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Understanding cultural differences

Moving to a new country highlights the differnces in cultural norms,
I can think of the culture around food. So that’s one of the things that people from the Middle East are very proud of their food and cooking and sharing. And so you probably find any excuse to bring in food and share it, because that’s a delightful thing to do for everybody. In Europe, you probably want to know if people are available to spend the time and eat and share your food with you. So there are different expectations, you’d think. And also when it’s tied up with time management. So if people have time to stay around and eat, then you’d want to know that in advance.
People cook too much and want to share a lot, and that’s a sign of generosity. But in Europe, you’d find that people are no less generous, but they think about waste. They think about the environment. And so they probably bring just enough for food to be shared and be more conscious about waste. So yes, it’s just knowing how much and when is something to consider. I also find that now that we’re talking about time and whether people are available or not, time management could be an issue. The Middle East is a very relaxed culture. People say, ‘ah, tomorrow’ or ‘inshallah’, then could be any time.
Over here, people are more conscious about their schedules, their time, so you need to book things in advance. You need to know that this is the time allocated to do a particular task. You need to arrive on time. So all these things become embedded in your learning as you become more used to European culture. When I first came to the UK, I felt that I was using too much hand gestures or just using my body more when I’m excited about talking about something. And I felt that people weren’t very comfortable around me, so I started to realise that. I noticed that people in Europe use less hand gestures, especially north Europeans. Different gestures can also mean different things.
So the sign for waiting in Arabic is– For instance, where I come from this means ‘wait’. It can mean something different for Italians. And so people in the UK know what it means for Italy rather than what it means in the Middle East.
And also being a bit loud. And if you’re excited, then people suddenly their voice becomes loud and because that just shows that you’re interested. It’s not so much appreciated in Europe. It’s also depending on the context, but people tend to speak more softer voices. And turn-taking, Like for my family, when I’m in the family reunion or my mum’s house and my siblings are there, we love to talk on top of each other, because that’s how a normal Middle Eastern conversation goes. And when I try to set the rules and say ‘No, no, no, I’m still talking’ or ‘You have to wait’, they find it a little bit odd.
But if you’re in the company of Europeans, you’d want to wait for your turn rather than speak on top of someone else. It could be considered rude.

Listen to Nisreen talking about some differences between the culture of her home country and Europe where she now lives. Listen and make notes on the differences she mentions. You can check your notes here.


In the comments section note a difference between your own culture and any other culture you are familiar with. Like or comment on any differences which you were unaware of before or which you find interesting.

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