Different groups of people around the world lead various beliefs, behavior, values, and attitudes towards life, constituting their culture. It is symbolic communication with traditions transferred from one generation to the next. This essay will compare and contrast the mainstream American and Saudi Arabian communication cultures, focusing on demographics, language and foods of Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina, which are the largest cities in Saudi Arabia. It will comprise the analysis of the verbal and non-verbal communication types in the two countries, their sub-cultures, and communication-related issues unique to each one of them.
Demographics, Language, Cities, and Cuisine of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a middle-eastern country that is geographically the fifth-largest in Asia and the second in the Arab world after Algeria. As of the 2010 Population and Household Census, the country comprises approximately 27.2 million people with 18.8 million of them being nationals, while the remaining 8.4 million are non-nationals (Salam, 2013). About half of the population is made up of the youth under the age of 25. Most Saudis reside in major urban centers like Riyadh (4.2 million), Jeddah (2.9 million), Mecca (1.32 million) and Medina (1.3 million) (Salam, 2013). The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic, but English is also widely spoken, especially in business settings. Among the non-Saudi population, most people speak Urdu, Farsi, and Turkish. Saudi’s cuisine is mostly made up of traditional foods and drinks that constitute the country’s main delicacies. Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, hosts some of the best restaurants that serve quality Saudi cuisine and dishes like Shawarma, Kabsah, Sambosa, Kebab, Felafel, Matazeez, Jereesh, Al-Aseedah, and Marqouq. As in other Saudi cities, Kabsah is very popular among the people of Jeddah and Mecca. Mandi, Mitabbak, Kibdah, Hareisa, Migalgal, Madhbi, Madfun, Foul, Mabshoor, and Areika are typical dishes of Medina and Jeddah (Long, 2005).
Comparison and Contrast of Communication Cultures
In Saudi Arabia, there exist different cultural groups and sub-groups. They have various cultural practices that differ but are still related to the main culture of the country, the traditions and heritage of which are heavily influenced by Islam. The main indigenous sub-cultures that exist in Saudi Arabia are the Najdi, Hijazi, and Bedouin groups. The first consist of about ten million people who can be categorized based on four major dialects, namely Northern (spoken in the Ha’il and Al-Qassim regions), Central (spoken in Riyadh and its surroundings), Southern (spoken in the city of Al-Kharj), and Badawi Najdi speakers (Long, 2005).
Unlike Saudi Arabia, which has many indigenous sub-cultures within the main Arabic culture, the U.S. only has very few dialects with the rest being mixed foreign cultures. The American Indians are known to be the original inhabitants of the country. Others are a mixture of various races and cultures from other countries, whose ancestors migrated to America a long time ago. The main sub-cultures in the U.S. are the African Americans who originally came from Africa, Asian Americans, Latin Americans from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. However, the largest population is made up of migrants from European countries like Germany, Ireland, Britain, Italy, and France (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011).
Saudi Arabia and the United States are two very different cultures, but both depend heavily on communication on a daily basis. They have some similarities in both verbal and nonverbal communication styles and practices but also have some significant differences. Since the official language in Saudi Arabia is Arabic, its utilization reflects the values and the culture of the country. There exist correct customary greetings and verbal cues for addressing people of different ages and status. They differ from the American way of greeting, which tends to be more casual than that of Saudi Arabia. There is less formality in how people exchange pleasantries due to the overly friendly nature of the American people (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011). The most common form of greeting in the U.S. is a ‘hello’ accompanied with a smile, while in Saudi Arabia, the words “As Salaamu ‘Alaykurn,” which means ‘peace be upon you’ are commonly used (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011). Handshakes are common in both cultures but differ in the manner of use. Humility and respect play a bigger role in Saudi Arabia’s verbal exchanges than in America. Among the Hijazi, a Saudi Arabian sub-culture, younger members of the community have to use both their hands when shaking with their elders as a sign of humility and respect for their seniors (North & Trip, 2012). It is not the case in U.S. sub-cultures and the main culture in general, where handshaking is standard among persons of all ages. While pleasantry exchanges may take a while in Saudi Arabia, such interaction is quite short and straightforward in the U.S. (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011).
A lot of verbal communication also occurs in written form in both cultures. In Saudi Arabia, most writings are in Arabic with only a few being in English. There are two main types of written Arabic, classic one commonly used in the Quran and other classical literature and the modern standard version, which is understood and used by most people of the Arabic-speaking world. Written communication is common among all sub-cultures of Saudi Arabia since they share religious texts in the form of the Holy Quran (North & Trip, 2012). In the U.S., English is the predominant form of written communication used in almost all types of American literature like books and newspapers. However, French and Spanish are also popular with some classic works written in these languages.
Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in a high-context culture like that of Saudi Arabia and in the American culture, where its application is extensive. In the first one, a lot of emphases is put on nonverbal signals like hepatics, paralanguage and dress code. The U.S. also applies these nonverbal styles of communication, especially the last one that is very significant for the country’s culture (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011). A high-context culture in both nations means that some opinions are not expressed verbally, but rather indirectly implied through such signals as facial expressions, touches (hepatics), vocal tone (paralanguage), eye contact and other nonverbal cues (North & Trip, 2012).
Body language with gestures and signals is widely used among the representatives of the Saudi Arabian and American cultures with some differences between the two. For example, among Bedouin speakers, the American concept of personal space in social situations, both public and private, is not shared (Long, 2005). It is considered offensive to step or lean away when engaging in a conversation with someone. The opposite is true among the Americans, where being too close to someone is usually repulsive and considered offensive. Eye contact is also more prolonged in Saudi Arabia than in the U.S. as a sign of interest helping to understand the other person in a conversation (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011).
As a type of non-verbal communication, the dress code in Saudi Arabia is quite conservative, for example, among the Arab Nadji, men wear head garments called ghutuas and thobes, which are white ankle long shirts. Women wear modest clothing, entailing a veil called an abaaya and other attire that covers almost all parts of their bodies when in public. It is so due to traditions, religion and harsh desert climate conditions in Saudi Arabia (Long, 2005). The opposite is expressed in the American dress code that focuses more on outward appearance and attractiveness. It is typical of most sub-cultures of the U.S., especially among young people. Unlike the Saudis, many Americans prefer revealing clothes like tight jeans, blouses, short-sleeved shirts, and shorts (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011).
With the differences in both verbal and non-verbal communication cultures of Saudi Arabia and the U.S., there exist some problems that face each of these countries in both aspects. Saudi Arabian verbal communication, mainly being formal, creates an overly authoritative culture, where if orders are given for example by a father to his son, they are to be followed without questioning. It significantly affects personal relations between such individuals because of some form of fear. There is some mental distance created when overly formal greetings are used even among close relatives (North & Trip, 2012).
There is also the issue of dress code, which mostly affects women in Saudi Arabia since they are not allowed to wear certain clothing that is deemed inappropriate if it shows skin; this curtails their freedom to choose what to dress. It is a culture guided by many rules and regulations that do not allow certain activities, especially for women. They are also forbidden to engage in activities like swimming, driving and freely competing in sports, which shows a repressive attitude towards them (North & Trip, 2012).
In the United States, a friendly and casual communication culture is at times deemed inappropriate, especially in formal settings where a certain level of respect is required in verbal exchanges. The casualty of such relations, especially at the workplace, can cause issues like misunderstandings among people and undermined discipline. The American dress code is also often deemed as being disrespectful and too revealing with many countries, especially developing ones, complaining of the imposition of the U.S. mainstream culture on their own one, eroding their heritage and values (Alhomoudi & Mays, 2011).
From the discussion of the cultures and sub-cultures of Saudi Arabia and the United States above, it can be concluded that there are many differences between them. There exist too much formality and etiquette in how people communicate in Saudi Arabia, while the U.S. has more casual exchanges. The strictness of communication modes and styles in the first culture helps to show mutual respect among its people. Each individual maintains a level of discipline when it comes to how he or she relates and communicates with others. On the other hand, people in the USA are more open and casual in their interactions. Their verbal and nonverbal communication styles like the dress code and the choice of words express their friendliness and good social relations.