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Understanding Arabs Paperback – Aug 2002

3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Intercultural Pr; 3rd edition edition (August 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1877864153
  • ISBN-13: 978-1877864155
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 327 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,408,694 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
Since the September event I have spent much time to read in subjects of the Middle East, in an attempt to better understand the issues and people of that region. In that direction I took to the reading of "Understanding Arabs". The title of the book is very demeaning, as it suggests a highhanded approach in the subject. The connotation from the title makes it sound that the Arabs are a group of some animal species and the author is a silent observer writing on the social behavior of this species.
The Arab culture at present is under going immense changes under pressure from within but more from external influence. The Saudi ambassador to the United States made the following observation.
"Foreign imports are nice as shining or high-tech things. But intangible social and political institutions imported from elsewhere can be deadly. Ask the Shah of Iran. A constant problem with so much of the west is the pressure need for short focused solutions and instant gratification, our pace is more for long distance running, for durability. We Saudis want to modernize, but not necessarily westernize. We respect your society even if we disagree on some matters".
What I understood from the book is that Arab culture is complex but not unfathomable or totally exotic. The Arabs are demonstrative, emotional, subjective, hospitable and full of zest for life; while at the same time bound by stringent rules and expectation. Foreigners need not feel obliged to imitate Arabs to be accepted in their society, it is important to be non-judgmental and to avoid actions that are insulting and shocking. Arabs feel that the western society is too liberal. The Arabs have a great deal of pride and are easily hurt, they are sensitive to display of arrogance and to implied criticism. They also resent and disapprove of Western political policies in the Arab world. I felt this book was too generalized and void of depth in the subject. The examples given are not supported.
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Format: Paperback
An American supervisor in Tunisia reprimands a local employee for habitually arriving late for work, and does so in front of the Tunisian�s subordinates. To which the employee replies in anger, �I am from a good family! I know myself and my position in society!� To which, no doubt, most Americans would respond with incredulity: who�s talking about family or social status? But to Nydell, an Arabic language specialist with long experience in the Middle East, there�s no mystery: the Tunisian �felt his honor had been threatened and was not at all concerned with addressing the issue at hand.�
Much in this fine survey of Arab mores will surprise the novice; old hands might find explanations for recognizable but somewhat inscrutable patterns. Some highlights: Doing favors is much more a part of friendship among Arabs than Westerners. A good personal relationship �is the most important single factor in doing business successfully with Arabs.� �To Arabs, honor is more important than facts.� �People are more important than rules.� Good manners are �the most salient factor� in evaluating character. Nydell rightly points out that Westerners resident in Arab countries automatically belong to the upper class, with all the benefits (social prestige) and obligations (good grooming, no manual work in public) that that implies. �Family loyalty and obligations take precedence over loyalty to friends or the demands of a job.� Nothing path-breaking here, but true and useful insights.
Middle East Quarterly, June 1997
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Format: Paperback
This book is two books into one. The first book is essentially how to get along in Arabic countries. The second book is on geopolitics.
When the author writes about Arabic social customs and misunderstanding between Arabs and Westerners, she is more often than not right on the mark. The two populations are obviously very different in their overall behavior and approach to many aspects of life. In a sense it is an extrapolation of the North/South behavioral axis you find in many countries. If you meet a Northern French or Italian, he typically will be more reserved, more serious, and somewhat introverted than his Southern counterpart who will be more joyful, louder, extrovert. The North/South behavioral axis is not so pronounced in the U.S., as it is in many European countries. In any case, take this North/South axis and compound it several times, and you get an idea of the gulf between the typical Western behavior and the Arabic one. The author does an excellent job at explaining the differences between these two cultures. And, the information she imparts on this subject is truly useful for anyone traveling, working, or living in Arabic countries.
When the author shares her opinion about geopolitics, she is on quick sand. Her views on this subject are full of fallacies, contradictions, and errors. The author has no credentials and knowledge to support any of her subjective opinions. After all, her academic background is as an Arabic teacher. She has no academic degree in political science, international economics, demographics, or any other relevant discipline. And, it really shows. Had she stuck to Arabic customs, her book would have been so much better.
There are many authors who will shed much light on the subjects of Arabs, Islam, and their relationship to the Western World. Some of the luminaries in this field include Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Friedman, and Robert Kaplan.
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