Saudi Arabia and Australia:
A Linguistic Approach
Male and Female Workplace Interactions in Saudi Arabia and Australia: A Linguistic Approach
When a person talks about language, it is generally referred to as a mode of communication between people. However, different cultures and countries have languages that are vastly different from each other. If these societies spoke only their own local languages, communication would have become very difficult as people, even from different states from within a country in some cases, simply would not understand each other. This is where having a common language becomes a convenient mode of understanding, conserving individual social identity while promoting stronger social bonds based on a common identity .
Every country has its own unique identity based on the language and linguistics involved in communicating with others. This applies to their corporate as well as government work environments. Likewise, communication between different genders also varies based on culture, values and belief systems governing the work environment. While most countries have a common local language, in an increasingly globalized corporate world, it has become important to know a common world language, such as English, which is spoken in most developed and developing countries. However, even when the language being used is the same, its usage itself can vary, with various terms having different meanings.
Saudi Arabia and Australia are vastly different in the nature of male and female interactions at the work place. While Australia has a more liberal and equal approach towards different gender communication at work, office going men and women in Saudi Arabia need to have a more conservative approach when interacting with each other. This difference in cultures, values and beliefs that influence workplace etiquette, naturally, influences the linguistics involved while communicating.
This paper seeks to evaluate the differences between the linguistics and other aspects of communication and culture between male and female employees in Saudi Arabia and Australia. For this purpose, the author will rely on secondary research, using, mainly, the internet to search for relevant data. Books, journals and other publications will be reviewed in additions to studies published on this subject. After thoroughly evaluating the results of this research, a concluding summary will be drawn.
Cultural Diversity Policies and Guidelines in Australia
Australia, a Commonwealth state, follows the Principles of UNESCO Multiculturalism, and uses it as a basis to describe and govern the cultural diversity prevalent in the country. The concept of Multiculturalism applies not only to the society at large but also applies to the policies formed in the administration of the communities that form the societal expanse. The following are the principle rights and obligations that form the Principles of Multiculturalism as defined by UNESCO:
a) Every Australian regardless of origin, will consider the interest of Australia as a nation and its future as a primary commitment,
b) Every Australian is to follow the tenets that govern the Australian society such as the Australian Constitution , legal system and laws, democracy, English as the national language and equality of the genders,
c) Equal rights to life, treatment and opportunities,
d) Equal rights, access and share of government resources,
e) Equal rights to a society free from racism and discrimination based on religion, gender, language or culture,
f) Equal opportunity for all Australians to learn and develop English and other languages as well acquire cross-cultural understanding,
g) Equal rights to convey and share their heritage, religion, culture and language,
h) Conversely, the duty to acknowledge and accept the heritage, religion, culture and language of fellow Australians regardless of their origin,
i) The right and duty towards the maintenance, development and utilization of skills of all Australians, regardless of their origin, and
j) The duty of all institutions to ‘ acknowledge, respect and respond’ to Australia’s cultural diversity
Social, Political and Religious Statute in Australia
The Australian government has taken steps to advance the multicultural scenario of the nation from acceptance to endorsement through a series of initiatives that began in the late 1980’s ‘ to provide a framework of concrete initiatives to build on the foundations laid by successive governments . The formal multicultural policy of Australia is based on the concepts of social justice and economic efficiency. The National Museum of Australia was established to preserve its European heritage, however, it has successfully built a collection of migrant heritage , leading to policy changes that initiated the inclusion of migrants’ recommendation and establishment of the South Australian Ethnic Museum, an institution that is a leader in representing the cultural diversity of Australia
Australians are entitled to five basic freedoms by Constitution, namely: a) Speech, b) Association, c) Assembly, d) Religion, and e) Movement. The government acknowledges that, Australia’s diversity and multilingual workforce is a strength that gives it a ‘ competitive edge in an increasingly globalized world’ . From the principles that govern the multicultural policy of Australia and the attitude of its government, it is clear the nation seeks to promote diversity within its sector. This applies to the corporate world as well. While employees of Australian firms are allowed to practice their culture and religion openly, the ultimate aim of every job is for the greater good of the Australian nation itself. The existence of a multicultural community working in cohesion is the dictate that is to be followed.
Considering that multiculturalism applies the equality of genders, the role of male and female workers remains equal in the case of corporate as well as government employment. It is not uncommon for women to take up jobs in the police department or even work as bus drivers.
Both, men and women, regardless of their origin, are to be given an equal and fair opportunity when applying for a job. Disqualification based on gender, race or religion is considered as discrimination. The emphasis on gender equality has led to a more liberal workplace interaction between male and female employees. Both genders generally greet with a handshake and a ‘ hello’. English is the national language and hence, everyone is expected to communicate using this language.
However, while general speech may seem to be common, employees of Australian origin, when compared to expats, have a different dialect and often use terms that may not be entirely comprehensible by a non-English speaker or a person from a different ethnic background. For Example, there are several hypocoristics that are used as part of common speech by most Australians as well as New Zealanders. These include:
a) Journo – meaning ‘ Journalist’
b) Aussie – meaning ‘ Australian’
c) Second Handy – meaning ‘ Something that is bought or used second hand’
d) Uni – meaning ‘ University’ or ‘ Varsity’
e) El Cheapo – meaning ‘ something that is cheap’
f) Info – meaning ‘ Information’ or ‘ Data’
g) Combo – meaning ‘ Combination’
h) Servo – meaning ‘ Service Station’
Apart from the above, ‘ Righto’, ‘ Cheerio’, ‘ Bingo!’, ‘ Perfecto’ and ‘ Alrightio’ are common interjections . Further, Australians pronounce English words differently than, let us say, Americans and Britons. Hence, it may be difficult, at first, for an expat to understand what is being said. However, these differences in linguistics are pertaining to ethnicity and not gender. Hence, the variation in speech is common to both, male and female employees.
Cultural Diversity Policies and Guidelines in Saudi Arabia
Islam forms the basis of every government rule as well as the judiciary system in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The country is the largest oil producer in the Middle East and has a quintessential Arab culture. It is culturally homogenous and religiously governed, making it pivotal to understand the Muslim heritage in order to understand workplace values and interactions.
The homogenous culture of Saudi Arabia is exemplified in Arabic being spoken as the common national language and the strict adhere to Sunni Wahhabi sect of Islam. Religion has been an integral part of politics for centuries in the country, with the nation being governed by a Muslim monarchy, which, obviously, makes Saudi Arabia a non-democratic country. The laws of the country are based on the Shariaa’ or Islamic Laws. These laws govern civil, criminal as well as corporate cases.
Respect is a crucial factor that influences the Saudi society. Whether it is within a family or within the corporate sphere, it is vital that no member of the community ‘ loses face’ or, in turn, causes humiliation of another. In the realm of business, a Saudi Arab will not undertake a deal if he or she feels that it might lead to any form of embarrassment. Hence, they will not deal in illegal products such as alcohol or interact with people who have a poor reputation. It is important for a person to be respectable in order to interact with ease in Saudi Arabia.
Wahhabi Islam forms the very basis of everyday lives of Saudi Arabians. Considering the deep impact this has on social and business dealings, understanding the fine details of this religion becomes vital to effectively interacting with individuals in the workplace. Communication is Saudi Arabia is said to be high in context. In other words, one would need to pay great attention to things such as body language and eye contact in addition to the words that being used to communicate a message.
Social, Political and Religious Statute in Australia
When oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1953, the country changed from a trade based economy to being the largest exporter of oil in the world. This change has opened up several avenues of economic growth with the increasing involvement of global companies. However, it should be noted that, unlike Australia, where diversity is acknowledged and accepted, Saudi Arabia is a much more conservative country which strictly adheres to its ethnicity and religion.
This particularly applies to the role that men and women play in the corporate sphere. Despite great growth in the economic sphere, it is still difficult for women to gain employment in the corporate sector. Saudi women generally seek employment in places that require minimal interaction with men, such as schools and hospitals. It should be noted that schools in Saudi Arabia are segregated into only girl’s schools and only boy’s schools. Similarly, there are separate clinics and hospitals for women that have all female staffs.
Where women do find employment in the corporate sphere, it is obligatory for them to dress modestly, with most women donning the ‘ hijab’ or a dress that covers the entire body, often even wearing the ‘ naqab’ or veil to cover the face. While shaking hands is common men, women almost never have any physical contact with male colleagues. In fact, it is considered rude if a male employee directly looks at a female colleague, as it is not permissible in Islam for a man who does not belong to a woman’s direct family to look upon her.
However, between men, distance is generally not maintained. Saudi Arabian men usually greet each other with an embrace and a kiss on each cheek. Words are spoken loudly and hand gestures are used freely. Nodding the head when saying ‘ yes’ and moving from right to left to say ‘ no’ is a common use of body language when communicating. In interactions between men, is advised to make eye contact when speaking.
It is generally accepted that colleagues address each other with their first names. However, it is considered more respectable if one addresses a senior with the title ‘ Abu’ which means ‘ father of’, and follow it up with the name of their eldest son. If the person is unmarried or does not have children, address them with ‘ bin’ meaning ‘ son of’ or ‘ bint’ meaning daughter of, followed by the name of their father. This shows that the speaker is familiar with the person’s family and builds a bond of trust which is very important in the Saudi Arabian society. It is also highly regarded if you address colleagues with their professional titles such as, Sheikh or Chief, Mohandas or Engineer and Ustaad or Professor. When greeting a Saudi Arabian, it is customary to say ‘ Assalaam-Alaikum’ or ‘ Peace Be Upon You’, the response to which is ‘ Walaikum-assalaam’ or ‘ and upon you be peace’.
As language and religion hold such a dominant place in the Saudi Arabia society, expats generally have to adopt several practices in order to effectively interact with their colleagues. It is necessary for a person to dress modestly while in the country. Expat women who are employed the private sector need to wear clothes that do not reveal their skin. Knee length skirts or sleeveless shirts, that may be considered formal wear in countries like the US and UK, are seen as disrespectful.
Further, learning and communicating in Arabic can go a long way in easing interaction with local colleagues. This shows that person respects the local culture is making an effort to adopt it. Even when a person has difficulty in learning the language, memorizing common terms is also helpful.
Australia, being a democratic country, has a fairly liberal approach towards multiculturalism and diversity. It has an inclusive policy that seeks to not only acknowledge but also accept the various cultures that form its citizenship. It follows the tenets of equality and hence, gender equality is seen in the workplace as well. Men and women are treated as equals and hence, the interaction between them is the same. There is, however, some level of difference between the use of the English language by native Australians as they have a unique pronunciation and their speech may be laden with hypocoristics. Hence, expats and non-English speaking employees may have difficulty in understanding and communicating with native Australians.
Saudi Arabia is a Muslim Monarchy with a homogenous culture. It is a very conservative society that seeks to preserve its culture and heritage. Being governed by the tenets of Islam, the corporate world too is influenced by religious beliefs. As such, men and women are treated differently at work. Women have minimal contact with male colleagues and rarely find or seek employment in corporate institutions. Interactions between colleagues depends highly on how effectively one can adopt the local culture, in particular communicate in the Arabic language. Learning the language, even the most basic levels, is considered to be highly respectable and goes a long way in building a bond of trust with the local employees.
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