Archive for the ‘Women’ 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Developing World Mentality: Is “The Government” Really to Blame for the Poor State of Public Education?

March 11, 2015

Classroom in North Africa

“To the point! The government is committing a crime…,” was the commentary posted following an article deploring public school conditions in a North African country.

The article spoke about deplorable conditions students face in public schools, especially those now built in rural areas.  The article explains that schools are neither heated nor cooled, nor is transport provided.  Many students have to walk one hour to school and risk being assaulted  on the way.   There are no libraries, playgrounds, or lunch facilities.  Schools have no money to pay for photocopies or other materials.  Students use chalk and slates.  Cheating is rampant.  The rich are now going to private schools, and those who cannot afford private schools–the lower classes–go to public schools.  The author concludes, “Students and teachers want to bring about positive change, and stakeholders provide little, or no support.

Conditions in the rural public schools ARE truly as described.  But is that the government’s fault, as is both implied and stated, by both the author and the commenter?  I say NO.

Twenty-five years ago, literacy in the author’s country was only about 35 percent.  There were no schools at all in rural areas.  In the past fifteen years, the country has built thousands of public schools all over the country, and even in rural and mountain areas that never had them before.  They have sent teachers out to all these areas.  The students attending are the first generation to have any sort of education at all.  In this country, schools and teachers are not paid for by local property taxes (as is the case in America).  Schools are financed by the government, and teachers’ salaries are paid for by the government.  (Higher education degrees are also free to students and paid for by the government, for students who complete their high school degree.)  The current result of all this building and staffing is that the literacy rate in the country has essentially doubled in one generation (67% in 2011, of those over age 15).

At the present time, it appears that it has stretched the country’s finances to build all of  these schools and pay all of these teachers.  In an effort to contain costs, the country has cut back on some opportunities for teachers to pursue free Masters’ and Doctorate degrees, which has caused numerous strikes and protests by teachers in the past two years.  Their main argument, as reported in the news is, “We have our rights!”

Looking again at the current difficult and deplorable state of the country’s public schools, again, is that the government’s fault?  Are the schools this way because society and the government do not care?  This thinking is faulty.  Before public school conditions can improve, the schools needed to be simply built, and staffed with teachers.  This building and staffing phase is still taking place, although it seems they have now reached the most rural areas of the country, at least with primary schools, and now with some middle schools.  But many more schools are still needed because so many schools are still too far for children, and especially girls, to walk safely.  There is not even a thought of trying to provide transportation for public schools.  I predict it will be at least another generation before there will be sufficient money for public schools to begin to improve in any of the areas the author of the other article mentions.

Meanwhile, if any parent has sufficient money and resources to send their child to a private school where conditions are better, and can also transport their child to school, why would they not do so?  Of course we all want public schools to improve, but why should we subject our own children to a dangerous and poor education if we have the opportunity to do better for him, or her?

There are many private charity groups in this country who organize the purchase and gifting of school bags and school supplies (neither provided by public education) to poor children, because their families cannot even afford to give them pencils.  This shows me that there are, in fact, many private citizens who do care about the plight of the underprivileged in this country.

It’s very common in North African countries to blame “the government” for everything that is wrong in society.  This blame is misplaced. (If it were not for the government’s efforts this past generation, these schools would not even exist.) Governments, and school systems, are instead, a reflection of a society and its values.

As a Western person living in North Africa, I see that the main objective of the Arab Spring movements is less about toppling governments, and more about throwing out class system privileges and gaining equality of opportunity in life, about creating a meritocracy.  The author who is complaining about the deplorable state of public education is actually and correctly wanting his students to have the same equality of opportunity provided to middle-class students.

–Lynne Diligent

How “Group-Think” Around-the-World Affects Our Relationships

March 7, 2015

Group-think

How many of us have felt sad about losing a childhood friend as we grow older, or sad about losing another close relationship in our life, either through divorce, or more commonly, through drifting apart of former friends?  Why is this happening?

The answer can be found in “group-think,” another name for blocks of energy.

Different types of groups create blocks of mental energy that move around influencing social and moral values, political ideas, and religious beliefs. When only one member of a couple undergoes a religious conversion, it places great strain on a marriage.  When a child either marries someone unacceptable to the family, or declares he or she is gay, this can place a great strain on the parent-child relationship.  When friends move to a new place, take up new interests, or join new groups, friendships can wither away.

We all belong to a variety of group-think blocks, generally without even realizing it.  These are imposed upon us, as children, by our family of origin, our environment, our culture and ethnicity, our neighborhood and schooling, and by our language and country.

Blocks of mental energy

As we grow and change throughout our lives, we try out new groups to see if we fit.  These new groups and ways of thinking sometimes cause a lot of stress in the people around us, who may not like those ideas.  New ideas and lifestyles can rupture relationships, ending in divorce or disowning, in more extreme cases, if the other partner or friend is not willing togive the new ideas a try.  Some relationships can survive these changes, but many cannot.

When looking for friends and/or life partners, it’s easier to connect with people when we find several group ideas that intersect with our own.  Consider the list below.  Some of the ideas are complete opposites, while others fall along a continuum, with many positions in between the extremes. Being a good conversationalist, asking leading questions and being a good listener, enables us to discover unexpected things we may have in common with others.

As you read the list, consider where you fit in each group, and consider where the your own interests, and those of your  partner and your friends fit.  People who get along well are more likely to have friends who share several idea groups.  Or, they might share groups that are contiguous to their own group on the continuum, as opposed to being at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The more opposite idea groups you and your partner fall into  increases the likelihood of divorce or rupture within a family, or among friends.

Very religious–Agnostic–Atheist

Productivity and hard work–maximal free time to lie around

Animal rights–pet owners and carnivores–animal abusers

Fatalists–self-determination and taking responsibility

Heavy readers–occasional readers–non-readers

Enthusiastic Parents–reluctant parents–militant childless

Big Industry Supporters–Environmentalists

Poor–Middle Income–Rich

Belief in equality of opportunity–equality of outcome

Spiritual and Relaxed–Dogmatic and Uptight

Straight–gay

Female–Male

Health and exercise–moderate effort–extreme indulgence

These are just a few examples of groups where one finds people thinking in blocks which project powerful mental energy.

In American culture, it’s quite easy to change groups.  In other cultures, it can be much harder.  They may not accept someone changing their job, moving to a new town, much less a new country; divorcing, changing religions, or many other examples.

When a person moves into a new group, it can be very threatening to those in the former group.  For example, if a child raised in a family that is interested in big business joins an environmental cause, or a gay child who appears in a straight family, or a child marries a foreigner, or someone of a different race, or moves to another conuntry, parents may not be able to accept it.  When one member of a childfree couple decides they now want to be a parent, this can lead to divorce.  Similar, less drastic, situations happen with our friends, as we find new interests and move into new groups.  this is why people come and go from our lives.

 –Lynne Diligent

 

 

 

 

Maids Are a Problem Everywhere….

January 12, 2013

M

As a foreigner, I’m tempted to feel like the problems I’ve had with maids just don’t happen to locals. However, as this series, “Maids from House-to-House,” (in Arabic) illustrates, locals do seem to have just as many problems with their maids as foreigners do.

At the moment, I’m lucky to have a good maid.  The other day my maid told me that about 80 percent of people she had worked for were bad; I replied that 80 percent of the maids I’d had were not good, either.

It’s difficult having someone in your house to cook or clean.  Aside from obvious risks such as stealing, you really bring a person with all of their personal problems into your home.  When one recent maid we had did not do the work correctly and I asked her to do many things again, she told us that the reason she went to work was to get away from her mother who was always telling her that she wasn’t doing things properly.  She complained that she expected us not to do the same thing!  We worked with her quite a while, with little improvement, and finally had to let her go.

Moroccan maids 2

One of the biggest problems is in trying to train someone to do tasks in the way you want, and not the way they may be used to.  Some maids cannot understand what is wrong with using a hand to flip water from a bucket all over the room (getting the legs of your expensive wooden furniture wet).  Others cannot understand why you don’t want your expensive wooden furniture wiped down with a wet rag (completely destroys the finish).  Others apparently wash the dishes as if they were wearing a blindfold, either don’t get them clean, or chip all your cups and plates because they are not careful, or don’t follow the procedures that you demonstrate and request.  Most waste cleaning materials such as cleanser, soap, or steel wool pads; most destroy equipment such as brooms–after all they are not paying for it.  Others lie all the time about work they claim to have done, but didn’t.  Others never wash their hands before working in the kitchen (except while you are watching).

Some maids do not keep themselves clean and even smell bad.  When I told my North African sister-in-law that we want someone with personal hygiene, she told me that many women actually want to employ maids who are dirty and smelly, in order to keep their husbands from chasing after them!

Apparently there are quite a few maids who attempt to “steal away” the wife’s husband, sometimes by using witchcraft.  Many say, “An attractive maid could steal your husband.”  Some maids are believed to practice witchcraft.  One foreign friend’s Moroccan in-laws visited her home while she was traveling outside of the country, and found that her maid had put some kind of witchcraft object in the kitchen cupboard specifically designed to steal away her Moroccan husband.  The in-laws fired the maid immediately.

Most maids have to be constantly supervised, either to make sure they are following the procedures you requested, and not doing as they please the minute you turn your back, or because they want to do as little work as possible.  Finding someone who can look around and see what needs to be done, learn to do it the way you want it done, and who can do it without being supervised is a rare find.

On the humorous Arabic TV series about maids, some maids who try to help but who make terrible decisions on their own.  Most maids gossip with other maids about their employers.  Some maids are even crazy (and sometimes employers who are crazy).

So why have a maid?  Life here is not organized to be able to work and take care of children on your own.  It is assumed that people either have maids or plenty of unemployed family members who  can do necessary tasks such as picking up children for lunch and taking them back to school, cooking the maid meal for the family at midday, or running errands to places that are only open normal working hours, such as paying a telephone or electric bill.  A maid is supposed to buy you some time, but often it buys as much headache as anything else.  If you are lucky enough to find a good maid, you want to hang on to her.

Maids, for Middle-Easterners, are also a status symbol.  Many families who grow up not being able to afford a maid get one the very minute they reach the lower-middle class (especially in the cities).  It’s a way to announce that you have reached the middle class.  In addition, the life of a middle-class working woman is not easy.  Generally, many women do all the raising of the children and keeping of the house, IN ADDITION to working full-time, while their husband spends his time at his job, but has plenty of leisure time at the cafe or with friends.  Middle-class working women have very little, or no, leisure time, and it’s a way for them to get some time to themselves, or to spend with their children.

Upper-class women generally have two or three maids, a chauffeur, a gardener, and a guardian.  It is the lifestyle everyone respects and aspires to.

–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

“Taxi Whores”

November 12, 2012

 

I live in North Africa.  Sometimes foreigners and expats assume that only they are getting taken advantage of by taxi drivers.  It’s always reassuring when we find out that the locals get ripped-off, too.  (Misery loves company!)

My local-country citizen, North African friend, who lives in another part of our country, recently arrived in my city by train.  He asked me, “How much does it cost to get a taxi from the new train station to the main square?”

I told him he had to be careful of the taxis which park right next to the train station, as they wait there to charge rip-off fares to everyone.  I told him if he could walk about two blocks, he could find taxis at the normal fare.  Unfortunately, he had too much luggage to do that.

Being a local North African citizen in his own country, he was able to get a taxi at only double the normal fare, although the taxis do get away with charging five times the normal fare to foreigners.  Instead of driving around looking for fares, those taxis find it easier to sit in a line all day, and just make up for the lack of fares by charging only one very expensive fare!  It’s a bit like prostitutes who are unwilling to work for normal wages at a normal job, and charge a high price for a few hours of work.

My friend replied, “Taxi whores! hahaha”

So I’m afraid I can’t take credit for this clever name…..

–Lynne Diligent

N.B — There are many honest taxi drivers; it’s just sometimes hard to find them when you need them!

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

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


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