Archive for the ‘Men’ Category

Power and Justice Dilemmas in Arab Societies: Part I

January 2, 2016

North Africa and Middle East

Westerners who move to the Middle East and North Africa often find behavior and conversations with local people confusing.  Much of this confusing behavior is rooted in attitudes toward power and the use of power, both on a societal level, and on a personal level.  While Western cultures attempt to control abuses of power with checks-and-balances; Arab cultures attempt to control it through alliances, subterfuge, and sabotage.

In the West, the type of person whose motivations are primarily, “What’s in it for me?  How can I get the advantage?  How can I do as little as possible, while still getting paid, and sloughing as much as possible of my work off on others?  And how can I use the resources of my workplace to benefit me personally?” IS CONTROLLED by workplace standards, rules, and performance reviews; by government laws which are actually enforced, and by a fairly low incidence of public corruption; small corruption can be prosecuted in Small Claims Court and larger or more serious corruption in state and federal courts.  The key thing here is that NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW.  Even the president of the United States is not above the law, nor above being sued in court (as a private citizen), nor above being impeached for behavior.

When power is abused in the West, we have recourses which can be pursued:  rules in the workplace, performance reviews, channels to be pursued or to which decisions can be appealed, functioning court systems.  But the REASON we have well-functioning institutions is that power is not the be-all and end-all in terms of social prestige.

When power is abused in Arab cultures, none of the above-listed Western methods are effective.  When rules exist, they are often unenforceable, or at the whim of the boss and/or his friends; performance reviews (which actually protect employees) tend to be non-existant; no one takes responsibility for overturning others’ decisions; and court systems seldom return a judgement against the powerful.

Therefore, people behave with different motivation than in the West.  In order to navigate this treacherous environment successfully, it becomes necessary for each person, each group, each company, and even each person in power to seek alliances with the most powerful people possible.  (This also accounts for the great emphasis on knowing the people you are doing business with;  if they turn out to be untrustworthy, you generally have little recourse.)

In English, we still have the term “carte blanche” which refers to “having a free hand to do whatever you want.”  Most Americans are unaware of is that it was an actual document, during medieval times, a “white card” issued by the monarch, or his representative, giving the holder “free reign throughout the realm to usurp all laws…and act without fear of prosecution.”  This was done in England, France, and probably by numerous other medieval monarchs.

In Arab cultures, even today, THE SAME LAW DOES NOT APPLY TO EVERYONE.  For example, in some countries, the “white card” still exists as an actual document, and certain families have it for all of their members.  A simple benefit of a “white card” might be something as simple as suppose you want to speed through the city, or speed through a stop light.  Suppose you are stopped by the police.  You just whip out your “white card” and you would be free to go. Other important families are always trying their best to get it.  In practice, while not very many people have it,  the REAL EFFECT IS ON THE BEHAVIOR THIS IDEA HAS ON ALL THE MEMBERS OF  THE SOCIETY.

In Arab cultures (as in many “Old World” cultures and Third-World cultures), THE LAW DOES NOT APPLY TO EVERYONE.  Essentially, in order TO SHOW STATUS, OR GAIN STATUS, everyone is always trying to show others that they are “important enough to NOT have to follow rules.”   In other words, instead of everyone following rules IN ORDER TO MAKE THE WHOLE SOCIETY FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY, people are instead demonstrating that THEY HAVE “INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM” by NOT having to “follow rules” or do what anyone else TELLS them to do.  The result is that NOTHING FUNCTIONS EFFECTIVELY.

In order to get anything to function, individuals must often go in person and actually CAJOLE public servants and even private-sector employees to “do their job,” since they are demonstrating their POWER over others by NOT doing their jobs.  Some expect a bribe, but most at least expect DEFERENCE and RESPECT.  Instead of being intrinsically motivated to do their jobs properly and cheerfully, they are motivated by OTHERS KNOWING THAT THEY HAVE IMPORTANCE, as DEMONSTRATED BY THEIR SURLINESS, AND THEIR POWER OVER YOU–their power to make it difficult for you to obtain the document you need, for example, without a lot of cajoling, pleading, etc.

There IS one way around all this, which is to KNOW SOMEONE MORE POWERFUL THAN THAT PERSON, who will TELL them what they have to do, or who will get you right to the front of the line, around all of those other pleading and cajoling people who have to beg BECAUSE THEY DON’T KNOW A MORE POWERFUL PERSON TO HELP THEM.  Therefore, people spend much of their effort toward cultivating people for “what they can do for you.”

Power and Justice

When a person more powerful than you takes advantage of you–a professor, a boss, a husband, a bureaucrat, an organization, or a government official–the ONLY recourse you have (since rules are nonexistent or unenforced, and court verdicts are usually returned in favor of the more powerful) is to pressure that person or organization WITH YOUR OWN MORE POWERFUL ALLIANCES–someone who trumps HIS power.

What can someone do, when doesn’t know a more powerful person, or have any personal alliances who can wield influence over that person? This happens frequently.  This brings us to the behaviors of subterfuge, and sabotage.

Westerners find Arab societies full of subterfuge and passive-aggressive behavior.  It’s common that people often openly agree to something and then either don’t follow through, or do the exact opposite, and then make excuses–“I didn’t say that; I didn’t think that’s what you meant; I forgot; Someone else prevented me from doing it; I didn’t have time; etc.”  The REAL explanation for this type of behavior is that the person never had any intention of following through, but felt you were in a more powerful position and did not feel they could get their way be disagreeing openly.

Since one always has to watch out for powerful people hurting you openly and secretly, the last revenge of losers in the power struggle is to sabotage others by creating false rumors about them.  This may be one reason for why Arab societies seem overly concerned with what others think and say.   The most common rumors seem to be, “He stole money,” (used against locals and foreigners) and “He’s trying to convert people away from Islam,” (frequently used against foreigners).  Other rumors used on a daily basis, especially to impugn the reputations of local women are, “I saw her in a nightclub,” or “She’s had a boyfriend(s)!”

Arab cultures are dominated by a love-hate relationship regarding special privilege.  On the one hand, everyone desires it, and it confers high social status.  On the other hand, everyone (except the most privileged) hates it, too.  This is primarily what the Arab Spring is about–A DESIRE FOR EVERYONE TO BE EQUAL UNDER THE LAW.  Unfortunately, among those who want “democratic reforms”  are also those who want to maintain the ability to obtain and benefit from special privileges just for themselves!

–Upcoming Part II will deal with how these societal factors influence behavior in the workplace, at school, and in the home and family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Living Abroad Taught Me the True Meaning of the Salutation “Dear…”

June 6, 2015

Dear as a salutation

All children in England and America are taught to start letters with the salutation, “Dear So-and-So.”  As children, we all wonder where this strange salutation came from, and what it means, but generally, no one knows.  We just use it.  Surprisingly, living abroad, I have discovered where it came from, through it’s usage by foreign friends.

With the internet, I have had a much greater opportunity to meet and correspond with people from other countries.  It seemed so strange to me when people I hardly knew, particularly men, in the middle of a conversation, would say things like, “Lynne, dear …” or “My dear, Lynne…”  At first, I was confused, and highly offended!  I thought, “WHO are these people to speak to me as if we have an intimate relationship?”

Modern English usage in England and America now reserves the term “dear” for immediate family members, husband and wife, or serious boyfriend/girlfriend.  I felt offended when men spoke to me with this term, wondering why they were doing it, and wondering if, in fact, they were trying to initiate an inappropriate relationship!  Later, as I got to know some foreign women on line, I found them speaking to me in the same manner.  I again felt offended, wondering what they meant by it.  Over time, it began to dawn on me that women were speaking to each other this way, as well, and that the term was being used as a politeness, as in, “you are my dear friend.”

There are two types of societies with regard to how others are treated.  In English-speaking North America, we generally try to treat everyone “the same,” whether they are family members, friends, or strangers.  Nepotism does exist, but it is highly frowned on.

Conversely, in many societies, your own treatment depends upon whether you belong to the “in-group” or “out-group.”  In these societies, strangers are either ignored, treated with suspicion, or even taken advantage of.  In order to do business or become friends, one has to become a member of the “in-group.”  In these societies, in particular, I find that non-Westerners, speaking in English, tend to use the salutation “dear” both in correspondence, and in conversation, such as on Facebook, and even in the middle of text messaging.  I believe it is their way of showing a person respect, esteem, and an indication to confer “in-group” status.  It is not to be interpreted, after all, as an attempt to force unwanted intimacies.

I realized, then, that this was why I had been taking offense.  I realized that, seeing the current usage from places as diverse as India, Egypt, and Morocco, that perhaps this was an OLDER English/French usage of the term, that was no doubt used to indicate friendship.  These other  countries, outside of the West, are continuing to use the term in this way.  My friends are merely translating this politeness from their own cultures, and older usage,  into current English speech.

So now, when I am addressed with the term “dear” by foreign-speaking friends, I am able to overlook the feelings I would have in my own culture, and take it in the spirit of politeness, with which it is intended.

–Lynne Diligent

Celebrity Culture Means that Celebrities Now Live as Only Kings Did In the Past

April 21, 2015

International Love, the music video by Pitbull and Chris Brown, is a perfect example of the fantasy life dreamed of by many men, particularly in capitalistic societies.  As successful celebrities, both Pitbull and Chris Brown have achieved this life, and in this video, they sing about the lives so many men would like to try out, at least for a period of time.

In this video, Pitbull and Chris Brown go on “whirlwind” travels around-the-world.  They have unlimited money, ride around in the fanciest cars, wear the most expensive clothes, and attend all the night clubs everywhere they travel.  In every country, they meet hordes of beautiful women who hang all over them and can’t wait to be with them, mainly because they are so rich and willing to spend their money.  They live the life of international rock stars everywhere they go.

Pitbull and Chris Brown

Women who throw themselves at Pitbull and Chris Brown in Romania even say, “You can have me and my sister!” In Lebanon, the women are blonde, and in Greece the women are “sweet.”  But all around the world, the women in Miami, with their “heat,” are the best.  In Colombia are some of the world’s most beautiful women.  In Brazil, the women have “boobs with big cones–blue, yellow, and green.”  All these women cost them a lot of money on credit cards, but for these guys, it’s no problem.  Hey, it’s international love–a total men’s fantasy.

New York City  Miami

From New York to Miami, to Los Angeles, to Venezuela, they go “to countries and cities they can’t pronounce,” and “to places on the globe they didn’t know existed.”  Like the songs about sailors of old having a woman in every port, these international rock stars have harems of women everyplace their airplanes fly.  They don’t play football, but they “touch down” everywere; they don’t play baseball, but they “hit a home run” everywhere!

Girls’ and young women’s fantasies of celebrity culture are often just as extreme, although they dream of different details.

In the past, only kings could live this lifestyle and maintain harems; now, many ordinary youth dream of making it big in music or sports and living this sort of dream lifestyle.

The sad thing about celebrity culture is that these people are famous ONLY for looking good and/or having a lot of money, as well as for being singers and actors and actresses.  They are the new heroes; they have replaced the heros of old who had to DO SOMETHING IMPORTANT AND WORTHWHILE to be considered a hero.  Heroes of the previous generation had to climb Mt. Everest, invent the electric lightbulb or the polio vaccine, create the Green Revolution, or lead a nation to peace.

–Lynne Diligent

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

Does This Really Work? Cultural Differences Between Men and Women

April 21, 2012

Does the men’s strategy of giving out a personal card, to a woman he meets casually, actually work to get that woman to give him a call?  This is quite an important question because it seems to have become a popular thing for men to do.

Several years ago, a friend of mine back in the U.S. sent me a sample of his new card in a letter.  His name was nicely printed, and in the lower corners were his email address and telephone number.  The note he included for me said, “Here is my new card to give out to women.  Let me know what you think!”  At the time he was looking hard for the ideal woman, wanting to get married.  But he was having trouble meeting any women that he had something in common with, that he found attractive enough, and who liked him also.  When he sent me his card, I replied at that time that the card looked nice, but didn’t think much about it.

Now I’ve come upon the business card pictured at the top of this post, shared on Facebook, with a comment by the person who shared it, “Single, and need help meeting people?  Try this!”  What really struck me about this was that there were nearly 8,000 Likes; 2,500Shares, and about 500 Comments; mostly from men.  (Look right below the comments for  my advice in this blog post, being a woman.)

Most beautiful women of the world World's Most Beautiful Women  most beautiful women of the world

Here were a few examples of the comments men left about this card:

“Use these on women so hot, you are afraid to speak….they work, by the way.”

“That is flirting by card.”

“Only a ‘player’ would have this.”

“Dude…that doesn’t work…take my word for it.”

“Just perfect for myself.”

“I just wonder about the integrity of the person who had a whole box of these printed?”

“Maybe they’re shy!  That doesn’t make them any less honourable of a person, does it?  Besides, I find they have a certain charm.”  (woman’s reply)

“I think that’s cool, it’s a different approach, yea I agree, it’s perfect for the shy man.”

“It’s the giving that matters.  Give it to the attractive person and walk away.  Do not expect (require) thanks or similar in return.  That feeling alone is worth it.”

“No need for contact information, the person will be intrigued to ask you for it. Having contact is too hard sell, diminish the purpose. Simple is best.”

“No point in giving contact if the person ain’t even interested in the first place, this saves everything and your mind to think if they find you the same.”

“I prefer “I would just like to let you know that I think you have a pretty smile.” not as forward, and the girl’s bound to smile because of it.”

Now compare this with the comments left by women about this card:

“Elegant, classy!”

“Extremely polite!”

“Great idea, stunning!”

“Love it!”

“I would recommend having the phone on the back, just in case the person who receives this card wants to say ‘thank you.’ ”  (handwritten)

“I’ll never get one…boo, hoo!”

“Now that is a new one for me, I thought I heard them all.  I like that one.  I need to get some of those business cards right away!”

“Who wouldn’t like to get one of these?  But if you really like the person and want to meet them, include your phone number.” (handwritten)

“Do you really think it might work?  I would like to go for the old style flirting.”

“It would only work well if the man himself were very attractive.”

“Why not just go up to the person and tell them directly to their face?   A smile is worth a million words in itself.”

“Then what?  Us shy people write the phone number on the card?  Can’t decide it its charming or creepy….”

“That is so creepy.”

“It’s creepy.”

“I wish he wasn’t married!”

“Not such a good idea.   This idea will make it harder for the police to solve crimes of rape, kidnapping, white slavery, and the like..” 

“The line between creepy and romantic is very thin.”

“This is really stupid. Clearly this person would find hundreds of people equally attractive or interesting. Certainly wouldn’t make me or anyone else feel very special.”

“So many cynics! How would I find him? It’s creepy? It’s borderline harassment? No! It’s just a little bit of romance for crying out loud! Whether or how it may or may not work is irrelevant. It has good intentions, let that be what you see in it! It is creative and sweet. Tick from me.”

I’d say that comments on the card pictured above run 90% positive from the men, and 60% positive from the women.  So what’s turning these women off?  1.)  Fear for personal safety.  2.)  The feeling that if he has them printed, he’s probably giving them to a lot of women, that it is just a another “line.” 3.)  The feeling that the man is looking for a one-night sex partner.   4.)  Not finding the man who gave them the card to be attractive.

So, should a man use a card like this?  Is this a good strategy for shy men?  Is giving any card at all a good idea, and does it actually increase the chances of a woman calling a man?

Here are my thoughts.  Men are misusing their cards, by giving them out at the wrong time, and in the wrong way.

The friend from the U.S. who sent me his card and asked what I thought is meeting women fairly casually, and offering his card  too quickly after fairly superficial interactions.  NO woman is going to call in this circumstance, and this is exactly the reaction he has been getting from women, sadly.

Most women aren’t really interested in having a man’s card unless they really want to see more of that man.  So what does it take to get the woman interested in you?  Aside from presenting the best physical appearance possible, it takes CONVERSATION.  This is where many men fall down.  If you have trouble making conversation, I highly suggest taking an “art of conversation” class, or at least reading a book or two on the subject.  A good conversationalist is a good listener, and truly interested in what others have to say.

I recommend for shy people (as well as those who are not shy) at a public gathering to have the goal of trying to have ONE in-depth, really interesting conversation with ONE woman in an evening.  If she finds you attractive, you are a good listener, and can draw her out into talking, and making intelligent comments on what she says, as well as asking interesting questions, you should have no problem with having a good conversation of an hour or more.  At this point it might be appropriate to ask if she would be interested in getting together again, and if so, AT THIS POINT, ask her for her phone number AND THEN give her your card.  Don’t waste your time, and your cards by offering your cards to random, attractive women you’ve had a five-minute, or two-minute conversation with, who you hope might have a slim chance of calling you some day.

Of course long conversations are not for the bachelor who is looking for a one-night stand, and wants to be on to the next conquest.  Long conversations are for men who are looking for real relationships.  (If you ARE looking for a one-night-stand (which I hope you are not) you are also much more likely to get it if you are a good conversationalist, because women, unlike many men, are looking for MORE than a man who is just physically attractive.)

Another reason long conversations are valuable are that if you want to have a very good source of meeting women, it pays to have a number of women FRIENDS who are JUST FRIENDS, but who know you well, and know that you are a decent person who is looking to meet that “special” someone.  Sometimes they can introduce you to others they know.

Men, you shouldn’t be afraid of a blind date arranged by friends.  No one has any expectations before a blind date because you both know it is the first meeting and may not work out in terms of finding the other person attractive.  But you can plan to have a good conversation, and if the attraction doesn’t work out, there is no obligation to call the person again.  Everyone understands this.  But sometimes the attractiveness thing DOES work out, even on blind dates;  in fact, I know of several cases where it has worked out extremely well.

Regarding the card pictured above, it seems to me that it should be used differently than a card printed with a name and phone number.  The card above should be used to try to GET that first conversation, but the problem is that it puts too much pressure on the woman.  What if she doesn’t find you attractive enough right up front?  Personally, I really liked the man who said, “I would just like to let you know that I think you have a pretty smile.” not as forward, and the girl’s bound to smile because of it.”  I don’t think this would scare off anyone, and might provide that opening for the shy man who feels tongue-tied when he meets a very beautiful woman.

Remember that beautiful women like to talk too, and all women (beautiful women, too) enjoy a confident man.  This doesn’t mean confident in terms of how he speaks to a woman.  It means SELF-confident, that he feels good about himself, his life, his values, and his ideas.  Many men are afraid to approach a very beautiful woman, so in fact, she can sit there all evening talking to no one!  Why not be the man who is confident enough to at least say hello, and ask if you can sit with her?  The worst that can happen is that she can say no, or make up an excuse.  If that happens, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.  If she is not interested enough to take a chance on speaking to you, perhaps she is shallow (or perhaps she really is waiting for someone).   If you don’t take the CHANCE to speak to her, for sure you are not going to get anywhere.  TAKE THE CHANCE.  Just speaking to her alone will show her that you think well enough of yourself to do so.

There is something men need to know about women.  Sometimes (many times), a woman who might think you are just “average” will find you EXTREMELY attractive after a good, long conversation.  Sometimes attractions develop, even with “average” looking people, if you give them a chance to get to know them (I wouldn’t advocate more than two or three dates if it’s not there, but at least give them a chance at ONE long conversation)!

Good luck, men.

–Lynne Diligent

My North African Postman’s Confusing Behavior

April 6, 2012

Typical North African house with wall in a prosperous neighborhood

For the past several months, instead of putting the mail in our mailbox, our postman has often been just handing it to workers who are at our house doing some remodeling.  One day, I caught the postman personally, and asked him to please not do that, but to put in in our box.  This seemed to take care of the problem for a while.

Two days ago, I was upstairs in my home, when one of the workers came upstairs with some mail to hand to me.  I asked him what he was doing with it and was upset that he came upstairs to find me.  He said the postman handed it directly to him, and he wanted to be sure I got it.  The postman had already left, so I didn’t have a chance to speak to him.  I was upset and just really wanted to know WHY he the postman did this again!

After discussing possible senarios as to why the postman reverted to his former behavior, I commented to the worker that I had asked the postman to put it in the box before, and just could not understand why he was doing this again.  The worker pointed out that the postman comes on a motorcycle.  In order to put it in the box (which in my country is not out by the street, but is a slot through the wall), the postman has to park his motorcycle and bring the mail to the mail slot.  Since the worker happened to be standing by the street at the moment he came, it was just laziness in not wanting to park his motorcycle and take a few steps to the mail slot.  Mystery solved!

I asked the worker next time to not accept the mail from the postman, or if he insists, just to put it into the mail slot himself, rather than walking through my home and searching for me.

Readers, how would you react?

–Lynne Diligent

Understanding North African Work Behavior: A Comparative Analysis

February 4, 2012

Europeans criticize Americans for working too much....

Where do the different work attitudes in different countries come from?

Americans are criticized by Europeans for “working too hard,” and “not having any culture.”  Americans in Europe often criticize Europeans for having anti-business attitudes and being cultural snobs.  The Asians, on the other hand, make Americans look extremely lazy!  In French-speaking North Africa, we have a curious mixture of pro- and anti-business sentiments.  Business and money are extremely respected, yet nothing works well.  Businesses are extremely inefficient, and services are terrible (including government services).

There are now a number of good books written on  differing work attitudes in various countries.  Three of my favorites are The Seven Cultures of Capitalism, Working for the Japanese:  Inside  Mazda’s American Auto Plant, and Au Contraire!  Figuring Out the French.  But these books don’t explain where these attitudes originated from.

The answers are to be found in the historical experiences of various countries.  The major difference which sets America apart from Europe, in work attitudes today, is that America has no history of feudalism.

European work attitudes, with their emphasis on free time for workers and quality of life came directly out of peasant attitudes and revolts against feudalsim.   Peasants were the lowest class of society, were highly oppressed,  heavily taxed, and were at the mercy of justice systems operated by the social classes who took advantage of them.  When we study Feudalism as a system, we do not normally address how the peasants felt about it.  In fact, peasants did not passively accept the situation, century-after-century.  Peasant uprisings and revolts were a common occurrence.  Later, as Feudalism’s authority began to weaken, the new urban workers widened the base of the lower class, against the princes and the lords.  The upper classes used nepotistic practices to maintain their control over the bureaucracy.

The remnants of these attitudes are found today in European attitudes toward work, where laws and the public demand that workers have plenty of free time and are not “taken advantage of” by those in management (the old lords and princes).

Promotions into management are not awarded to competent workers; rather only people who are from certain families, or who went to the top categories of schools are permitted into the management tracks.  Decision-making in French corporations follows a strict hierarchy, and authority belongs to the office a person holds, rather than to the individual.  French managers tend to make the decisions and collaborative teamwork is discouraged.  Co-workers tend to feel in competition with each other.

New York offices of the French Investment banking company, Calyon.

American work attitudes, in contrast,  were not not born out of feudalism, but out of freedom, individualism, and capitalism.  One of the main reasons Americans left Europe was because they rejected the class system.  (This is why American bosses occasionally make the office coffee, to demonstrate to workers that they are not “above” others in social class.)  In America, one’s social standing at birth does not prohibit one from rising to a prominent position (whether Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama).

Who you were at birth has nothing to do with who you will be, or might be.  In America, it is “up to you” to make what you will of your life.  In America, no one cares who you ARE.  They care what you have DONE, what you have ACCOMPLISHED.  This is why Americans generally give the highest pay, promotions, and status in business to those who accomplish the most (rather than those who went to impressive schools, but who do not perform once employed).  Anyone can reach the top tier by becoming rich, if they are smart enough, and willing to work hard enough.  This is what every American teaches their children from the time they are two years old.

Management by Objectives chart

These attitudes are seen today in the American tradition of Management by Objectives, which involves participative goal setting, then choosing a course of action, and decision-making in line with those actions.  Employees are measured against these standards.  Unfortunately, American managers often find that management by objectives does not work well in many other parts of the world, such as in North Africa.

Satchel Paige - a victim of American racism in baseball

In America, the problem has been racism, not classism.   The class-based problems and conflicts of Europe have been replaced in America by race-based problems.   While minorities have now been absorbed into society through the past battles of Martin Luther King, past affirmative action (preferential hiring practices based on race), and by becoming members of the professional and middle classes, some disaffected groups and individuals are still very anti-white.

These individuals feel a group solidarity against the white culture.   This same feeling also applies to certain religious groups and groups of new immigrants from various nations to America throughout our history.  They were discriminated against on the basis of national origin until each group became well-integrated after two or three generations.

In the same way, many Europeans and North Africans feel a class-solidarity against those above or below them, which influences work behavior in those countries, in the same way that race conflicts affect work attitudes among anti-white groups in America.  (The Arab Spring movement is partly about hope of the middle classes in the North African countries for abandoning nepotism and moving toward meritocracy.)

America continues to work on these race-based conflicts, but in reality, skin color and culture do continue to be a barrier to certain groups.  White Americans, using the example of Abraham Lincoln, have always told their children since the age of two, “You could grow up to be president.”  However, since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, now for the first time, black Americans can also tell their children the same thing.

Barack Obama

Today in French-speaking North Africa, there are remnants of attitudes from both the feudal system and modern French systems.  Work behavior of employees and managers here is extremely confusing for North Americans.  While some people work hard and well, these people are rare, and should be especially appreciated (and rewarded).

Instead of being helpful to customers, and cooperative with employees or co-workers, most North-African employees (especially those not in management) tend to set up little “fiefdoms” and act like little Napoleons within their sphere of influence.

If someone comes to them with a request or a problem, instead of facilitating the process, they act as “gatekeepers” and often try to create problems and obstacles where none existed before.  (Yes, some of them expect bribes, but even those who are not looking for bribes tend to behave this way.)  Instead of sharing information so that the organization can function smoothly, both managers and employees are extremely secretive with information, insuring that the organization lurches along from crisis-to-crisis, and problem-to-problem.  This seems similar to business practices in France, in some ways.

There seems to be a sort of “class war” going on between management and employees in most North African companies.  Managers generally come from certain families, and have gone to certain schools.  Employees, neither from important families nor important schools,  have little stake in making the organization function well, and their main interest seems to be in working slowly and inefficiently, specifically making sure that no employer “takes advantage” of them by making them work “too hard.” Employees’ interests seem to usually be diametrically opposed to management’s interests, and many employees (not all) come into a job the very first day with the attitude that they expect an employer will try to exploit them.

Queuing at a government office in North Africa

When employees or co-workers are asked why they don’t give their best effort and take pride in their work, they often answer, “What will it get me if I do?  I will not get paid any more.”  Yet, most say, if presented in theory with a theoretical doubling or tripling of salary for a given job, that the work effort would be exactly the same, that this would not solve the problem.  Therefore, the real problem lies in the attitude behind the work.  Employees immediately assume that their personal interests are in opposition to their employer’s interest, and that they must do everything they can to “protect themselves” instead of everything they can to “do the job right.”

                         

While most Americans view themselves as working hard for a chance to get ahead, and believe in more possibilities in their future, employees in class-based societies usually don’t believe they will be able to get ahead, or be rewarded for their efforts, no matter how hard they work.  Their societies are not meritocracies, and this accounts for their reluctant attitudes at work.

recalitrant employees, passive-agressive employees

Many employees in North Africa behave in a passive-aggressive manner at work, saying "yes," but secretly sabotaging their employers.

North African  employees’ typical productivity is about one-quarter to one-third of an American worker (not everyone–there are some very hard-working North Africans; and certain regions have these problems more than other regions).  Their jobs are “protected” by labor laws which prevent the employer from replacing them no matter how poorly they work.  It can be done, but it is extremely expensive and indemnities increase for every year the employee was with the company.  There are only three acceptable reasons to fire an employee:  being caught stealing, showing up drunk, or not showing up at all repeatedly.  Those reasons do NOT include being habitually late or doing poor work.

Looking at French-speaking North Africa as a whole, unfortunately, from the employee’s  viewpoint, exploitation is rife throughout every level of the society.  Few businesses are corporations.  Most are individual or family-controlled enterprises, large and small.  Nepotism is the order of the day, from finding a job, to being promoted, to getting anything done in the society.

French-speaking North Africa

Business owners tend to exploit anyone working for them who is not a family member, while non-productive family members often have a title and a salary, while doing little.  People are less often employed for their skills than for who they are, or who they know.  Of course, this makes services notoriously bad for consumers.  But even those who lament the exploitation of workers in their own workplace often come home and exploit the labor of those below them.

One secretary, who previously in tears because her boss overworked her and treated her poorly,  turned right around and did exactly the same thing to the assistant she later got.  Some in the middle classes cry over being exploited at work and turn right around and exploit their own maids at home.  As a teacher, I saw over-and-over young students complaining about adults and older children who spoke to them rudely, using insulting words.  But the minute they become older themselves, they turn around and do the same thing.

All this exploitation is about power, which seems to be the main point of interest of each person in the society.  Everyone wants to know precisely who has the authority for what, and authority is never delegated to others as it is in American culture.  This also may be similar to France, but even more extreme in North Africa.

Every time a new employer-employee relationship is created (whether in an office, or a housewife at home with a maid), most employees are not thinking about if their new boss will be kind or provide them with reasonable working conditions.  It is already assumed that they will not.  Instead, they are thinking, “How powerful will I be able to be in this relationship?”  (This may be starting to change with some of the younger generation who are becoming educated and, after the Arab Spring, are hoping for meritocratic changes to take place.)

This concern about power is where foreign managers and expats run into trouble.  American managers aren’t generally thinking about using power and maintaining it.  They are thinking about how to facilitate cooperation, collaboration, and effective problem-solving.  Unfortunately, kindness and consideration (even in speech) is viewed as “weakness” in North Africa, and immediately, the subordinate maid or employee with the “power interest” mentality begins to take advantage, secretly sabotaging the goals of the manager.  The most serious dilemma for the expat manager becomes how to treat employees well (a sincere desire), while at the same time getting them to put forth a good effort toward accomplishing the goals which are important to the manager or employer.

–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

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

Europeans Wonder: How Can Minimum-Wage Workers in America Side with the Republican Party?

June 27, 2011

My British, European, and Middle Eastern friends often ask me how it is that minimum-wage level workers often side with fiscal conservatives at the voting booth.  They wonder how and why the minimum-wage workers often vote against their own economic interests.

American sociologist James Petras addresses this issue when he explains that unionization in America has taken a different path between public and private-sector workers.   Public-sector workers have secured and maintained greater social benefits and wage increases, while private-sector workers have lost ground.

“The public sector workers draw on public financing to fund their ‘corporate interests’ while private sector workers are forced to pay increased taxes, because of regressive fiscal legislation. The result is an apparent or real conflict of interest between well-organized public workers organized around a narrow set of (self) interests and the mass of unorganized private sector workers who, unable to increase their wages via class struggle, side with “fiscal conservatives” (funded by big business) to demand cutbacks from public sector workers.”

So, unlike British and European systems, private-sector workers do not look to the government to “protect” their rights as workers.  Instead, they have been convinced that it is the government itself, taxes themselves, and government workers themselves that are the sources of society’s economic ills.

Government workers (who are jealously seen by many as having the highest salaries and benefits; yet are generally viewed as  incompetent, and as having obtained their jobs through “preference points” to make up for past discrimination against minorities) are the most despised of all workers by the general American society.  (Certainly America has plenty of dedicated, competent government workers.  However, the negative viewpoint of government workers dominates in American society.)

The minimum-wage public who votes as Republican are now convinced that the remedy to America’s economic woes is to cut back the government itself.  This involves cutting the the positions of most government workers, their services (sometimes without realizing the true cost of those services until they are gone), and the social programs that they feel others lazily take advantage of, while they themselves are out working hard for every penny, yet receiving no assistance.

As Petras points out, it is competition (not solidarity) between minimum-wage Americans, and the “near extinction of private-sector unionism” which is driving their behavior.

So, how do Republicans plan to cut back on the government, from this point forward?  By defunding it, of course, through additional tax cuts.

–Lynne Diligent


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