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?

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Yes it’s that time of the year again when the world stops turning and we all focus on the one thing that really matters. FOOD. Ramadan Kareem (Ramadan is generous) is a common phrase that we all say, hear and try to embody. Or so we think. Now before I go off on my rant and rave about the holy month I need to make a couple of disclaimers: one, if you are overly sensitive to the spirit of Ramadan this may offend you. What I say here has no bearing on the beauty of what Ramadan is or the respect due it, but rather a commentary on our modern interpretation of what our lifestyles have been like in this month.

Let me first start with the pre Ramadan craze and how that affects people. The weekend before Ramadan sees people lining up and standing in long queues to get their Ramadan supplies. It looks like they are constantly worried that there will be no food or toilet paper sold during Ramadan. I mean come on, why do you suddenly have the need to buy 19 cans of corn, 12 chickens, 5 boxes of milk, 3 bags of flour, 4 kilos of dates, 5 bags of noodles (you know the ones, (شعرية …etc all at one go? What is it about Ramadan that makes people need to buy in bulk? Prices are not cheaper, supplies are not going to run out, and how much storage space do you have in your house anyways? I truly think that the essence of Ramadan is to continue your life as normal, and just focus on the spirituality of the month rather than its gluttony.

Speaking of gluttony, how many times have we heard people talk about fasting being a cleansing of the body as well as the spirit? Well how do you manage that if at iftar you wolf down a 5 course meal? There is soup, salad, dates, pastries, main dish (if not two), and desert. How does your body cleanse itself if you let it run on empty then put ALL that stuff in one go? There is a saying in computers, garbage in, garbage out! Mix all those elements in and it’s a sure fire way to cause indigestion.

And can someone please explain to me how eating a 5 course meal, followed by a continuous stream of food all night is considered empathizing with the poor? A central theme of Ramadan is empathy with the poor. Yet we over eat, over spend, work less, and complain about it! If we really want to feel with the poor, shouldn’t we keep to our regular lifestyles, cook simply, work a same amount and really get in touch with the less privileged?

One of the things I really like about Ramadan is how we all suddenly find God and find our pockets. We all suddenly remember our prayer mats, the Koran, and don’t get me started on what we all stop doing! We do remember to give to charities, we do feed people, we do donate clothes and money though and that is wonderful. So wonderful that I would think that the beneficiaries of all this charity and giving would love to have some consistency throughout the year.

And please don’t get me started on the Ramadan tents and the TV shows. It’s like we are deprived of any entertainment throughout the year and we need to make up for it in 30 days!

I guess what I am trying to say is that what I see and experience in Ramadan these days is so far away from my understanding of Ramadan and what it stands for. I also have issues with people who consistently behave one way for 11 months and then for 1 month they change. If you believe in the ideals that Ramadan embodies, shouldn’t you strive to be that person throughout the year? God is around ALL the time not just in Ramadan! The poor are hungry and need clothes all the time not just in Ramadan and during Eid. The spirit needs to be tamed and we should be patient, understanding, polite, always not just in Ramadan.

I really don’t understand why we get crankier, ruder, louder, more gluttonous (and yes I know all about nicotine and caffeine withdrawal), when Ramadan is a time to get quieter, calmer, more focused, more spiritual. It is a time of rituals and traditions both cultural and religious. It is a time for families to come together, to share between themselves and others. It’s a time to feel with the less privileged. It’s a time to respect and understand our own privileges.

Alas I feel that these lessons are lost. You don’t have to fast to understand or learn these lessons. But I think you should respect them and give space to understand them and be given the space to practice the rituals of Ramadan or not. So next time you say or hear the phrase Ramadan Kareem think about what it means to you and how you will embody that phrase. I know I have already started my journey into the Ramadan Spirit.