My Friend is a Palestinian Bedouin: XVIII. Uncertainty Avoidance, Language and Communication
One is supposed to understand from the circumstances. I once asked Bashar about money he was supposed to return to me. He got annoyed. He had expected me to understand that he is bothered by something else, and that this is not the moment to talk about money. He added that I also had raised the issue in a too direct way. He said that in case he would want to speak with someone about money, he would say: “Perhaps we have coffee together”. In the incident described above, I had turned the ambiguous situation into something unequivocal. I had interpreted Abu Omar’s reaction to my suggestion to create signs for the pump as positive, assuming that if he had had any objection or other idea he would have told me. I had related to our little conversation about this issue as a promise from my side, and a kind of agreement. From his response, it seems obvious that he had interpreted my words otherwise. I will write more about agreements in the section on planning.
There is an enormous difference between how both cultures relate to words. For the Dutch, words are almost holy. They are like facts. Not being exact, is being untruthful. For instance, I recall my Dutch client who corrected me when I greeted him with “good morning”. The time was just after noon. How could I be so inaccurate? For the Palestinian, words are ideas that need not to be taken exactly. When Bashar would tell me that he would like to meet me on a certain night, it meant nothing more than that at that moment he had the thought of saying this to me, either since he really thought he would enjoy meeting me that night or in order to please me. This difference between us in the use of words created great tensions.
As much as I was aware of his use of communication, I would remain frustrated when at the specific night he did not appear. Likewise, there is a difference in handling important personal developments. I expect from my good friends that they will share with me important info about their lives, whether positive or negative. Bashar would tend not to share info that he considers negative. This is related to matters being considered private, public image and his wish not to confront the other with unpleasant information. He would expect me to read the context (cf. Hall, 1970). The result of this kind of behavior from his side may be contrary to the intent, since it could be interpreted as deceptive. Thus, I often had the feeling that I cannot count on Bashar, that I am being told stories and that he is not serious. Once, in an attempt to help Bashar understand how I see the use of words, I told him that in “my” culture we have respect for words; we take words seriously. I asked him to be more attentive to this idea in order to prevent for me unpleasant situations. He responded that he is aware of this difference between us and does his best to provide me with clear information when he has it. Only after understanding the different use of words on a cognitive level, I was able to interpret better what was said (or not said).