How many times have you stood and waited for someone to show up for a meeting, or event of some sort? Or better yet, how many times have you started to set up a meeting only to be asked is that English time or Arab time (actually replace Arab with the appropriate nationality depending on ethnicity or location or both)? How many times have you been to some government or semi government facility and left cursing Arabs and their disorganization? What about raised voices and heated discussions that are symptomatic of our cultures and are considered uncivilized by some? Or, or, or … the number of incidents, scenarios, or what have yous that we seem to be unhappy with, and attribute dismissively to our backward Arabness are numerous and uncountable if you ask me. Yet every time I hear that excuse I start to boil!
I hate it when people make these sweeping statements, Why? Because we perpetuate this stereotype simply by continuing to use it. I am punctual, I will stand in line and ask others to do so, I will try to apply some sort of organization to what it is I am doing. I hate raising my voice (despite being loud) and so I refuse to accept that this is how Arabs behave because I too am an Arab. And attributing this insult to me is not acceptable – even by other Arabs.
For too long we have been selling ourselves short by setting the bar for ourselves so low. When our expectations are all those negative attributes then that is where we stay and yet when we travel or are asked to maintain a different expectation (like “English Time”) we comply. I am a firm believer in setting high standards and expectations. Communicating those expectations and setting them early on means that most likely they will be met regardless of ethnicity and culture! Many people may disagreae. But you will be surprised how you can with persistence, consistency, clear communication and time how things may change.
If I make an appointment with someone then I make it clear that I will wait 15 minutes. Once those 15 minutes are up I am gone. My time is just as important as theirs. If I set a meeting to start and end at specific times then out of respect to everyone there then it should start and end on time and if it doesn’t then I will leave – just ask my mates at Toastmasters how many times I have left on time despite the meeting going on even if for another 5 minutes. If I expect everyone to line up then I tell them that and if they are out of line so to speak then they get asked to get back in line- this happened at the duty free at the airport a while back when this woman tried to jump the line at the cash register, she pretended not to notice the line and ignored it. She approached the desk from the other side despite the line that was forming with about 5 or 6 people in queue already, I was third in line. She very clearly ignored us all and very importantly tried to interrupt the already on going transaction. After observing her for a short while I decided to say something; and say something I did I was polite but assertive. She was very unhappy about being caught out and tried to say she had been there before and refused to move, she then turned away to ignore us further and placed her items on the counter as soon as the previous transaction was completed. The cashier then refused to take her purchases and asked her politely to join the queue that had formed. Everyone involved was Arab! So the excuse that we as Arabs are disorderly and unorganized is not true. There was a clear system and we all followed it.
When I talk to people about this and try to find out where this chaos, this lack of respect for time, these behaviors come from we theorize about many a different things. Mine view and I stand by it is colonization. We were considered inferior, heathen, uncivilized..what have you by the wonderful white man that came and tried to impose their views of what is better. What ensued was very complex and the residual effect of all of that can still be felt today; just think of how we view someone with a degree from white country vs a local degree, or better yet the views of someone living in the west with no degree vs a person with a degree here. And so with this inherit insecurity and inferiority complex we attribute bad time management to Arabness!
Well I dont know why this is a news flash to people but there are numerous Arabs were are timely, organized, soft spoken, unapologetic, set the bar really high for themselves and maintain it. And we should look to those Arabs and others and set our bars that way, find positive role models within our communities. We should communicate expectations and needs and respect them. We should not be afraid to do the work… we are not lazy brown people and we should not keep making the excuse or the complaints we are Arab! Instead we should look to find solutions.
I’d like to leave you with an example. The passport and civil status department in Jordan used to be the most chaotic and disorganized of bureaucratic offices. I had the pleasure of visiting that department more than once this year, and I do mean pleasure. There was a clear system, there was a help desk, there was a numbering electronic device and if people were lost they could ask. Instructions were constantly being given to people who needed them and people complied. This meant that you went to the window when your number was called, there was no crowding, shouting or shoving of papers from over your shoulder and there was plenty of room to sit and wait when needed. In each instance I was out in under an hour. That too is being Arab. I almost always end my posts with a question or two and here is my question for today: Where is your bar? Is it high enough? What’s your excuse?