Category Archives: multi cultural

culture: shopping a la Arabia


The first year when I arrived in Qatar, I’ve been desperately looking for shops which offers something different then the ‘Highstreet’- and ‘mall’ shops as H&M, Zara, Mango, Topshoe, etc..
Here, you can’t google for something you want, because those little shops do not have websites. If they do have got a website they usualy don’t give information about what they sell or service they provide, because that may changes per customer and situation and availability. “Inshallah”
The way to find your ‘little’ or ‘big’ treasures are by mouth to mouth; connecting with other people and ask. 
As a very independent (and maybe a bit shy) western woman it took a while before I got that.

After 4 years I got it and I started to love it.
Besides the malls there are streets with shops. I say streets with shops and not shopping streets as these are not streets where you go for window shopping and see what kind of shop it is and what they offer. You go to the particular shop which might offer what you need and who’s owner is family or friend of your family or friend.
As these shops run because of the mouth to mouth advertisement and relations, they do not have the need to look welcoming or nice, they even look pretty ricket and dirty. 
The salesman doesn’t need to be particular friendly when he got his target of the day or you dirturb him in his in between midday sleep.
But then when you found them and got there in the right time, there are people inside who are craftsmen, people who know what they’re talking about; Taylors who know the human body; know how certain fabric will fold and what need to be done to fit. The gold and silver smiths who knows about the different gems, gold and silver and how it holds and can make every design you wish for. The carpenters and upholstery guys….. 
You can almost get whatever you want the way you want.

To purchase is an event on it’s own. Try not to be in a hurry, you’ll miss out of the event. As a lady you’ll have to sit before the counter and you get a water offered. You talk about mutural family, friends and the country you come from and if you visited their country. After a while, depending on how busy and the mood, you start talking business.

Then in the end the bargaining. 
Bargaining is NOT only about getting the best price (= cheapest) it’s also about how you value your purchase and what you are willing to grant the salesman. For the salesmen it’s not only about the money (although it’s very important and even more important when doing business with a white) but it’s also very important for the salesman how you value him and his business. That’s the most difficult part for me and I do prefer set prices. On the other hand now I’m used to it. It’s a good way to show someone if you feel not served appropriate (feedback) and when I pay more, I know it’s the most direct form of humanitarian aid.

As a westerner I’m used that when people say it’s ready -then an then- it will be ready. Most of the time it isn’t because there are always others, who are in a hurry and need priortiy. You’ll go wrong one or two times, then you start calling and then after 4 years you play the dramatic part, of how much in a hurry you are too, and sometimes it can be ready on the spot, instead of a week!

The whole experience is more a way of purchasing something you want then the quick buying and spending money to big brands.
 Now I know I have to take my time, I prefer this way of shopping better then go into the big stores where the ‘salespeople’ are the youngest and the cheapest, bored people who have no clue or interest in what they sell how they sell aslong as it’s in the procedures.

Enjoy shopping!IFGAblogperson


A look on multi cultural diner customs

There are a few features which we use to compare- and analyse multiple cultures. One of them is the difference between a collective- or individualistic cultures. 
It’s about preceding needs; the collective needs (the needs of the family, clan or group) or the individual needs (personal needs).
When you are aware of these distinctions, it’s great to see how these show in daily live and how they can cause some awkward situations.

Let’s go for diner.
Untill recently, in restaurants, I always made my own choice and ordered my own food. That’s how it works in most western restaurants but in restaurants with a collective culture you order multiple dishes to share and there’s one person who orders all, after decided what everybody would like to eat.

Knowing this, it makes sense why the chinese restaurants always have such big portions; A portion is to share and not for one person alone.
I always thought it was cheap to give more rice than anything else at the chinese, but now I understand that the rice is in portions to share with everybody, just like all the several other dishes.
There is less distinction between appetizers and main coarse but a choice between meats, vegetables, rice and different sorts of food.
In the individual orientated restaurants, the different coarses give a diversity in the food you order, in collective orientated restaurants it’s the selection of the dishes that gives the diversity.
Collective eaters will take more time to eat from the different dishes, as they don’t have more coarses with time between to wait and digest for the next dish.

I thought that my ‘bonus’ son was picky and didn’t like my food, he on the other hand was nervous because we eat so fast. 
We acknowledged that we had different customs and talked about it.
It’s so much easier to accept different behaviour when you understand.
And we found ways to mix and match our diner cultures. Buffet style diners works for everybody.
It’s so nice to be able to combine those cultures. It makes my live so much more divers and interesting, just because I can appreciate and choose between the advantages of diversity


Time or clock?

From a cultural perspective, time is a very interesting phenomenon. Because it depends in which culture and where you’ve been raised how you live with time.

“You’ve got the clock, we’ve got time”

Is an african saying. And like most sayings there’s some truth in that.

In most cities in Europe you’ve got clock- or bell towers (mostly in church towers) with a clock to show the time and a bell to ring every hour. 
For ages -since the clock was invented- people who lived in cities have a routine based on the clock.

In my family that was; wake up at 7, work starts at 9, coffee break at 11, lunch 12.30, tea break 15.00, 17.00 home, 18.00 diner, 20.00 coffee, 22.00 nightcap, 23.00 bedtime.

Mealtimes and sleep were more regulated by the clock then by hunger or fatigue. 
Even without a clock this routine is in my system.
I’ve got most energy to work in the morning, by 18.00 I’m starving and at 23.00hr. my personal light goes off.

With a clock divided in 12 hours and everywhere available people can be very effective using time in every hour. You can plan a task, how long does a task take and what can you do with the rest of the time. Or how long does it take to get somewhere and be in time for an appointment. Sometimes it is literally a race against the clock, to make all those plans and routines work.
In some cultural groups there might be -a not official- rule to be a fashionable late with 15-30 minutes, but that is still based on time.

The battery of my watch stopped. (and at the moment I haven’t got the time and energy to find out, if, where and how to replace watch-batteries here in Qatar, Middle East) 
As an independent/freelancer I’m not dictated by the regulated times of an office or school. working home here I find that I’m more depending on the call for prayer. I’ve got my lunch around midday prayer and start diner around 17.00. In the meantime I eat and drink when I’m hungry or thirsty.

Looking around me, I can tell people have a different routine, more regulated by the call for prayer, because you don’t insult someone by leaving for the reason of prayer. People here plan their days more between those prayer times.
I can also see that in these regions -close to the equator- the daily routine is based on the sun. the day starts at dawn before the sunrise, when it’s not so hot because of the sun, Have food and a rest during the hottest hours of the day and live starts up again when the sun sets.

There is definitely a logic in planning the days duties and daily routine everywhere in the world, it might depend on the possibilities of money and/or resources what and how much you can plan.
In cultures where they live by the clock/hour the routines are planned very effectively.
Still, I’m still considered ‘lazy’ as I stop at 17.00hr when I think my tasks are done. Me on my turn had to get used to people sleeping and shops and services closed during daytime and have to get out after diner to do my shopping or …. to get my watch fixed.IFGAblogperson

Cultural Intelligence

My Children are real global citizens, “where ever they lay their head that’s their home”. They’re raised multi-cultural, even more then I sometimes realise.
They are growing up fast now. They start to be young adults with all the ups and downs. I find it sometimes hard to let go and to admit that they’re intelligent personalities and do have good thoughts and ideas. I can learn a lot from them nowadays!

It were my children who -politely- tried to tell me that my goals for the International Feelgood Academy, (by sharing knowledge and experiences, learning to enjoy our differences) are not going to work . “ it was ‘soooooo Dutch’ to think that people from other cultures were going to share their thoughts about cultural sensitive topics with me; a white woman, even not a friend or family member.”
My children are absolutely right, I know -although I tend to forget it sometimes-. The knowledge that they were right discouraged me, I had a couple of experiences by hand myself that I’m ‘too Dutch’ as-well; My interest and curiosity in what/how and why other people moves is not being much appriciated. I’m too direct and open and expect that from others too.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with my Australian neighbour about something political -I can’t even remember what- but after that chat she obviously avoided me. Then I realised she must have been very uncomfortable about that specific chat. So I rang her doorbell (so she could not avoid me) and I told her how much I had enjoyed our chat and how much I appreciated her sharing her thoughts and ideas with me, I really learned something from that chat, it made my world a little bit bigger. It took her a while; she had to think about my approach to a discussion, in which we not naturally agreed about. She agreed with me hesitatingly, but we never had the same talks again. I was to afraid to loose also the small talks.

It depressed me for a while. Then again it were my children who convinced to keep on going 
“Mom, you see things, and with your experience and knowledge of human nature and different cultures you put cultural topics in a different perspective and give it a twist. Maybe people don’t join in the way you want to but you give people something to think about and raise some understanding.”
And that is actually where cultural intelligence is all about.IFGAblogperson

Culture differences and greetings

There are visible and non visible culture differences; The visible culture differences are how people live (apartments, high-rise, huts, villas, terraced houses? in cities or villages), how they dress (warm, cold, covering, showing); What/who they love and celebrate (the heroes, the festivals, the food, the music, the books) and how they behave (greetings, managing time and the people around). 
Most of this differences you can get used to, in time, because it’s mostly behaviour; it’s about the way people show their culture and use their environment. 
You might prefer another behaviour but you will get used to it.

At the moment I live in Qatar, a small desert nation. The boys learn to ride a car in the desert. They can drive a car alright, but driving in traffic is something completely different. I would prefer if they would stick to traffic rules it would make my life much less dangerous but I got used to it and on the other side….. Not all the rules are very convenient at times and I must say I like those wild desert rides too.

A very important aspect of the visible culture differences is behaviour; the way people react on certain situations. 
A reaction is often based on believes, it’s about expectations, it’s about assumptions, it’s about values, it’s about thoughts, it’s about feelings and emotions. And those are not visible but very important for behaviour, certainly in relation to cultures and it’s differences and how people deal with them.
People want to know (conscious and unconscious) what the right way is to react according to the judgement of the social group they (want to) belong to, so they don’t become an ‘outlaw’ or be alone. 
It can be quite scary and uncomfortable when you don’t know how to react in certain situations.

I do live a very international live and I’ve got friends from all over the world and every time I meet some of them I have to think. “Just shaking hands? hug? 1,2 or 3 kisses? on the cheek? (one cheek or two, where do you start your first kiss???) bow? or just a shoulder pat?

Knowing about these different ways of greetings helps to understand and accept how people say hello.

When my old Japanese neighbour bows deep, it’s for her to show her respect, she doesn’t want to be cold or distant while I rather want to hug her after 3 years but that would be very uncomfortable for her. 

It helps a lot to know that I felt obstructed while her attentions would be that I feel respected. I can accept her ways and adapt mine, so we both feel good.

And in the end when I leave she will still got that hug, just because I know she can handle our differences too.IFGAblogperson

Cultural Adjustments

In the Netherlands, when it’s warm and not raining, we go outside! We sit in our gardens, on our balconies, in parks or at café’s with outdoor terraces. We’re programmed like that. So when we moved to Japan, we made our selves comfortable in our little garden; Brought out some chairs (we couldn’t find outdoor furniture to buy) and a light; We were eaten alive by mosquito’s, so we bought a mosquito-tent to sit in. Yes it got hot, but “hey it’s summer and no rain!”! It took us a few weeks before we understood why we were the only ones sitting outside, it was too hot, too humid, too many mosquitoes and inside it was very comfortable with airco, lights and no bugs. “They were not that stupid in Japan.”
Japanese people are very polite people, we’ve never seen them laughing at us, but they must have had the laugh of their lives “those weird foreigners”.

It was the first time I experienced that people have unconscious behaviour and believes. Things they grow up with and are being considered as normal, without even thinking about why they are doing it. It’s their culture, their identity.
Usually those behaviour patterns are logical and do make sense for the people in that particular environment in different parts of the world; In Asia, you avoid situations being stung by mosquito’s who might spread diseases; In the Northern Europe you go outside when the weather allows it, to get vitamin D from the sun for energy; In the Middle-Easts sandy conditions you wear scarfs and face/mouth protection against the sand and sunburn.

Most of social behaviour is historically grown and accepted, as it makes sense.

A burkini actually makes sense in the Middle East; not only to protect women from dribbling men but also sunburn. But so does exposing your skin to the sun in Europe when and how much that’s possible, to get as much energy/vitamin D for the long and dark winter ahead. And those dribbling men? I guess in Europe most women know they’re strong enough not to be afraid of men and men are raised that women are more than sex.

All those habits, customs, rituals, – religious or not – do make sense in the part of the world they’re developed. Outside that region they should be reconsidered.

For me; how gorgeous the weather might be – compared to depression filled Dutch
winters – I will stay inside to avoid the mosquito’s and in the Middle East I cover-up, just because it makes to protect my lung. It just make sense in a social-historical way.


Ramadan Kareem

It’s the last week of the ramadan. I fled Qatar. The heat, the Ramadan and the Sharia that if we would do something wrong we would be punished (nobody knows what or how). I’ve got a teenage daughter who’s a bit rebellious and got the intention showing of her (gorgeous young) body and I can’t stand to be at home every day or do without water.

The philosophy behind the ramadan though is interesting and is connected with a Good Feeling.
“By changing our habits and daily routines in accordance to divine orders we learn that we’re not the slaves of our habits but the servants of Allah” And indeed if you change your routine and daily habits for at least a few weeks, your brain will change in it’s routine of thinking, it becomes more flexible and got the opportunity to think of new and different ideas and solutions. A lot of decisions are made during Ramadan.

“By cutting  off one self voluntarily from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person also gains true sympathy with those who go without food and water on regular base” It’s so true that if you’re been cut off of your daily comforts you just start to realize and value them more. I really do value that I can drink, when, where and what I want.
Since I live in a conservative Islam country I started to realize how much I value my independence, freedom and justice. Because I don’t have those values overthere I learned how much I value them. 

One of the perceptions of the Quran is that one should give 2,5% of it’s income to charity, during the ramadan it’s time to act to that charity. Or just to be good for other people and animals. Giving gives a very good feeling, it’s a nice feeling to do something good and in the human spirit if you’re good to other people, people will be good to you too. (why only Ramadan?).

But most of all,I love the iftar meals; people come together to prepare meals and after the sunset they break the fasting and have meals together. After a day of fasting every meal turns out a little celebration. A time of connecting with the people in your life, just being kind, even when you don’t agree, accepting.  It’s not bound only to the (extended) family meals but also with friends and colleagues as you’ve got a whole month instead of one or two days like christians have with christmas. That are occasions which makes people Feel Good