Business Culture and Job Opportunities
While learning the Arabic language is an important part of doing business in the area, you also need to be familiar with local business customs to avoid offending your hosts and colleagues. Read on for a basic primer on doing business in the Arabic culture.
If you’re learning the Arabic language in order to conduct business in the Middle East, it’s equally as important to understand Arabic business culture. Just like a handshake seals a deal or a flip of the middle finger causes offense in America, the business culture of Arabic-speaking countries has its own set of unspoken rules and expectations. No matter how good your Arabic language skills, neglecting the customs of the region can be just as detrimental to your business.
Arabic culture is intrinsically linked to Islam, and the religion’s conservative tenants have definitely seeped into Arabic business practices. However, this means more than just wearing conservative clothing and avoiding profane language. In Arab cultures, it’s considered inappropriate to quarrel or argue in front of others – even a heated exchange with a business colleague should be conducted in private. Similarly, laughter and joking tend to be more toned down in public than they are in private gatherings.
These conservative values should be carried over into any advertising or marketing strategy your company implements in Arabic cultures. Unlike American advertisements, the imagery you use in your Arabic ads should be modest in taste – half-naked women in suggestive positions will only offend your target customer. In addition, ads should focus on the merits of your product, instead of comparing it directly to another product. Concentrate on quality and functionality, as these traits are highly prized in Arab cultures.
Invitations and Introductions
If you have been invited to a meal with your Arabic host, there are several customs you may be expected to observe. Unlike American culture, you aren’t expected to bring a gift of food or drink for your host. When you arrive at the meal, take stock of your surroundings and follow the example of your host. If your guests have removed their shoes, do the same, leaving your shoes in the same area and in the same orientation as your host. Also note the way your hosts are sitting. If there’s more than one person in the room, you’ll likely find that they are seated in a circular fashion so that no one’s back is facing another person. Make sure you do the same.
In addition, you might find it helpful to practice traditional Arabic greetings before attending any meetings with your hosts or clients. The correct greeting upon entering a room is “Alsalamo Alikom”, which translates to “Peace be with you.” The traditional response to this greeting is “Wa'alikom Alsalam.” Handshakes are also exchanged in greeting – just be sure use the right hand, starting with the person who is to the right of the circle or who has approached you first.
One of the major differences between American and Arabic business transactions is the idea of “saving face”. While American business interactions are often peppered with bravado and boasting, business dealings in the Middle East tend to carry a more sensitive and humble tone. Questions and exchanges are often structured in such a way as to minimize discomfort and avoid injuring another person’s dignity by allowing for graceful exits and multiple interpretations of the situation. Although this can take some getting used to, it’s important to practice this concept to avoid making your Arab business partners uncomfortable.
You’re probably already aware that foreign language skills boost your marketability when it comes to job opportunities. However, if you aren’t yet fluent in a second language, why not consider Arabic? As companies do an increasing amount of business in the Middle East, you’ll likely find that job applicants who list the Arabic language on their resume will have their pick of jobs!
If you’re thinking about learning Arabic in order to start a new career, you’ll soon find that the possibilities for job opportunities are endless. Many companies are now specifically recruiting individuals who speak a second language, and a growing number of companies doing business in the Middle East makes Arabic speakers especially in demand. Although you may not qualify for a job in one aspect, you may find a company that is more than willing to hire you, simply based on your Arabic speaking skills.
Many of the countries in which Arabic is the primary language are becoming giants in the world’s leading industries, which brings to the forefront the need to be able to communicate effectively with the businesses in these countries. Therefore, the job opportunities available for Arabic speakers cover a wide spectrum of business industries. The following are some of the top opportunities you’ll encounter:
- Interpreter – This, of course, is one of the biggest opportunities for an Arabic speaker. Interpreters are in great demand – especially for corporations that do business in Arabic-speaking countries. Imagine botching a multi-million dollar deal on a misunderstanding due to the language barrier and you’ll see why companies are so keen to hire good Arabic speaking translators. To qualify for these positions, you must be fluent in the Arabic language or one of its many regional dialects, and you may find that prior business experience is helpful in landing a job.
- Travel and Hospitality – All sorts of opportunities exist for Arabic speakers in the domestic travel industry. You can easily find work in hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, airports, and many other businesses that are seeing an increase in Arabic customers. Of course, in addition to your language skills, you must also have a pleasant personality and be able to deal with upset or irate customers and travelers to qualify.
- Finance – The financial industry has a great need for people who speak Arabic, as some of the countries that speak Arabic as their native tongue are among the richest countries in the world. This ensures that the need for people who can speak Arabic effectively will continue to grow. If you already a background in finance, you may be able to quickly rise through the ranks of your organization by adding the Arabic language to your skill set.
- Government – Many governments today utilize Arabic speakers and translators when conducting negotiations and policy discussions with other countries. Once again, you must be able to speak the language fluently without any mistakes in your translations. These jobs can be very exciting, but you’ll find that they may require advanced security clearances and specialized training as well.
Beyond these four examples, you’ll find that there are job opportunities for Arabic speakers in almost every industry that you can imagine. The key to taking advantage of these opportunities is to practice your language skills every day, perfecting all the sounds and inflections found in the Arabic language.
When you feel confident in your language skills, you can start looking for the perfect job. Depending on your other relevant skills and experiences, you may that you get many offers for employment. Many of these jobs will come with exceptional salaries and great benefits, such as paid travel and health benefits. Dedicate yourself to the language and the time it takes to learn it well – you’ll find later on that it was worth every minute.