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Runninghead:ARABVSAMERICAN

ArabvsAmericanCulture

MariBay

UniversityofKentucky

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Abstract
ThisessaydiscussestheapplicationofHofstedesculturaldimensionsasanaidto
compareandcontrastArabculturewithNorthAmericanculture.Comparingthetwoseems
ratherdifficult,butbyanalyzingbothsmallersectionsoftheworldandsmallersectionsofeach
culture,itispossible.ByutilizingGeertHofstedesculturaldimensions,ArabcultureandNorth
Americanculturearegivenspecificratingsbasedonculturalnorms.Theseratingsarethen
taken,analyzed,andusedtoreferencethevariabilitybetweenthetwocultures.Theratingsgiven
toArabcultureandNorthAmericancultureprovethatthereislessvariabilityintheextremities
ofthedifferentidealsthancommonlythought.

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Weareallhumanandsimultaneouslyweareallunique.Inotherwords,culturecanbe
onlyusedmeaningfullybycomparison(Hofstede,Hofstede,&Minkov,2010).Cultureis
relativestrictlytothecomparisonthatiscreatedbyhumans.GeertHofstede,aDutchsocial
psychologist,tooktherelativitythatiscultureandcreatedascaletohelpdifferentiatethe
culturesindifferentcountries.Thescaleisbrokendownintofivemaincategories:power
distance,individualismversuscollectivism,masculinityversusfemininity,uncertainty
avoidance,andtimeorientation.
OnHofstedesculturaldimensionsscale,eachcountryisgivena
ratingbetween1and100,basedontheirculturalnorms.
ArabCulture
Arabsareraisedinaculturethatseverelylackseconomicmobility,theabilityfor
familiestoimprovetheirsocialstatuseconomically.SincemanyMiddleEasterneconomiesare
stilldeveloping,itiscommontolackamiddleclass,andbecauseofthisaratherlargegapexists
betweentheupperclasscitizensandthelowerclasscitizens.Thisismainlyduetothesmall
percentageoffamiliesthatownportionsofoilfields,theleadingsourceofincomeforcountries
inthatregionoftheworld.Thesefamiliesareextremelywealthy,whilethemajorityofthe
population,whichliesunderthemontheeconomicspectrum,struggletosurvive.Thefamilies
underthewealthyoftenleaddestitutelifestyles,whereitistypicaltostayoutsideduetopoor
conditionsthatareofteninsidebuildings(WorldPressPhoto,2014).
MiddleEasterncountriesaverageascoreof38inregardtotheircollectivismversus
individualism,meaningthesocietyiscollectiveoverall(Rohm,2010).InArabculture,the
familyisemphasizedasthefocalpoint.Itisseenasoneentityinbothsocialandeconomic
activitiesandisoftenseenasapriorityaboveallotheraspectsoflife.AtypicalfamilyinArab

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cultureincludesalloftheimmediatefamily,aswellasmostoftheextendedfamily.Manytimes,
duetothelowincomesofpatriarchs,extendedfamilymemberswillalllivetogetherinone
household(WorldPressPhoto,2014).Also,eachmemberofthefamilyisadirectrepresentation
ofthefamilyitself.Forexample,ifonememberofthefamilycommitsadishonorableact,the
dishonorisupontheentirefamily.Thus,thereferenceofthefamilybeingoneheadiscommon
(Barkat,2005).Thefamilyiscollective,whichinturn,createsaframeworkforacollective
society,sincesocietyissimplyacombinationofheads.
Acleardistinctionliesbetweentherolesofwomeninthehomeandmeninthe
workplace.Arabsviewthemalefigureofthehouseholdasthebreadwinner,thesupplierof
incometosupportthefamily.Thefemalefigures
mothers,sisters,grandmothersareall
expectedtomaintainthehousehold.HoldingclearlydefinedgenderrolesisanaspectofArab
societythatisgenerallyknownbymembersofoutsidestates.Therolesofmenandwomen
mainlystemfromtheleadingreligionintheMiddleEastIslam(Barakat,2005).Byhavingthese
definedgenderroles,Arabcultureisdescribedasmasculine.Amasculinesocietyisonethat
holdscleargenderroleswithoutmuch,ifany,resentmentwithinsaidsociety(Verderber,
Verderber,&Sellnow,2014).
Uncertaintyavoidanceissolelybasedonhowwellaculturehandlestheambiguitythat
thefutureand/orsurroundingpeoplehold(Hofstedeetal.,2010).Arabcultureishighlybasedon
theidealsofIslam,areligionthathasclearlysetstandardsofbehavioraswellasaclear
understandingofpredestination.Withthis,meetingapersonwhorebelsagainsttheIslamic
socialnormsmayleadonetobelievethatsaidpersonisathreat.Thesametheoryappliestoan
uncertainfuture.

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ThoughArabcultureholdsidealsofmaintainingbondswithallfamilymembersandof
holdingclosereligiousties,MiddleEasternstateshavebeenproventoberelativelyopento
changeandlettinggoofpastevents.Priortobeingrecognizedstates,manyMiddleEastern
countrieswereheldasEuropeancolonies,andtheyremainedunderdirectEuropeaninfluenceup
untilWorldWarII.ThecolonizedMiddleEasternstateshadlittletosayintheirown
governmentalaffairsunderBritishoccupation.Afterdeclaringfreedom,manyArabcountries
havebeentestingoutdifferentformsofgovernments.Manycountriesbeganwithan
authoritarianregimeandgenerallyremainedthatwayuntiltheArabSpringin2011,where
citizensofseveralMiddleEasterncountriesdecidedtorevoltagainsttheirgovernments,inhopes
ofgainingsomemorefreedoms(Ajami,2012).Sincethen,manycountrieshavemovedtoward
monarchies,andafewhavebeguntoattemptdemocratization.Thesechangesmarkawillingness
forthisareaoftheworldandthecitizensofthesecountriestobreakawayfromtheirpastto
createanewfuture.
NorthAmericanCulture
NorthAmericansocietyiswellknownthroughouttheworldforhavingalargemiddle
class,whichismainlypossibleduetothepositiveoutlookthatcitizensholdforeconomic
mobility.Citizensbelievethatanyonewhoisborninpovertycanworktheirwayintoahigher
economicclass,andanyoneinahigherclasshasthesameopportunitytoendupinpoverty.
SincethereisastrongemphasisonthistheoryinNorthAmericanculture,themiddleclasshas
grown,whichinturn,haslessenedthegapbetweenthewealthyandthepoor.PewResearch
CenterconductedastudyontheeconomicdistributionintheAmericasin2015,and87%of
peoplereportedthemselvesassomeformofmiddleclasscitizens(MostSayGovernment,

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2015).Ontopofthat,theresearchreportedthat55%ofDemocratssaymostpeoplecanget
aheadthroughhardworkcomparedwithlargermajoritiesofindependents(63%)and
Republicans(78%),whichshowsthatmostAmericansdonotrecognizealargepowergap
(MostSayGovernment,2015).
Theideabehindanindividualisticsocietyisthateverymanissociallyrequiredtosupport
himselfandhisimmediatefamily.NorthAmericancultureisconsideredanindividualistic
culture,anditisprovenbythedimensionscoreof91.HarryTriandis,aprofessoremeritusof
psychologyattheUniversityofIllinois,exploredthreemajorfactorsastowhyaculturewould
beindividualistic:complexityofsociety,affluenceofsociety,andheterogeneity.Acomplex
societyisonethatoffersmanygroupswhichonecanidentifywith,anaffluentsocietyisonethat
offersfinancialindependence,andaheterogeneoussocietyisonethatoffersselfexpression.
SinceNorthAmericancultureincludesallthreeoftheseaspects,thesocietyisconsidered
extremelyindividualistic.Itishighlysupportedbythemoreopensocietythatisheldinthe
Westernworldtodowhatisbestfortheindividualandtheirimmediatefamily.
OneexampleoftheUnitedStatesindividualisticattitudeisitsperceivedfreerattitude
towardgenderroles.FromdatacollectedbyHofstede,thisisactuallyincorrect.NorthAmerican
culturehasahighmasculinityrating,meaningthatsocietalstandardsincludeahighsenseof
whatisexpectedfromeachgender.Thesegenderrolescanstemallthewaybacktowhenthe
NewWorldwasfirstsettled(Hawke,2007).Mengenerallyholdtheroleastheproviderforthe
household,whilewomenholdtheroleasthecaretakerforthehousehold.Genderrolesexistin
NorthAmericaandaredescribedasquiterigid,accordingtotheHofstedescale.

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Americansarenearlysplitontheconceptofuncertaintyavoidance.Withascoreof48,
ambiguityinpeopleandthefutureisnotseenasathreat.Havingaculturethatpromotes
religiousfreedomhelpstopromotethisfairlybalanceduncertaintyavoidancescore.Sincemost
religionsholdahigherpowertohavethefutureplannedout,thepeoplewhofollowthese
religionsareoftenmorereluctanttowardambiguity,butwithreligiousfreedom,thereare
individualswhodonotidentifywithanyreligion.Theseindividualstreatambiguityaslessofa
threat,sincethereisnohigherpowerthattheambiguitycanthreaten.
TheinhabitationofNorthAmericastemsbacktoEuropeanPuritancolonists.These
inhabitantsleftidealsinthenationthatweremainlybasedontheconceptsofmoderationand
modesty(Hutson,2012).Anyactioncouldbecommittedaslongasitwasnotinexcess,andany
formofsexualitywasmeanttobekeptunderwraps.Theseidealsarestillprominentintodays
society,especiallytheidealofmodesty.EricLuisUhlmann,aYalegraduatewhoisnowan
associateprofessoratINSEAD,conductedastudyonbothBritishandAmericangirlsto
comparetheirjudgmentsonlicentiouswomen.ThestudyresultedinAmericangirlsholding
muchhigherjudgments,mainlyduetothePuritanidealsthathavebeencarriedoutthroughthe
generations(Hutson,2012).HoldingthesePuritanidealsinmodernsocietyshowshowNorth
Americancultureisnotopentochangethroughtimeandthatithasnotundergoneasmuch
societalchangeasoftenthought.

Attheendoftheday,allhumansareonespecies,andthemainaspectthatdifferentiates
everyoneistheirculture.Sincecultureisrelative,thecomparisonsaresignificant.North
Americancultureisseenasmoreliberal,givingmorefreedomstocitizens,whileArabcultureis

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seenasmoreconservative,restrictingtherightsofcitizens,andbecauseofthatthereisonlyone
mainidentifiablecomparisonfromHofstedesculturaldimensionsamasculineculture.Both
culturesshowcleargenderrolesthemanasthebreadwinnerandthefemaleasthecaregiver.
Otherthanthat,theculturesarequitedifferent.Oneculturehasaminisculemiddleclass,while
theotherhasalargeone.Oneculturelackseconomicmobility,whiletheotherencouragesit.
Onehaswitnessedtremendousculturalandgovernmentalchange,whiletheotherhasremained
relativelythesame.Oneiscollective,whiletheotherisindividualistic.Thoughallofthese
differencesexist,thescoresonHofstedesscaleprovethatthedifferencesarenotnearlyas
significantasmanymaybelieve.

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