligations and loyalty first before their loyalty and obligations to their job, personal needs or friends. Arab parents regard their children as jewels, however, the male and female, adults and children have distinct and different roles.
- Like many families in Asia, the family structure of the Arabs is tightly knit. It is one of the factors that determine their personal status and their individual achievement and character. The dignity and honor of a person is given by the family.
- In the conduct of their daily life, they do not say No because it's not a polite thing to do. Instead, they say, as God wills it. Even if they say Yes, it can mean Maybe at times.
- For Arabs, it is impolite to refuse a friend's request openly. Likewise, it is important to return a favor in any way you can.
- Keep in mind that building a relationship is critical before you can proceed further, especially when you are trying to form a business partnership with them. Moreover, it is essential to remember that Arabs often perceive things subjectively. Saving face is also vital to them and it is difficult for them to admit that they made a mistake.
- Honor takes precedence over facts and fatalism (based on their religious beliefs) is a usual occurrence. They prefer to believe a person instead of an institution and someone's emotions are connected to a decision's outcome.
- In terms of gestures and greetings, it is common to exchange handshakes when greeting or saying goodbye to someone. It is typical for Arab men to walk hand in hand, grasp elbows or shake their hands longer than usual. However, they only hug friends who are very close to them.
- They distinctly segregate men and women, so social contact with the opposite sex in public is prohibited. While it is all right to look directly at an Arab's eyes during discussions, this gesture should not be used on Arab women. It is accepted to have small talk when meeting an Arab but keep in mind that talking or asking an Arab about the female members of his family is not acceptable.
- Similar to other cultures in Asia, they use their right hand to present and touch gifts. Only the right hand is used for eating. Moreover, it is impolite and improper to point your finger at anyone.
- Speaking of meetings, Arabs prefer a flexible schedule and it will not work for them if you follow a rigid and tight schedule.
- Arabs do not observe personal body space like Westerners and you might find it shocking at first if they sit closer to you during a meeting.
- They consider it their sacred during to be generous, friendly and hospitable to strangers. Do observe decorum when meeting with Arabs, as it is not acceptable for you to sit higher than other people. Likewise, it is not polite to stretch your legs in front of you, lean on walls, put your hands inside your pockets or slouch in your chair when talking with them.
- It is also impolite to talk loudly but do remember that during conversations, double meaning is very common.
- A (fruitful) event is concluded with a meal. Just make sure that you should not eat everything that is on you plate.
Now that you've learned their traditional customs and traditions, we can move on to the similarities and differences between generations of Arabs.
Similarities and differences
Each generation of Arabs is affected by the socioeconomic changes during their time. Just like other generations around the world, each generation becomes slightly distinct as each one develops their own set of priorities, needs and perceptions.
In order to understand the differences (and similarities), it is essential to look at the distinct age groups. Those Arabs who are between the ages of 49 to 65 belong to the Arab National Generation. In the middle or the Arab Regional Generation are people who are in between the ages of 36 and 48. The people who are aged 15 to 35 are from the Arab Digital Generation.
It is better to define each group to understand where they stand and what they experienced, which shaped their perceptions and way of thinking.
The Arab National Generation was born when the Pan Arabism was on the rise. The idea is about a united Arab country that is linked together by a common historical, cultural and linguistic heritage. The governments of the Arab states are considered the main instigators of the economy.
The Arab Regional Generation was those people who were born when wealth from oil was expanding to other countries. Wealth was distributed in the Arab world and groups started to establish economic blocs within their regions.
The Arab Digital Generation is the younger Arabs who were born at the time when globalization and digital technology were affecting the different facets of society.
All the three groups still consider their customs and traditions, therefore dignity, generosity and hospitality are still important elements when it comes to core values.
Maintaining hospitality and generosity is on the decline as the digital generation is finding it difficult to be employed. Right not they are suffering from the high cost of living while the economic opportunities in their own land are slowly reduced. Due to political unrest in many parts of the region, the youngest generation of Arabs is more concerned with other pressing issues instead of focusing on generosity and hospitality. Their limited opportunities lead to many of them to live with their parents.
However, all three groups similarly think that individuality is not part of their generation, most likely due to their focus on community and family rather that individuals. But as always, there is an exception to the rule as a small percentage of the Arab digital generation is showing their individuality through civic engagement and newer forms of expressing themselves. This is a direct effect of the changes in society, especially in education, which has shifted from the standardized learning of the national and regional generations to more child-centered and individualized education of the digital generation.
The national and regional generations are focused on achievement while the digital generation is more concerned with extravagance and adventure.
The national and regional generations still cling to the belief that their own country is a leader in the region. It's a belief that the digital generation does not share. All three generations agree that their own country has issues with unemployment and lack of transparency. They all cited that the quality of education in the region is poor. Infrastructure is lacking and healthcare is insufficient.
According to education, the national generation is satisfied with their education, while the regional generation is less satisfied. Least satisfied is the digital generation.
Work is an issue among the three generations. The national and regional generations grew up with family businesses, which are now being handed down to the digital generation. The problem is the different vision and work styles of the youngest generation that lead to issues with collaboration and productivity.
The older generations are thought to lack communication skills. They are slow workers. The two older generations think that the digital generation is impatient and stubborn. On the positive side, the digital generation is flexible, takes the initiative and innovative. The older generations are appreciative, willing to teach, respectful and lead by example. They are also perceived as very punctual.
These are some of the similarities and differences that are seen between Arab generations. Each generation has its strengths and weakness and harnessing and converting them will help create a better socioeconomic mix in the region.
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