When Arab Immigrants bring their non-verbal communication knowledge to the U.S.
Noble culturalists interested in bridging the gaps existing between people of different cultures have been working on decoding extra-linguistic features that are misinterpreted by outsiders. These extra-linguistic features are referred to as non-verbal communication skills that a native of a specific culture has acquired in the same way she or he has acquired verbal communication knowledge.
U.S. Arab immigrants, as all other cultural groups, succeed in integrating in their host country by learning the basic verbal-communication in a very short period of time. However, it is noticeable that it takes them a much longer time to appropriate their non-verbal skills in their new environment. This is due to the lack of awareness that the meanings of non-verbal communication practices are culture-specific. In this article, I will attempt to illustrate with practices you may see Moroccan immigrants do without necessarily carrying the mainstream American meanings.
Moroccan newcomers may be seen in supermarkets making gestures that mainstream Americans may interpret as loitering. For these immigrants, especially if they are from the working class in Morocco, spending hours at a store like Shaw’s or Stop & Shop is a normal daily activity that they may enjoy doing in their spare time without having the intention of doing business with those stores. Furthermore, they are maybe experiencing the cultural shock: Different products, different people, and different product displaying ways.
In the U.S., people tend to make more eye contact with people they like and agree with and less with those they dislike, disagree with, or are intimidated by. In her 2007 book, the American psychologist, Tonya Reiman, states that “when you look another person in the eyes, you’re saying that you feel good about yourself—you’re confident, you are trustworthy, and you know what you’re talking about. Most of all, it tells a person that you listen”. For most Moroccans, eye contact means a totally different thing. For instance, Moroccan students dare not look their teacher in the eyes when he/she is lecturing; instead, they look down as a sign of showing respect and paying attention. On the other hand, some conservative Moroccan Muslims would even think that, in any context, it is religiously inappropriate to make an eye contact with a person of the opposite gender who is not an immediate family member.
Proxemics: Use of
Personal space which is also referred to as friendship zone is the one people use with their family and friends. For mainstream Americans leaving in New England, it can extend from two to four feet. On the contrary, this space can be a feet or less for Moroccans. A group of Moroccan co-workers of same or opposite gender may be seen sitting in a café shoulder to shoulder. Seeing it from the mainstream American perspective, this scene may be interpreted as a group of absolute closet friends or immediate family members hanging out together. In other words, what this group of Moroccans practice as personal space will be interpreted as intimate space in an American setting. This misinterpretation may, therefore, lead to more gaps between us and the other. Imagine a situation in which a mainstream American working close to a Moroccan colleague: Any act that involves the use of personal space from the Moroccan side maybe be interpreted by the American as an invasion of his or her own space. One can imagine the separation that this misunderstanding of one another can lead to.
Haptics are touching behaviors that involve certain parts of the body and include aspects such as duration, intensity, and frequency. They are an essential component in non-verbal communication that is culture-specific. Again, mainstream Americans and mainstream Moroccans have huge differences in these touching behaviors. Two Moroccan older men holding hands and walking in the beach may be seen as a gay couple. In often times, Moroccans do not differentiate between personal and intimate spaces; on the contrary, Americans do. A Moroccan may frequently touch someone- usually of the same sex- in the arm or shoulder while the former is talking and the latter is listening. In fact, this may take place even in the first time these people meet. I think if the latter is American, it could be very frustrating to him or her. By doing that, Moroccans may simply show their kindness.
To sum up, we are in urgent need of understanding our differences for a better future for humanity. It is true that the world is aware that people from different cultures may speak a different language. It is also true that people know that they need to learn the language of a cultural group in order to communicate, negotiate, or do business with them. Unfortunately, in this world that has become a small village, a lot of us lack the awareness of the fact that non-verbal communication varies from one cultural group to another. As a result, we fall in stereotypes that only separate us human beings.
Professor Abdelkrim Mouhib
Letter sent to US Transportation Director
(The following letter was penned by Council President Dan Cortell and Councillor Roy Avellaneda on behalf of the entire Council and sent to U.S. Transportation Director Anthony Foxx to advocate for the Silver Line funding grant.)
RE: Silver Line Gateway, Phase 2, TIGER Grant Application
Dear Secretary Foxx:
On behalf of Chelsea City Council, Chelsea, Massachusetts, we write to express the support for the 2016 TIGER Grant Application submitted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (“MassDOT”) entitled, Silver Line Gateway, Phase 2.
Designated by the State as a Gateway Community in 2010, Chelsea is the embodiment of its definition as delineated in Mass General Law Chapter 23A Sec 3A; a “midsize urban center that anchor(s) regional economies around the state,” facing “stubborn social and economic challenges” while retaining “many assets with unrealized potential”.
As home to a highly ethnically and socioeconomically diverse population, Chelsea faces all the challenges of an urban community, but with immense capacity for growth and betterment. Proud to have long served as a place where individuals and families first settle in their quest to better their lives and begin a quest to attain the American dream, Chelsea, situated just outside of the State’s capital, has also become a haven for young middle or soon to be middle class individuals drawn here by both its geographical location, relative affordability and budding possibilities. As a city much defined by its proximity to Boston with a population that relies as heavily on public transportation as any, approval of MassDOT’s application would undoubtedly serve as a needed catalyst to the realization of Chelsea’s yet tapped potential, enhance the quality of life of its residents and provide both our businesses and workforce added competitiveness. Equally as important to note, the consolidated transportation nucleus envisioned would function as an invaluable step forward toward addressing some of the many environmental justice related issues our community has long faced and continues to on a daily basis.
Know also that as a project slated to include a new rapid bus transit station; a relocated and newly constructed Americans with Disabilities Act compliant Chelsea Commuter Rail Station (our current one not in said compliance) and the upgrading three at-grade crossings to Transit Signal Priority Systems, components of Silver Line Gateway Phase 2 project would benefit not just Chelsea, but cities and towns throughout the region, as it would allow countless commuter rail riders from north of Boston to connect to the likes of Logan Airport, the ever expanding Seaport District of South Boston and South Station, Boston’s subway and inter and intra-state train and bus transportation hub, via a transfer at Chelsea’s new Silver Line combined bus and rail station.
For the above stated reasons, on behalf of its citizens, Chelsea City Council strongly supports MassDOT’s TIGER Grant request and is hopeful that the application is acted on favorably.
And all members of
Chelsea City Council