Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Westerners / Edition 1

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When Understanding Arabs was first published in 1987, Westerners knew very little about the complex world of Arab culture, where everything seems so unpredictable, but where in fact the deep culture remains remarkably constant. In this revised edition, Dr. Nydell has given particular attention to the larger framework of Arab culture and to each of the nineteen Arab countries, carefully updating and annotating trends and events. This includes sixty new citations chronicling the tremendous changes that have taken place in the last decade. Dr. Nydell is particularly attentive to the rising tide of fundamentalism that has swept Muslim countries; she comments on the great impact it has had in the Arab World, from women’s dress to education to increased wariness of the West and criticism of Western values and behavior. The author has added an addendum addressing the events of September 11, 2001.

Understanding Arabs provides a cross-cultural guide for foreigners who are living in an Arab country, who encounter Arabs frequently in the Arab World or in the West, or who are interested in Arab culture and sensibilities.

In early chapters Dr. Nydell examines the Arab personality in a cultural context that is comprehensible to foreigners yet not stereotypical. She looks at friendship patterns, attitudes toward strangers, hospitality, differences in ways of thinking, the value placed upon the expression of emotion, and relationships between men and women. Later chapters address broad societal structures including social classes, the family, religion, language and communication.

Margaret K. (Omar) Nydell received her Ph.D. in linguistics and her master’s degree in Arabic from Georgetown University. She is an experienced trainer and Arabist who has directed Arabic language training at the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department and the School of Arabic Language and Area Studies in Tunis. Dr. Nydell has also written several books on the Arabic language and lectured extensively on Arab culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Arabs, those who come from North African countries, rather than all Muslims, are the subject of this guide. Nydell (Arabic, Georgetown U., Washington DC), who was a trainer with the foreign service institute in Tunisia, provides helpful descriptions of the culture and mores of Arabic people, characterizing their attitudes and means of expression. The book is full of tips and examples of what to expect in social situations. Extensive appendices and bibliography are included, but there is no index. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780933662650
  • Publisher: Intercultural Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1987
  • Series: The InterAct Ser.
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176

Table of Contents

A Message from the Author ix
Map of the Arab World xvii
Preface xix
Introduction: Patterns of Change 1
Modernization 1
The Effects of Change 6
The Muslim View 9
Fundamentalism (Islamism) 15
Facing the Future 21
1 Beliefs and Values 23
Basic Arab Values 25
Basic Arab Religious Attitudes 25
Basic Arab Self-Perceptions 26
2 Friends and Strangers 29
The Concept of Friendship 29
Reciprocal Favors 30
Introductions 32
Visiting Patterns 33
Business Friendships 35
Office Relations 36
Criticism 37
Intermediaries 39
Private and Public Manners 40
3 Emotion and Logic 43
Objectivity and Subjectivity 43
Fatalism 44
What Is Reality? 45
The Human Dimension 47
Persuasion 48
4 Getting Personal 51
Personal Questions 51
Sensitive Subjects 52
Social Distance 54
Gestures 56
Names 57
5 Men and Women 63
Social Interaction 63
Displaying Intimacy 65
The Status of Women 65
Western Women 68
6 Social Formalities and Etiquette 71
Hospitality 71
Time and Appointments 74
Discussing Business 75
Sharing Meals 76
Smoking 80
Rules of Etiquette 80
7 The Social Structure 85
Social Classes 85
Image and Upper-Class Behavior 86
Dealing with Service People 88
8 The Role of the Family 91
Family Loyalty and Obligations 91
Relations among Family Members 93
Marriage 95
Divorce 96
Child-Rearing Practices 97
Talking about Your Family 100
9 Religion and Society 101
Religious Affiliation 101
Religious Practices 101
The Religion of Islam 103
The Qur'an and the Bible 108
Passages from the Qur'an 111
10 Communicating with Arabs 115
Varieties of Arabic 116
The Superiority of Arabic 117
The Prestige of Classical Arabic 118
Eloquence of Speech 119
Speech Mannerisms 120
The Power of Words 122
Euphemisms 123
The Written Word 124
Proverbs 124
Conclusion 127
Appendix A. Muslims and Arabs in the West 129
Muslims in the United States and Canada 129
Arabs in the United States 131
Muslims in Europe 132
Arabs in Western Europe 135
Image in the West 136
Image in America 136
Image in Europe 140
Islamic Schools 144
Headscarves 144
Appendix B. The Arab Countries: Similarities and Differences 147
Morocco 148
Algeria 151
Tunisia 153
Libya 155
Egypt 157
Sudan 160
Lebanon 162
Syria 164
Jordan 166
Iraq 168
Saudi Arabia 170
Yemen 174
Kuwait 177
The Arabian Gulf States 178
Appendix C. The Arabic Language 185
Colloquial Arabic Dialects 186
Attitudes toward Dialects 188
The Structure of Arabic 188
Arabic Writing 190
Calligraphy as an Art Form 191
Social Greetings 192
Bibliography and References 195
About the Author 217
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