Guest Author - Rachel Schaus
Syrian women share much in common with other Middle Eastern women. Anywhere Islam has touched, elements of Bedouin culture are still found in the clannish behavior of the Arab and Persian world.
Despite the fact that Syria, like many other nearby countries, has modern cities and lifestyles, certain Bedouin practices continue. These include "the segregation of men and women, arranged marriages, clannishness, warm hospitality, a strong and autocratic leader, and a strict code of honor continue" (South, 1995).
One woman with experience in Syrian culture recently wrote to me the following (name/identity changed to protect her):
"...If you were one of the locals you have to be [hypocritical] no matter how much you hated someone. If someone I didn't like came to my house it's considered shameful if I let her orhim know that I didn't stand them....The guest no matter who it might be is the king of the house. The normal conversations among the women who usually stay home are nothing more that "what did you cook today?" or "did you see/ hear what so and so did?" ...A person's image is the first thing one has to keep in mind (emphasis mine)...However you can't do much because I know that every country is different and many people do many similar things. I love the country and its beautiful cities, the only thing was the way the people were that caused me the most shock."
She continues to describe the challenges Westerners have, being so used to saying what they think, stating what they like and don't like. In Middle Eastern culture, this causes difficulties, because stating things bluntly can cause the other person to feel shame. It is crucial that Westerners learn how to communicate in a more round-a-bout way.
This may include expressing one's thoughts to a person close to the person you wish to share a difficult message. One general "rule of thumb" is to never express bad news to a Middle Easterner directly. Find ways to express a message in a more positive way, or the least negative way possible. Try to never say, "no" to another person. This doesn't mean lying, but does mean being more careful and considerate to minimize the dishonor or "loss of face" a Middle Easterner may feel.
Keep in mind that Syrian women value their homes, children, and appearance, so as a woman, complement them on those things. If you are a man, it is best to not talk to a Syrian woman outside of appropriate business situations, and do not ask a man about his wife...it implies an inappropriate interest in her.
For my friend in Syria, continung to learn how to live there as a Westerner, I can only express my appreciation for you sharing your thoughts with me via e-mail, and encourage you to keep looking for a woman who can be a real friend to you.