Arabs are Semitic people and resident from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. There are Moroccans, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Qatari, Omanis, Emiratis and Saudi Arabians, to name just a few.
According to the Bible, the Arabs are descendants of Ismael. Even between the Arabs themselves, this idea is widespread. Tradition has it that the Arabs were descendants of the Ismael sons Qaidaar and Nabit.
One could accidentally think that wherever Arabic is spoken, people are Arabs. Ask a Berber if he is Arab, he will look at you badly. It’s not that easy. In addition to the Berbers, the Kurds, Turkmens and Aramaeans are not among the Arabs. Arabic is the official language in 22 countries from Mauritania, North Africa to Oman. Approximately 300 million people speak Arabic as their mother tongue. An Egyptian friend answered me when I asked if he felt more like an African or an Arab: ‚I am Egyptian‘.
Of course, there are certain patterns of behavior found in many Arab countries. Generally, Arabs are very warmhearted and funny, they like to laugh and joke. They are always helpful and a little curious. I can remember a lot of evenings in Cairo with my Egyptian friends; we laughed and talked a lot, of course Shisha was smoked – maybe a substitute for alcohol. But we hardly drank alcohol, some of us not at all. This is partly because alcohol is not offered in many coffee shops and cafés; on the other hand, one has the feeling that in Egypt you do not need a glass of wine or beer to be cheerful. The Egyptians are just cheerful. I admire this until today and am very grateful that I have kept this for me. Of course, I like to drink a glass of wine or a long drink, but I do not need it. I probably owe that to my Egyptian friends to a certain extent.
Then there is the coziness, you just not always look at your watch. There is an Arabic proverb that says: The Europeans invented the clock; we invented the time. So, Arabs like to sit in the cafes, play Tawla (backgammon) and just do not think about their duties and enjoy their time with friends.
In Arab countries you need a lot of time, and sometimes a lot of patience. There, things just take a little longer. For example, if you’re invited to a feast at 8pm, most guests will not arrive until 10pm … It would be even rude to ring the bell punctually at 8pm ;-).
A somewhat annoying feature of the Arabs is the unreliability. I remember my time in Cairo. I worked for a Canadian college and needed a few copies. First, you don’t do it yourself, but call the office boy and ask him to do the copies. Unfortunately, our office boy often had the habit of taking some time. So, the European called again and again and reminded him of the copies. For us it is incomprehensible. You sometimes had to literally kick people’s butt to finally hold the desired copies in your hands after 2-3 hours. Annoyed, the European thought: ‚He could do that in Germany once, the second time he could look for a new job. ‚
But that’s the way they are, and somehow that makes their kindness too. A friend once said so nicely: ‚Annette, if they were as reliable and diligent as the Germans, they would no longer be Arabs.‘ I had to smile and admit that he was somehow right. Conversely, for example, Egyptians or Moroccans hear sometimes from their compatriots at home that they have become German if they are super punctual or particularly accurate with something.
Especially nice is the characteristic that you will be offered a glass of tea in the souk in Marrakech or on the Khan el Khalili bazar in Cairo, before it goes to the price negotiation. That is part of Arabian hospitality. Of course, in a sense, this is also a delaying tactic; you make it comfortable in the store and maybe find some souvenirs that you might still need. And somehow you feel obliged to buy something, even if you do not need a tenth pair of earrings. How would my dad say? It is a trick!
Part 2 follows …