Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Westerners (The Interact Series)

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By Margaret K. Nydell
Publisher: Intercultural Press
Number Of Pages: 174
Publication Date: 1996-08
ISBN-10 / ASIN: 1877864463

Description: This guide is designed for Westerners planning to visit, live or work in the Maghreb and the Middle East. The author has great experience of Arab culture and describes the patterns of change that have influenced the Arab world in recent times. She also analyzes basic Arab values religious beliefs and self-perceptions.

The opening chapters of the book examine the Arab personality in a cultural context that is comprehensible to non-Arabs, yet not stereotypical. The author examines friendship patterns, attitudes towards strangers, hospitality, differences in ways of thinking, the value placed upon the expression of emotion, and relationships between men and women. Later chapters deal with broad societal structures, including social classes, the family, religion, language and communication.

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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