My Friend is a Palestinian Bedouin: XVIII. Uncertainty Avoidance, Language and Communication

My Friend is a Palestinian Bedouin: XVIII. Uncertainty Avoidance, Language and Communication

In order to communicate effectively I had to learn Arabic. Despite my trials to grasp the language (through a university course and some private lessons), my understanding and speaking of Arabic remained at a low level. Therefore, we usually speak Hebrew together. Even when I try to speak basic Hebrew, Bashar and I have frequent misunderstandings. These misunderstandings are partly based on the use of the language itself and partly based on Bashar’s (cultural) tendency to give the impression that he understood or agreed in order to save face, an issue to which I will return later. Like in the story above, the interpretation of what is said is culturally dependent, and even if we use the same words, we may understand things differently.

My involvement in Arab culture, made me now and then think in Arabic (despite my feeble command of the language). Some words became actually more readily available to me in Arabic than in other languages, and would come out unintended, like “mabrook” (= blessed, congratulations). This was no problem in the realm of the friendship, but in my work with clients, I had to be careful not to turn accidentally to Arabic.

Through the years, expectations about my level of Arabic rose and people increasingly tried to converse with me in Arabic, expecting me to understand more than I actually did. When one-on-one with a Bedouin, the use of Hebrew would be possible from time to time, but encounters are rarely one-on-one. Sometimes Bashar or others would try to give me an idea of the subject of conversation or of what is happening, but this was more the exception than the rule. As a result, I felt at loss in many situations in which the language of conversation was Arabic. Often Bashar would forget that I could not follow what is going on and would be surprised that I missed important pieces of information. My poor knowledge of Arabic remains one of the things that keep me an outsider.

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About the Author

Daniel WeishutDaniel J.N. Weishut, born in the Netherlands but living in Jerusalem, is a professional with a diverse background. He holds an MA in Clinical Psychology and an MBA in Integrative Business Administration, both from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a PsyD in Clinical and Organizational Psychology from the Professional School of Psychology (Sacramento). He has about thirty years of experience in consultation and therapy with a wide variety of clients and issues, more than twenty years of practice in group facilitation, and over fifteen years of know-how in governance and management in various organizations. Daniel Weishut offers his services as a "Partner on the Way", while taking a world-view that people are diverse but equal. He works with a variety of clients, but his special interest is in work with those who have found themselves persecuted or otherwise in conflict with their social environment, because of their culture, identity or belief system. For example: migrants, expats, refugees, Holocaust survivors, soldiers, pacifists, and individuals from religious, cultural or sexual minorities. Daniel Weishut is a social activist and in this capacity he volunteers as Chairperson of the Israeli Association of Group Psychotherapy, as Member of the Membership Appeals Committee of Amnesty International and as forensic expert for the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. He also is involved in raising awareness about the situation of Bedouins around Jerusalem; awareness which led among others to the writing of his dissertation "My friend is a Palestinian Bedouin: Challenges and opportunities in intercultural friendship".

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