Archive for the ‘Frankophone Countries’ Category

The REAL Reason Arab Men and Boys Are Still Treated as Pashas by Women

December 5, 2012

Man Washing Dishes

“Kitchen! Kitchen!”  Most North African boys still make fun of each other by saying this, which means, “Sissy!” (For my foreign readers, this means, “You’re acting like a girl!”)

North African mothers still raise their daughters to do all the housework, and boys are not expected to help at all.  (The only exception is in some families where there are no girls, and the boys have learned to help.)

The first generation of educated, North African women are out in the labor force.  But are the attitudes of men changing?  Not yet.  Working women are still expected to work full time AND do ALL of the child care AND take care of ALL the housework.  In general, men are expected to work, and spend all of the rest of their time relaxing.  They still expect to come home and find “everything done and waiting for them.”  (A very few modern husbands do help out doing dishes or cooking, or with general housework.  But they don’t tell their friends!  Some even make sure the curtains are closed so no neighbors see them helping out, either.)

closed curtains

As one young dual-citizen North African-American girl told me, “In North American culture, MEN take care of WOMEN.  In Arab culture, WOMEN are expected to take care of MEN.”   This accounts for the shocking experience of American women who marry Arab men, only to find they are expected to take care of the man as if they were his MOTHER!  Many intercultural couples have hit the divorce courts over this exact issue, as many of these men are unable to adapt, even when living in America.

Will this change, in Arab countries, within a generation, as the second generation of women hits the workforce in 25 years?  I don’t think so.  Here’s why not.  This is my own theory, but when I discussed it with several local North African women, they all agreed with me.

Islamic inheritance laws give double to boys as they do to girls.  The reason for this is that men are supposed to be financially responsible for women under their care, in THEORY.  If a man is decent, he will do it.  (But just as everywhere, many men are irresponsible, or not decent.)  In practice, many women are never able to claim their inheritance rights, particularly in places like mountain villages.  (Crawford, 2008)

The essential point is this.  Every woman knows that she is under a man’s thumb, or will be in the future.  Girls are under their father’s control.  Wives are still under their husband’s control in most Arab countries (such as needing the husband’s permission to get or renew a passport, even for a foreign wife, such as in Egypt).  When women become widows, they are not free, but instead under the control of their sons, and at the mercy of their sons!  Love aside, THIS is the TRUE reason why mothers spoil their sons so extremely.  That son is eventually going to have power over them, and be responsible for supporting them in old age, so of course they need that to be a very strong emotional relationship.  But it accounts for why they young boys are treated as pashas (the amount varying by specific country, but in all countries when in comparison with the West, where boys and girls are treated equally).

When I asked several North African women, that what if inheritance (and divorce) laws were changed and made totally equal between men and women, do they think women would continue to treat men and boys as pashas?  Each of the women I asked answered me by saying, “What you say is true, of course they would not.”

However, since those inheritance laws are laid out in the Koran, I don’t see any changes on the horizon!

–Lynne Diligent

“Know Your Enemy”

October 19, 2012

“Those Peace Corps workers are spies in our country!”

As an American living in the Middle East for twenty years, I am amazed each time I hear this.  Whenever I ask, “Why would you think that?”  I never receive a clear, satisfactory, or understandable answer–but now,  I finally have.

A North African friend explained to me that the saying, “Know your enemy!” is extremely popular throughout Arab culture in the Middle East. He said that most ordinary citizens in the street view the American government as an enemy, (regardless of whether their own governments are allies with the United States).  This is both because of America’s seeming “unconditional” support for Israel, and because the United States has been involved in wars in the Middle East, or in seeming support of previous dictators in the region.

Therefore, when  Peace Corps volunteers come to the Middle East, people wonder, “Why would anyone leave their own rich countries, in order to come and live in a very poor lifestyle, among us, saying they want to help us?”

Many Middle Easterners, especially those who are poor and living in rural areas,  just don’t understand the idea of volunteer work. (1)  (They are judging foreigners by their own standards, since they would not go to help others who were not part of their own family/religious group, or from whom they did not “want” something in return–such as information, or a natural resource.)  They just don’t trust anyone; in general, Middle Eastern societies are low in trust of others.  Their recent experience of colonialism increases their distrust.

When I point out, “What possible interest would the American government have in the life of your little mountain village?”  I usually get vague and confusing answers that make no sense to me (being a Westerner).  But now I have received an understandable answer.  My local friend told me, ” They think America is studying every aspect of how they live and think in order to better know their enemy.”

What a sad case of two ships passing in the night, in terms of cultural misunderstanding!

Just to set the record straight, Peace Corps workers are NOT spies, never have been, and never will be.  While they have apparently been ASKED on a couple of occasions (Bolivia and Cuba), read the link to see that they refused, and that this is NOT government policy.  However, when I pointed this out to my friend, she asked me, “OK, these volunteers refused to spy, but how on earth would we be sure EVERY Peace Corps volunteer would refuse to spy?”  At least now, I understand where they are coming from.

–Lynne Diligent

(1)  06-EuroMedJeunesse-Etude_MOROCCO.pdf  (p. 7, 8, 17, 23)

Different Interpretations of Rude Behavior–Intercultural Miscommunication!

June 14, 2012

(Google photo)

Some parents in our upper-middle-class Middle-Eastern school come in to see teachers and make demands such as, “I want my child moved up to the front row today, and I want him to stay right there for the entire school year!”  When a teacher tries to explain that they have to consider and balance the needs of all the children in the classroom, these parents sometimes reply,  “YOU don’t tell OUR children what to do; we tell YOU what to do, because WE pay your salary by bringing our children to your school!”  How does a teacher even respond to a parent with ideas like this?

As a foreign teacher, each time I had a strange encounter like this with a  haughty and disdainful parent, I wondered about this strange behavior toward teachers and administrative staff.  Whenever one of these encounters took place, I would ask my Middle Eastern assistant why these parents would behave this way.  I was always told, “They behave that way because they are rich.”  It still wasn’t clear to me what being rich would have to do with rude and imperious behavior.  So when I asked how the two things were linked, I always got the response, “They think they can behave that way because they have money.”  This didn’t clarify matters, either.  It was especially not clear since I knew plenty of other people who had even more money and did not behave in that sort of manner at all.

Aisha Gaddafi Libya

Typical “look” of the type of parent who “talks down” to teachers in the Middle East.

I understood my assistant’s words, but still did not understand the behavior, or what his words actually meant.  Ten years later, I believe I now understand–it’s not really about money, but about status.  In every country, many people try to follow and copy what they perceive the rich people doing.

Coco Chanel

For example, let us look briefly at the fashion of suntanning, in Europe and the United States.  In the 1800s, women used to stay out of the sun and even carry a parasol to keep the sun from falling on their skin.  Prior to 1900, those with tanned skin were presumed to be low-class common laborers.  In the 1920s, this perception began to change.

Coco Chanel

When Coco Channel returned from the French Riviera with a suntan, having a suntan (particularly in winter) became associated with having the time and money to vacation in warm places.  By the 1940s, sunbathing and suntans were popular everywhere.

In the Western United States in the 1960s and 1970s, students took great care while skiing to never use suntan cream (in order to purposely come back from skiing with a tan or a sunburn), and to leave the ski-lift tickets attached to one’s jacket all season.   Both of these actions raised one’s status, showing that he or she was someone able to afford to go skiing (an expensive sport).  From the 1960s onward (the age of jet travel) a suntan in winter demonstrated that one was part of the leisure class, able to afford to jet off to a warm destination in winter.

Other countries have other ways of indicating that one is a member of the wealthy, or leisure class.   In some Middle Eastern countries (such as Syria, among others), there is a special system which confers the ultimate status.  The most important people carry special cards in their wallets which place them above the powers of law enforcement officials.  Only members of the most important families are able to obtain this card, and so, are free to act without any repercussions.

Joan Collins playing the haughty and domineering Alexis Carrington on Dynasty.

Therefore, some people in the Middle East (especially the newly rich) perceive that what it means to “act like an upper-class person” is to act very haughty and imperious, as though you can order other people around, and no one can say anything to do no matter how rudely you act, or what acts you commit.   This is what I believe was happening in my school. My conclusion at present is that the parents who behaved in an imperious manner were mostly not well-educated or well-brought up, yet had the fortune through business or inheritance, to come into money.  Buy behaving this way, they are essentially trying to announce to others, “Look!  We are important people, and we are more important than you (the teachers and school employees)!”  So this behavior, in their mind, is a way for them to gain status and prestige, as well as to flaunt it to others.  As a foreign teacher, it seems to me to be greatly lowering their prestige, but people in my local country seem to understand that, “Since they are rich, they feel entitled to act that way.”

This system even affects the behavior of children in school.  Children in our school are often rude to their teachers, and completely uncooperative with regard to class rules (continual talking while the teacher is teaching;  not staying in their chairs; refusing to line up or walk quietly in a line; talking loudly, rather than whispering).  Every new idea works for just a day or two, and then it’s right back to the old behavior.

After teaching in the Middle East for twenty years, I now believe that the reason children are uncooperative is because being cooperative shows that you and your family must have low status.  High-status children behave as they wish, because to do so shows the other children that they come from an “important” family and are “above” having to follow the teacher’s rules.

–Lynne Diligent

What We Can Learn About Africa and the Middle East Today from the Colonialization Experience of Canadian Aboriginals

December 12, 2011

Taiaiake Alfred, the world’s foremost expert on the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples, speaks about the ongoing anger felt by people who have been victims of colonization.  Listening to Taiaiake speak on the today’s ongoing colonialist experience of Aboriginals (formerly called Inuits) in Canada,  I found his points relevant to what is happening today in the Middle East and Africa.

As a Westerner arriving in the Middle East  some years ago, I was shocked to find Middle Easterners and North Africans describing the Iraq Wars in two ways–as Americans leading a new Christian Crusade against Muslims, and Americans as neo-colonialists out to “steal” Iraq’s oil.  “Why else would a country do these things?” I was told, when I tried to argue with people.

North African and Middle Eastern people are still focused on the Crusades as a recent memory (in the way that Westerners focus on the two World Wars as a recent memory) because  of their very recent memory of colonization.  Recent colonialist experience colors the judgement of a people about everything in life.  This altered mentality creates a way of thinking where they feel that no one ever acts altruistically, that no one (nor any country) ever does something unless they will be able to “benefit” from it personally.

The reason it’s difficult for Americans to understand this colonialist mentality is because our own colonialist experience happened so long ago, and anyone with living memory of it died more than 100 years ago.  I would posit that for a society to rid oneself of the colonialist experience and mentality takes at least 150 years.  If we could go back and look at American society , post-1776, I think we would see lingering attitudes from the Colonialist experience up all the way until World War I.  Those born in 1770, some of whom presumably lived until about 1860, would have told their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren about their memories of the colonialist experience.  Those grandchildren born in 1830-1850 would have lived until the early 1900s.   I would say that sometime between 1900 and WWI, those old attitudes would have been overcome by other events, and forgotten.

So, how does this extrapolate to Africa and the Middle East today?  In my experience, people in the Middle East and Africa seem to have a love-hate relationship with their former colonial power.

by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter

A love-hate relationship often exists between the colonizers and the colonized.  (Painting by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter 1830s to 1860s)

In fact, parts of North Africa were united under nationalist governments for the first time in the 1950s. Prior to this time, these areas existed under feudal warlords.

Viewing the independence dates of African countries in the map below, and adding 150 years, shows us that it will take until at least 2100-2130 before Africa is able to begin to shake off its colonialist heritage and the lingering negative effects of the colonialization experience.

Decolonization Dates / Indedpendence Dates of African Countries

Decolonization Dates / Independence Dates of African Countries

A recent colonialist experience creates an anger among a people over their own native culture having been repressed, that no amount of material “goodwill” can ever assuage.  In the Middle East and Africa (without mentioning specific examples) there are instances of lands and people being absorbed into a national culture of which those people consider to be a foreign power; these national governments have spent a great deal of money on improving the infrastructure of the absorbed areas–highways, schools, telecommunications,  transportation, and modernization–without obtaining any loyalty from the part of the local populations.

New Highways Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

Why not?  Because these materialist “offerings” do nothing  to address the real problem of “forced” assimilation.  Native peoples remain alienated.

New Empty Towns Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

No doubt this process of forced assimilation and alienation has taken place all over the world, throughout history.  But it is not an easy process to recover from, and the effects linger in each locality for up to 200 years afterward.  During the North African Spring we have heard much talk of the different tribal areas in Libya, and the problems of forced assimilation during the Gaddafi regime which are now bubbling to the surface. In the past decade we heard of Kurdish problems in Iraq and Turkey.  Sometimes we hear of problems with groups in the Sahara.  Elsewhere, China has built new infrastructure in Tibet.

New Road Built by the Chinese in Tibet

According to Taiaiake Alfred, colonized peoples–such as the Aboriginals (formerly called Inuit) and other native peoples of North America–especially believe in treaties, because treaties show respect between two peoples, or two nations.  National governments of various societies, on the other hand, believe in integration and assimilation based on social justice principles. The main agenda of national governments is to make formerly colonized peoples into fully-functioning members of society through providing language, education, and job opportunities; however, they show a lack of respect to native peoples by trying to assimilate them.  Education is used everywhere as an assimilation tool.  “Native peoples living independently is also a threat to national governments because if they live independently, they control more land.  This makes less land available for mining claims, for other citizens,” Taiaiake says.

Modern Inuits in Canada Dealing with Effects of Colonialization

Native leaders who try to work within the national system to obtain more benefits such as land claims and self-government for native peoples are usually viewed as illegitimate leaders by the grassroots population.

Colonized peoples don’t want to be part of an integrative relationship.  Their vision is different.  their problems are not money problems, or problems of jurisdiction.  They are angry about losing their culture and their different way of life.  This creates a permanent state of alienation.  No matter how many material goods are given, these make no difference, because those material goods never address the source of the problem, the psychological anger.

Furthermore, as these new material things become the norm, the material standard rises ever further.  This process prevents getting to the root of the problem–this psychological anger–the pain in the community which comes from losing one’s culture.  This causes a permanent state of alienation coming from not having their culture, their values, reflected in the value system of the overall society.   This is why there are so many social and psychological problems in the communities which are not being addressed.

In Canada, people wonder why, when the government injects 7. million dollars to relocate a complete band of 700 Inuits to a new location, giving them new housing and other material goods, why the same problems of alcoholism, suicide, depression, and despair emerge again.

Morgan Fawcett, an Aboriginal (Inuit) victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, has dedicated his life to making sure women think before they drink

“It didn’t work because it’s putting the car before the horse,” says Taiaiake.  “These people aren’t ready to participate in this government because it’s not a form of government which is reflective of their culture, and their values.  It is essentially an imposed form of government.   More importantly, the problem of deculturalization of these people has not been fixed.”

Taiaiake says, “When Africa was decolonized, you have societies left that reflect all the worst aspects of the colonizers in the way power is used, in the way that corruption has infused the society.”

Canada’s indigenous people suffer from a post-colonialist mentality, according to Taiaiake.  “Native peoples have been illegally dispossessed of their land and treaties have not been honored.  We have to address those things before we can have reconciliation.”

“There is always a connection between the means and the ends,” Taiaiake says.  “If you want to have a peaceful co-existence with your neighbor, you can’t use violence.”

The true reclaiming of what it means to be an indigenous person is spiritual.  This means one must return to the essence of being a true warrior, in the sense of “they carry the burden (of their heritage).”  It is about having strength and integrity inside yourself to be an authentic person, carrying yourself with a sense of justice and rightness.

“Colonialized peoples need to recreate themselves as people who are spiritually-grounded and strong, in order to withstand all those forces of assimilation and recreate the something new out of the best values of the indigenous culture.  The most impressive thing that Ghandi did was to take a stand against both  imperialism and traditionalism, and insist that people needed to create something new out of both appropriate to today.  This is really the solution.”

Meanwhile, what can be done about growing problems among youth?  There are increasing levels of drug use, violence, and family violence.  Smoking is increasing, gun and gang culture are emerging in Canada.  What about indigenous people in the urban centers?

“We need to create relationships between those people and the home communities.  However, many of those home communities themselves are problematic.”

More indigenous people in Canada are going to university and becoming doctors and lawyers.  Taiaiaka’s view is that each day of his life, no matter what job or education level an indigenous person receives, he can make the choice to support either the vision of indigenous people, or the vision of the colonizer.  Taiaiaka hopes to inspire the next generation of indigenous leaders to regenerate the culture in a political and legal manner, to force Canada into a reconciliation with reality.  He envisions a social and political agenda in Canada like the Black Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  The goal is to recover the stolen sense of what it means to be an indigenous person living the authentic life of our ancestors.

For all recently decolonized peoples, the way forward is to find a middle road which is neither the vision of the colonizer, nor a reactionary vision against the colonizer.  Decolonized peoples must take what is useful from the colonizer and combine it with a spiritual vision from their own culture to find a new way forward in the modern world–to be part of the modern world, while not “of” the colonizers’ world.

With regard to national cultures which are trying to assimilate native cultures through the use of education and materialistic recompense, I feel this strategy is far preferable to the ethnic cleansing which is happening in so many parts of the world (which is what happens when assimilation efforts fail).  While I can understand the pain of native peoples,  I think adapting to the dominant culture is probably the best middle course of action for all.

–Lynne Diligent

Will Only the Rich and the Poor Have Children in the Future?

November 18, 2011

In the 1950’s and prior times, it was normal for 98% of married couples to have children.  Even though types of birth control existed, childless couples were relatively rare.  Those who were childless by choice were considered somewhat eccentric.

Today in  the United States many people are foregoing having children not merely as a lifestyle choice, but because they cannot both have children and remain in the middle class.  This trend is now increasing dramatically.  Not having children is a deliberate choice now used by many as a way to try to stay in the middle class.

As Elizabeth Warren writes in The Two-Income Trap:

“Our research eventually unearthed one stunning fact. The families in the worst financial trouble are not the usual suspects. They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home. Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse…And the lines at the bankruptcy courts are not the only signs of financial distress. A family with children is now 75 percent more likely to be late on credit card payments than a family with no children. The number of car repossessions has doubled in just five years. Home foreclosures have more than tripled in less than 25 years, and families with children are now more likely than anyone else to lose the roof over their heads.”

Having children in the United States is becoming more and more about economics, and less about life values.  Many people who cannot afford to raise their children at a minimal middle-class level are choosing not to have children at all, while others are choosing to have only one child–not necessarily by choice, but because doing so would condemn them to a life of perpetual poverty.

Compare this with life in some other countries.  Many other countries provide at least some kind of logistical help, financial support, or other help for couples with children because everyone in those societies agrees that children ARE important.

In France, for mothers who choose to return to work quickly, day care for ALL children who are younger than school age is completely paid for by the state, so that mothers don’t have a problem.  Fathers are given a paid leave of several years (equivalent to a full working salary)  if they choose to stay home and take care of their child.

The situation in the United States is very different.  There is usually NO ONE to help parents take care of their children, and no financial or state assistance of any kind for the new parents.  In the United States, mothers may have up to three months of UNPAID maternity leave.  Because it is unpaid, many mothers return to work after only two or three weeks, because it is all they can afford, and because they are afraid of losing their jobs, or of permanently hurting their chances for advancement if they inconvenience their employers by taking a full three months.  Few fathers would dare ask for paternity leave (also unpaid).  To do so brands a man forever as someone not serious about his career, and as someone never to be promoted.

Many countries, even third-world countries, pay a monthly allowance to families with children (regardless of family income).  Even in third-world countries, support and aid is given to ALL parents who have children because those societies believe that children are an important part of EVERYONE’s lives.  Those societies tend to be in-group societies, where people have very close relations and obligations between family members, and where children are considered necessary in order to take care of parents, or where children have legal and filial obligations toward parents and brothers and sisters, and toward their other family members (such as in the Muslim world, where male members of families are considered somewhat responsible for taking care of female members of families).

Morocco, for example, pays all parents with children a monthly subsidy for EACH child of  200 DH ($23) a month.  This subsidy goes to wealthy parents as well as to poor parents.  While this money makes little difference for wealthy parents,  for poor parents, it can go a long way toward feeding their child (many very poor  families are subsisting on a diet of bread and tea) or even toward buying school supplies.  (Morocco also subsidizes all the staple food items consumed by the poor such as flour, tea, sugar, and oil; although families of all income levels benefit from the subsides.)

The United States is not an in-group society.  People with children are not given any financial assistance from the state. If people choose to have children and later fall upon bad economic times, or have bad luck, or can’t live at a middle-class level, no one is sympathetic to their plight.  Most people now just say, “No one told them to have children.  They made their own bed (by doing so), and now they can  lie in it.”

A formerly middle-class family with bad luck, now begging on the street.

An unexpected effect of the birth control revolution of the 1960’s seems to be that in today’s world, especially in the United States, it is becoming increasingly the case that many in the middle class can no longer afford to have two (or more) children.  An increasing number of families are opting for just one child, or are remaining childless.  In fact, it is through limiting or foregoing children entirely that many couples  are remaining in the middle class at all.

As Elizabeth Warren writes, in The Two-Income Trap:

“The families in the worst financial trouble are not the usual suspects. They are not the very young, tempted by the freedom of their first credit cards. They are not the elderly, trapped by failing bodies and declining savings accounts. And they are not a random assortment of Americans who lack the self-control to keep their spending in check. Rather, the people who consistently rank in the worst financial trouble are united by one surprising characteristic. They are parents with children at home. Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.”

Birth rates in younger groups of women have fallen to all-time lows, whereas birth rates (with assistive technology) in women over 40 (who have enough career and financial success to afford it) have risen to all-time highs (for that age group).

Some of the very poor are continuing to have children in the United States, at higher rates than many in the middle class, for several reasons.  One reason is that some of them cannot afford birth control.  Another reason is that married or not, among the poor, there is a higher incidence of domestic violence and oppression of women with higher incidences of forced sex without condoms or other birth-control protection.

I feel that what is happening is birth rates (among couples in their 20’s and 30’s) have declined dramatically among the middle class in the United States, for economic reasons, and that this trend is continuing to accelerate.  People in other countries are shocked that the United States does not give any financial, logistical, or moral support to couples with children.  Meanwhile, most in America feel such policies should not be in place, that having children is an entirely personal decision, and the responsibility for the children belongs entirely to the parents.

–Lynne Diligent

“GOOD NIGHT, MADAM!” Was the Shocking Greeting I Received….

November 17, 2011

When connecting for the first time with a  foreign female English speaker on Facebook, GOOD NIGHT, MADAM!  was the momentarily shocking first greeting I received.  I soon realized she didn’t speak English very well and thought she was being polite.

After speaking with her for some time, I suggested a better greeting the next time she spoke with a native English speaker would be something like, “Hello, how are you?”  I explained that, in English, “good night” actually means “goodbye” and that a “madam” is a woman who runs a house of prostitution.  I explained that I understood these were not her meanings, but suggested other greetings, nevertheless.

Madam Dee Flowers

She was quite surprised at this information.  She asked me if “madam” in English is not the same as “madame” in French.  Since she’s from a French-speaking country, women one does not know are always addressed the the single word “Madame…” as a form of politeness.  She mentioned some very old-fashioned English novels (from mid-1800’s) which also seemed to use this form of address.  I explained that those novels were just about  the only place you might find that form of address used these days.

She said she’d never heard the other meaning of the word “madam.”  I asked if she’s had an instructor who taught them to say that in English.  She said no, that it was her own idea of what she might say to be polite.

She asked me if “madam” was not correct if there was a word she should use instead.  I explained that we don’t usually use a word to replace madam, except when we actually know the person’s name, in which case we might add “Miss Green” or “Mrs. Green,” for example.  She was surprised and thought that every language must use such a word to address anyone as a form of politeness.  I did say that in the American South, they sometimes use “ma’am,” which is an abbreviated form of the old-fashioned word “madam,”  but that it is mostly a regional usage.

This is a perfect example of how someone from one culture can go out of their way to be polite, yet achieve disastrous results.  Someone else might have taken immediate offense and not taken the time to think about the speaker’s intention.

–Lynne Diligent

Reflections on Poverty in Saudi Arabia

October 23, 2011

American Bedu wrote about a video-blogger-journalist who was arrested in Saudi Arabia for this short, but extremely well-done documentary on poverty in Saudi Arabia.  I especially liked that the journalist tried to offer some positive suggestions for help to the poor at the end.  The reason he was arrested was for violating the Arab cultural norm of never speaking out in public regarding in one’s own country (or any other Arab country); speaking out publicly is considered more shameful than letting a shameful situation continue.

However, in this video, I was somewhat surprised by a couple of things.

First, having lived in the Middle East for the past twenty years, the level of poverty shown in this video is not nearly as bad as what is current in some other parts of the Middle East. The people shown in this video as living in extreme poverty in Saudi Arabia are living at the same level as much of North Africa’s lower middle classes today (excepting Libya), for example.  For example, I noticed all these homes had TVs and hot water, as well as refrigerators, even if they are in bad condition.   (The poor in other places have none of these things.)  The kids in the poor neighborhood were all dressed in the latest sport shirts.

Clearly, what makes people feel poor is not how their life is compared to poor people in other countries, but how their life compares to those around them in the same society. The wealthy in Saudi are living at such a high level compared to other countries, that even their poor are living at a high level (when compared to some other Arab countries).

The second thing which struck me about this video was the attitude about what should be done about these problems. Unlike in America, there was no talk of any personal responsibility. One man shown in the video explained that he was married to two women, and that the first one had six children, while the second one had five children.  Whatever is a poor man like this doing with two wives and eleven children? If he had one wife and even two children, he would not be poor with what he stated his income was in this video.  Furthermore, each person interviewed in the video just asked for the government to “give” them a house. It seems to be the norm in that society to just ask others to give people what they don’t have, rather than taking any personal responsibility for one’s life, and planning accordingly.

Saudi Journalist-Blogger Feras Boqnah, Arrested for Documentary on the Poor

Saudi Journalist-Blogger Feras Boqnah, Arrested for Documentary on the Poor

Oddly (to a Westerner) the journalist never suggests anything about working harder, or looking for better paying jobs, or improving one’s skills, or even being responsible about how many wives a man chooses to marry, or how many children he chooses to have.  At the end of the video, the journalist makes suggestions that charities be especially organized to regularly assist poor people with their lives in all the poor areas.  It’s clear that ideas of personal responsibility don’t even occur to the interviewer, indicating that what these people are asking for seems “normal” for Saudi Arabian society. It’s just an interesting contrast with the values and ideas of the Western world. Many people in Saudi Arabia and much of the Middle East assume that they are not at all personally responsible for how their lives turn out; they view themselves as victims of fate and circumstance and God’s will, or as victims of “bad luck.”

In America, by contrast, people are seen as being about 90% responsible for their own fate. Perhaps this is too much. But in Saudi, where people seem to believe that they have no personal responsibility for their fate, this is too little. People should make an effort to “help themselves” and not just wait only for charity from the government, or from others.

–Lynne Diligent

Why These People Will Never Be Hired By an American Company

October 1, 2011

Would YOU hire any of these foreign applicants? Each of the following practically SCREAMS “I want a job but I am completely incompetent in the language–“Don’t hire me, or this is how I would communicate with your clients in English….”  None of these applicants seems to realize that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS.

These examples (names changed) come from a job board in Morocco, from people looking for jobs with  American companies:

1. “I’m a student at Ben Messik University in casablanca. i got my DEUG in English literature and i’m intrested in having a job with you.”

American Employer Reaction: Casablanca is not even captitalized, interested is misspelled, and no American company would have a clue what DEUG means. “i” is not capitalized in two places.

2. “iam 23/m iam looking for any chance to work in usa in any think i have a experionce and i speak english not bad”

American Employer Reaction:  This person clearly doesn’t know that a sentence must be started with a capital letter and finish with a period. “iam” is not even a word. The country is not even written correctly. It must be all in capitals with periods following each letter, and preceded by “the,” as in “the U.S.A.” The word “i” must NEVER be written in lower case. Experience is misspelled. English is missing a capital letter. It is a run-on sentence instead of two clear sentences.

3. “Hello; my name is mohamed saddiki, i work for the Marriott Company in Myrtle Beach South carolina as a Laundry Assistant Director. I would like o have a job with one of the American companies or Agencies in Morocco. Thanks.”

American Employer Reaction:  This person lives in America, yet hasn’t even learned that his own name needs to have capital letters! Carolina is missing a capital letter and to is misspelled as o. Agencies should not be capitalized. YES, even a laundry director is expected to know these things in an American company.

4. “my name is hicham, american citizen (probably a dual-citizen) looking for job with one of the american companies in rabat, morocco”

American Employer ReactionDid not start sentence with a capital letter, doesn’t even know to capitalize his own name, or the word American, nor the words Rabat and Morocco. Does not put a period at the end of the sentence.


5. Hi, Im mehdi bouaziz I study english at cady ayyad college and I wish to work in english copanies or hotels

American Employer ReactionI’m is lacking an apostrophe.  This person doesn’t even know that his name should be capitalized.  The words Cady, Ayyad, College and English all need to be capitalized.  Companies is misspelled.  There is no period at the end of the sentence.

6. “Hello, first to start this off, I am american living in the USA, and looking to make my life in Morocco. I am fluent in english, spanish. I can speak, read and write a bit of french as well. I am very motivated, hard worker, flexable, and i will make a full commitment to the company that will hire me. I currently working for a academy out of maryland as an account manager which i have been here over 3 years. At the current moment i am working on my B.S. degree in accounting. my past and current experiences has been, account manager, payroll manager, bookkeeper and regional sales. i have plus over 10 years in accounting field. and looking for a position in morocco prefer casablanca, rabat or setat.in a american company or moroccan company, but i dont speak moroccan yet. in god willing i hope that i can. you can reach me at sweetlove2792@yahoo.com only if you think that you make me an offer. please only serious commitments i am not here to play around. i travel two times in a year to casablanca morocco, so if there is a need to meet that would not be an issue. salaam”

American Manager Reaction:  Even if this person is born in America (even worse), they clearly didn’t learn much in school.  Lack of nearly all necessary captials. English, Spanish, Maryland, Morocco (2x), Casablanca (2x), Rabat, Setat, American, Moroccan (2x),  God,  and Salaam are not captialized.  First words of sentences are not capitalized.  The word “i” is never captialized, as it must always be.  USA is not written correctly with periods between the letters.  Says “a” instead of “an” academy, and “a american company” instead of an American company. Leaves words out of the middle of sentences.  Doesn’t leave spaces after periods at the ends of sentences.  Don’t is missing the apostrophe.  Has 10-15 years of work experience in the U.S., yet cannot write at the standard expected of an 8-year-old child in America (using correct capital letters).  Has an extremely inappropriate email address, which alone would preclude her from being contacted.  This person claims to be serious, but who would ever believe she is serious with a post like this? Who, from an American company in Morocco, would EVER call this person? NO ONE.

7.  iam pleased to write this words to directors of american companies and agencies in morocco to ask for job that requires the english skills;in communication or in writing. i would to inform you that i am 23 years old, i obtained my university diploma(licence) in english department in the hassanII university in casablanca in 2008, as well i can speak and write frensh and arabic.Besides this, i have some computer-using abilities such as microsoft words, excel, powerpoint, and navigating in the internet. Concerning my professionnal experiences, i had an important experience in an anglophone callcentre in casablanca in august 2006, and at the present time, i am working as a cashier in the shop of petrolium stationin casablanca as temporary job. Finally, i will be so delighted to receive an ansewer from you as soon as possible.

American Employer Reaction:  There are just as many, and similar-type errors in this paragraph as in Example Six above.   Run-on sentences, spelling errors, no attention to capitals of any type, several words run together without spaces.  NO ONE would consider calling this person, either.

When applying for an international job, in ANY language, it’s the DETAILS which make ALL the difference.  While the examples in this post apply to English-language applicants, the same principles no doubt hold true for any language in which the applicant is not a native speaker.

Applicants are ignorant of what is required, and many teachers are equally ignorant in terms of not emphasizing these skills with their students.  Even supposing any companies happened upon this website, does ANYONE seriously think that ANY of the above people have the REMOTEST chance of being contacted???

My TWO important points in this post:

1.  Foreign teachers of English need to start paying attention to these details of capitalization, punctuation, and spelling, and to  MARKING THEIR STUDENTS OFF FOR EACH AND EVERY TIME A STUDENT MAKES THESE PUNCTUATION OR CAPITALIZATION MISTAKES. This is what we, as native-language teachers, do with American or British children, from the time they are seven years old. When you first teach the spelling of a proper noun, if they write the spelling correctly, but don’t capitalize it, then it is MARKED WRONG (even if the actual spelling is correct). Every time “i” or the first letter of a sentence is not capitalized, it is -1. Every time a period is forgotten, it’s -1. When they get two or three papers back with a big fat ZERO score, they start to pay attention QUICKLY.  Furthermore, after the teacher makes these corrections, each student needs to REWRITE their sentences or essays with all the required punctuation, and DO IT CORRECTLY, as well as to understand the WHY of each correction.  I would say that foreign teachers do not realize that capitalization and punctuation is JUST AS IMPORTANT as correct grammar.  (And yes, it IS normal for American and British teachers to spend MANY hours of their OWN time outside of class correcting these papers.)

I’m sure there are foreign teachers out there paying attention to these things.  But my experience in North Africa these past 20 years has shown me that many teachers in this part of the world give little importance to these issues.  I have been continually amazed by many of those I know with university degrees in English who tell me, “I don’t pay any attention to punctuation or capital letters.”  But when I ask further, most of these people tell me that their high school instructors and university instructors didn’t pay attention to any of these details, either.

As an example, in past years, my own daughter (a dual-citizen, and a native speaker of English who was in a North African school with a daily English class) came home from both her secondary-level English class in a private school, AND from another class at a private language center (both taught by teachers from the local North African country), neither of the teachers had even marked as wrong my daughter’s forgetting to put periods at the end of sentences!  When I had a “fit” about it, my daughter told me that EVEN THE TEACHER did not bother to put periods on the board!!!  Applicants are ignorant of what is required, and many teachers are equally ignorant in terms of not emphasizing these skills with their students.

2.  If you are a student of English and have an instructor who is not paying attention to these details, or even teaching them, be aware that you are getting a VERY INFERIOR education which will never serve you well in the international job market.  Students need to insist that their teachers correct their papers in terms of all the little details, and then take time to rewrite those papers correctly (keeping both copies for reference).

Most Important:  If you are posting something on a job board, sending a CV or resumé, or communicating in writing with ANY potential employer, by all means, have a teacher or a native speaker review the piece of communication for correctness before sending it or posting it!

–Lynne Diligent

Can the Arab Spring Be Equated to the American and French Revolutions?

August 22, 2011

This picture was taken at the 2010 "Arab African Summit" in Sirte, Gaddafi's hometown. The four leaders in front: Tunisia's Ben Ali (deposed), Yemen's Saleh(soon-to-be deposed?), Libya's Gaddafi (deposed) and Egypt's Mubarak (deposed).

The American and French Revolutions happened two centuries ago.  Living in the region of the Arab Spring, I feel I am living through a similar groundswell movement, which is just happening in another part of the world.

Just as living through the American Revolution, for Americans, must have been a time of great uncertainty about the future, many have hope, and others have fear.   Most people want democracy and an end to corruption.  Those who fear democracy fear it because they feel a strong man is needed at the top to control this corruption.

Having lived in the region for 20 years, I feel they are wrong, that a strong man can control corruption.  Corruption does not come from the top, down.  It comes up from the bottom, only getting larger and larger as power and opportunites increase near the top.  In societies that rely on external forms of control (as North African and Middle Eastern societies do) instead of internal conscience (as northwestern European and American societies do), fewer people feel a responsibility to act with high standards.  It’s easier to rationalize, “Everyone else is doing it, so I better get mine, too.”

One of the biggest problems in Middle Eastern and North African societies is endemic repression and corruption.  The people hope to stamp it out by cutting off the head of the problem.  But I say this problem comes up from the bottom. This is why so many countries have had the experience of having one dictator after another, each promising to stamp out the corruption in the administration before.  This just doesn’t work.  For REAL change to happen, every person must be motivated to change their own personal behavior and attitudes and behave with the highest ideals in order for this problem to disappear.

Not everyone in North Africa and the Middle East behaves badly.  I do know plenty of honorable, decent people.  I believe it’s a matter of how a child is raised in his own family.  As a teacher of young children for over two decades, I have seen that the values of honesty and integrity are somewhat set by the age of seven or eight, and well-set by the age of ten.  If teachers at school discuss honesty and integrity with students they can have some influence, but that influence is nill if the family promotes the opposite values at home.  I see religious education happening in the school curriculum, but that mostly centers on correct religious practice, as opposed to attitudes and beliefs.  Training in integrity and honesty really comes from the home and one’s family.

Another problem with promoting honesty is the problem of entitlement.  So many people steal or are corrupt just because they feel entitled.  The person of a higher class feels entitled to take because he feels he is better than others.  The poor who steal do it because they feel entitled to steal from those who are better off (dishonest maids or office employees, for example).

The middle-class bureaucrat or public servant who takes daily bribes justifies it by feeling he is entitled because of his “low salary.”  These societies are rigid, with little class mobility, which reinforces this mindset–almost like having a chip on one’s shoulder–a “me-against-them” mindset.

These attitudes need to change from the bottom-up in order for corruption to truly be stamped out.  The younger generation (under 30) is the first generation in most of the region to have a very high percentage of their generation be educated and literate to some degree (maybe 80 percent), so I have high hopes that by the time this generation hits their 40s, (in 20 years) that the Arab Spring will indeed have created functioning democracies with reduced corruption.

–Lynne Diligent

Europeans Ask: “Why Don’t Americans Like Intellectuals?”

August 3, 2011

American expats are continually called upon to explain to British and European friends the perplexing trend of anti-intellectualism in America.

The overriding reason why Americans tend not to like intellectuals is that it goes against the grain of the principles our nation was founded on.  Even though we have rich and poor in America, one of the most basic tenants of American society is that great social mobility is available to all who work hard enough to better themselves.

In America, we believe in equality of educational opportunity (even though that doesn’t always happen in practice).  However, we always have many avenues open to further our education and improve our circumstances (jobs and social position both), which are never closed off completely to any individual who applies himself.

In contrast, in Britain, Europe, and many other parts of the world, this is just not so.  Education remains an elitist experience where students are sorted into tracks very early  (by American standards).  Only the “cream of the crop” attend the top educational institutions, which have extremely selective admissions criteria.  If a students do not get in on the first sorting, there is NO chance to get in later.  To Americans, unfortunately, it is not readily apparent why this a problem.

What Americans don’t realize is that in Europe, it’s all about what school someone graduates from.    Those who graduate from top schools have perpetually  higher status in society than those who graduated from a lower tier of schools.   One French graduate from a top engineering school told an American colleague, “Essentially, it means I’m set up for life.” (Asselin and Mastron, Au Contraire!, p. 80)

In France, poor performers at work who graduate from top schools are forever on a higher salary track than those who are stellar performers  who graduated from more ordinary schools.  In France, new hires come in to a company in a particular “band,” and the graduates of the top schools start out in the highest band.  These graduates stay perpetually within the same band which continually rises on a higher level than the other bands.  All bands rise in terms of salary with time; however, it is never possible for someone from a lower band to reach the top levels of the company, no matter how stellar his performance and knowledge.  (Asselin and Mastron, Au Contraire!, p. 83)  Also, there is never any mobility from a lower band to a higher band.

French Salary Bands, Gilles and Mastron, "Au Contraire!", p. 83

In America, it’s less as much about which school you graduated from (except that  a top school improves your chances in finding that first job,and in meeting future useful contacts); it’s more about what you DO and ACCOMPLISH with your degree once you’ve got it.  A few years down the line, employers and people in general are less interested in which school you went to that what you have DONE.

In France, what you have done since you received your degree is of little importance, compared to WHICH SCHOOL YOU WENT TO.

Elitism - The biggest "faux pas" in America

To Americans, these sorts of attitudes smack of elitism, which is the biggest “no-no” in American society.  This is why in America, you sometimes see a boss who arrives early occasionally making the coffee for the staff.  It’s not because this is his job, or that he has nothing better to do.  It’s because, in American society, it’s important for the boss to appear humble, NOT ACTING AS IF HE IS BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE.

This is the same reason why you see even American presidents acting in humble ways from time-to-time, to demonstrate that they are also “just ordinary folks,”  which earns them the respect of the ordinary voter.  This behavior is very confusing to Europeans, who view such behavior on the part of a president (or company boss) as being completely inappropriate.  What Europeans don’t understand is that anyone who acts in an elitist manner in American society is not respected.

In America, intellectuals are equated with elitists.  Therefore, anyone who is truly an intellectual and who does not want to be despised by others, makes a great effort to be “down-to-earth.”  This phrase, often heard throughout American society, means that an individual is practical, sensible, and without pretense.  It also generally means that the person is a problem-solver, and does not talk in theoretical rhetoric.  Talking in inappropriate depth in a social setting is viewed as showing off, and as elitist behavior.

In America,  one has neither the right to act superior to others, nor to have the law or rules applied differently depending upon who one is, or upon who one knows (which seems to be the de facto way of doing things in much of the rest of the world).  The recent debacle with Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a case-in-point.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn - with a sense of "entitlement"

What most disturbed Americans was that he seemed to think that because of his position and who he was gave him license to act above-the-law.  What Americans read in reports from France indicated to them that this was how he got away with such behavior in France for many years.  It was brushed under the carpet because of his social position.

For anyone interested in reading further on these issues, I highly recommend the book Au Contraire!  Figuring Out the French, by Gilles Asselin and Ruth Mastron.  It is one of the best books available on intercultural issues, and is available  HERE in America, and HERE in Britain.

–Lynne Diligent


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