Oriental Business Culture: Tradition & Modernity

You might have expected to read a blog about China, actually I wanted to do so, but then I came across nice articles which inspired me to write this blog about business culture in oriental areas where I also want to take a look at the role of women. The “Arab World” is a large area so it might appear the question on how far one can generalize about them. But there are still things which they have in common: The language, the Islam, an impressive history and intellectual achievements. But let us start with taking a look at the Business.

Attitudes among Arabs and Germans towards business

 One of the articles I read was written by Robert Gibson who talked to Dr. Karim-Elmahi Ismail who is an expert of German-Arab relations in business. He also offered some opinions between Germans and Arabs towards each other. According to Dr. Karim-Elmahi Ismail:

Arabs think that Germans live to work and are always in a hurry and live to work, neglecting their family life and not respecting older people.

In contrary, he says that Germans think that:

Germans have great problems with the Arab attitude towards time there is a lack of punctuality, people don’t seem to have any self-discipline, there is no precision and little long-term planning.

A possible reason for the lack of long-term planning might be the role of the religion, because they believe that the future is not in their hands and therefore decided by god.

It is important to understand that Islam is not just a religion but a social order

One aspect is that the work plays a big role is the different communication style, the Arabs are considered to speak a high-context language which implies that they express things indirectly and rather use the collective form. In contrast, German is a low-context language, where things are usually expressed directly. Arabs might consider this as rude or cold-hearted. Similar to Mexico and China, the organization is very hierarchical and relationships are very important, sometimes even more than performance. The relationship between men and women differs a lot to Germany, for example with the fact that women always need a guardian, to this I will come later in this post. Social networking and being loyal towards family and the employer are really essential. Germans may have the attitude that one has to work hard to reach someone’s goals and in contrast Arabs may think that it is important to work hard, but work is not everything, family and social networking has a higher priority. In the next paragraph I will sum up the hints Dr. Karim-Elmahi Ismail gives in the article.

Things you should do in business

  • Take off your shoes when you are invited to the house of your business partner, this also holds for visiting a mosque
  • Be patient
  • Be able to practice small talk, “business is a social event”
  • Avoid negotiations during Ramadan or during prey times, because your partner might not be in a condition for a negotiation or he or she might leave

Things you should avoid in business

  •  avoid criticism
  • Don’t show the sole of your shoe to an Arab
  • Never use your left hand for greeting
  • Never refuse the offers of food and drinks
  • If you are at the house of your business partner, don’t ask after the wife or daughter
  •  Don’t touch a child on his or her head
  • Be careful with compliments to objects (because your business partner might feel forced to give them to you as a present)
  • If you get a wrapped present, you should not open it in front of others
  • Don’t take it personally if the negotiation becomes louder
  • Don’t reject a proposal directly
  • Don’t create time pressure

If you are interested in business with Arab firms, there are some book recommendations:

The Arab Way: How to work effectively with Arab Cultures” by Jehad Al-Omari

Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times” by Margaret K. Nydell

Here you can get some regional news

The situation of women in Saudi Arabia

As I mentioned in the text above, it is also important to take a look at women in the Arabic society and also at the issue about guardians. For this I have read an interesting article by Eman Al Nafjan, who is a mother of three children, teacher and also a postgraduate student. She has started to use the social media for exchange with other Saudi women about their situation and she also has a wordpress website:


Saudi Arabia is considered to be a rather conservative Arab country. Every woman has a male guardian. In the case of marriage it is the husbands, if the women is not married it is the father, brother or the uncle. His permission is needed for working, getting education and all interactions with the government or with public services. And one other aspect is that women are not allowed to drive. So one might think that women are really dependent and do not have autonomy. There was an employment rate of around 28 %. But there are actually a lot of resources, because according to statistics, around 78 % of the unemployed women have a university degree. But nevertheless Eman Al Nafjan is optimistic when she says:

The Arab spring revolution has also made Saudis aware of their human rights. Indeed, Saudi women have become the most active protesters both on the streets and online. The Saudi women’s revolution is a healthy toddler. I can’t wait to watch it grow.

As this is a current issue, we can be excited for the future and hope for the best.


2 responses to “Oriental Business Culture: Tradition & Modernity

  1. Hey JanaStaub,
    I was really surprised when I saw that you wrote about the Islamic world, actually I was expecting another blog post on China. But nevertheless I read this post as well, and in the end I have to say: There are so many common aspects with the Chinese business culture people often don’t see including me.
    Even though the Arab world is also partly Asian, I often think of the Arabian world as a completely different world than the “true Asia”.
    But interestingly there are many factors in common, for example the aspect about telling things directly etc. I remember I told you this problem about Chinese and German conversation behavior before, seems like the Arab world has a similar viewpoint on this matter like Chinese people; and I would have really liked it if you had connected these two thoughts. Then it would not have seemed like an abrupt change of topic.
    I have the impression that you dug really deep into this issue, you cited some good sources and paraphrased the content really well. you blog post is short and informing, and I enjoy reading it. This time I was also not distracted by the composition of text and pictures like last week.
    What I recommend is to have a thought about lists again. The formatting of your list is not really visible, which is a pity!
    Another point of criticism is the missing transition of the business part to the women’s situations part in yo post. Makes it kind of hard to see the connection.
    Other than that I have to say that I really like the topics you address in you posts. Keep it up!

  2. Hey Johanna, I also really liked your post! I have to say that I only had the time to skim your last post, but I really read this one and I enjoyed seeing the progress you made! I read and commented on some earlier posts of yours, which were also interesting, but this one is already way more elaborate! You did good on the research part and found some very good qources and interesting people giving opinions.
    I agree with Mai, a bit more formatting would have given your list a more professional look and also would have made it easier to read. The idea of making a list is good, because it creates more whitespace, so you were definitly on the right way. I also liked that you put your citations in the wordpress quotation marks, this makes them more prominent and fun to read.
    Good job!

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