Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Cultural Difference

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In the past, I had interviewed several Iraqi locals that I worked with during my time in their country. The awareness of cultural rules that were presented for us to provide integration into their country was lacking in many areas, including the nonverbal rules that varied greatly from the more “free” American style. First, the shaking of hands, which in America is almost always considered the norm for meeting and greeting. While there are no differences in the actual contact, there is not the immediate shaking of hands that occurs in American society.

Hand shaking will usually only occur, initially, amongst leaders or spokesmen for a group. This is also done more as an understanding; similar to the custom of “shaking on it” that is less commonplace in today’s society. Another custom in America is the constant eye contact, or staring, that occurs as an indication of attention being provided to the speaker. In Iraq, eye contact is acceptable amongst two individuals during private conversation, but the requirement to maintain eye contact does not extend beyond.

It is considered a requirement that activity continue during conversation, and it is not rude for one person to talk constantly while others are working and not making any verbal or nonverbal confirmations that they are listening. A third interesting custom in Iraq is that of time. I worked with a crew of 10 men who were from the local village and came to work each day for the Army. These 10 explained that time is a definite in their culture. If someone says they will do something, it will either include a time or not, as opposed to Americans who indicate “maybe, soon or sometime. This definitive culture is because of religious tenets that dictate when things will occur in their country. Meal times occur at a given interval, prayer times also, while work does not require certain times to be performed. The difference with work hours is the establishment of verbal contracts, as we label the action, in which times are specified, and those are the times. Working past this time is a personal choice, and those that do not put in “overtime” are in no way chastised or considered lazy.

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The same standard is held regarding start times, and they will be an hour early if there is any indication that arriving at their agreed location will delay them working. This level of personal dedication to their culture, and their willingness to self-regulate their behaviors borders on fanaticism, by American standards, yet provides the same group benefits to them that we American individuals seek for ourselves. i. e. No one gets “sold for a goat” because someone will provide everyone the goat. Adler, Rosenfeld and Proctor II. Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication, 11th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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