This paper is about the study of the culture of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This study also includes the differences between culture in Jordan and culture here in the US. The study also look at what business should look at if the owners would want to open a branch up within the borders of Jordan. Some of the topics that are: how religion of the region affects businesses and the local attitudes, how local businesses operate, how the local ethics affects the Jordanian people, how do the Jordanians communicate, and what steps is the King taking to ensure possible growth in the country.
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Culture can be defined as a patterned way of thinking, feeling, and reacting to events that are based on traditional ideas and values of a group of people (Tosi & Greckhamer, 2004, p. 658). Webster’s dictionary describes culture as an integrated pattern of human knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors that depends on the learning capacity to pass beyond each generation. Culture has also been described as the collective programming that differentiates one person from another (Sawalha & Meaton, 2012, p. 85). Culture affects virtually every person in some way. Each person who lives in a country is affected by the culture of his or her individual country, town, workplace, school, the economy of the region, and religion. All of these enhancements to a person’s culture interchange between the collective and the individual almost seamlessly. A country cannot have culture without its people and the people need the common association of a government or country to join the people.
This paper is an examination of culture in one particular country whom has a vast history that has a strong connection to a religion that encompasses the region, the Kingdom of Jordan. The paper will go over the elements and dimensions of the Jordanian culture, the integration of culture by local businesses, comparing the Jordanian culture with that of the US, and the areas that a US company would have to look at in order to do business in Jordan. By examining the culture of Jordan, companies should have a better understanding of what is needed before opening in this great country.
What are the major elements and dimension of culture in this region?
The major elements and dimension of culture
Brian Satterlee in his book Cross Border Commerce, he outlines several major dimensions that all culture has in common: “communication, religion, ethics, values and attitudes, manners, customs, social structures and organizations, and education” (Satterlee, 2009, pp. 40-41). Each of these dimensions applies to every culture, whether the topic is culture in the United States (US) or culture in the Kingdom of Jordan. It is in the subtle differences between US culture and Jordanian culture that can create tension and some areas and agreement create friendship in the other areas. In some cases, these similarities are regional such as the United States and Canada, and some are ancestral such as the US and England. The same applies to Jordan, who shares some of their culture with other countries in the region based on common language, common religion, or even common history.
The word communication comes from the Latin word communis, which means common. In communication, individuals strive to transmit information from one person to another by means of verbal and nonverbal sounds and gestures (Gopal, 2009, p. 11). The communication stage is one of the major building blocks in which culture is glued together. The basic function of communication is to influence the receiver’s knowledge or behavior through information, guidance, motivation, or socialization (Voinea, Naidin, & Dumitru, 2011, pp. 175,176). In order to maintain the definition of culture, a group of individuals must have a common way in speaking and gesturing each other. Without this, those individuals never become more than individuals.
In the Middle East where the Kingdom of Jordan is located, the majority of individuals who live there speak Arabic. This form of communication is called verbal, which means communication that is spoken through words and not thoughts. Arabic is the major language spoken by followers of the Islamic religion (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2008). Out of the 7 billion total population in Earth, just over 1 billion speak Arabic. In other words, one out five people speaks this common language (Parmer, 2004). The Arabic language in relative terms is considered one of the youngest languages in the world. What we know today as Arabic was formed around the 7th century A.D. when the population started growing in the Middle Eastern region. In this short time Arabic is now one of the six languages that is spoken in the United Nations (Carter, 2012, p. 107).
Another area of communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication can be one that could cause a tremendous amount of problems when communicating. Where verbal communication involves speaking audible words, nonverbal is with body language. A common example of this is hands on hips in the US could indicate that a person is tired or upset. In most cases times where miscommunication is a problem it is due to nonverbal communication (Fast, 1970, pp. 1, 161-164). An area in which the nonverbal communication is deeply important to understand in the Jordanian culture is that of eye contact. Much like the US the Arabs of the Kingdom of Jordan sees it as a trustworthy nonverbal cue. For instance, if while talking the person to whom he or she is speaking looks away, that person may seem to be untrustworthy (Non-Verbal Communication Modes, 2012). More nonverbal cues that one should understand when in a Middle Eastern country such as Jordan is how close those in the Arab culture like to stand to each other while talking. In the United States people like to have their space, which is a given distance one stands from whom he or she is speaking with, if this space is invaded then the person may become offended. However, this is the opposite in the Jordanian culture. The Jordanians feel it more comfortable to stand closer to whom he or she may be speaking with (Levine & Adelman, 1993). Nonverbal communication is as important to learn for each culture, as is the national language that one may be visiting. It is also important to understand that most Arab countries such as Jordan are high context culture, which means that those who identify with the culture place a higher value on nonverbal language than a lower context culture (Minor & Lamberton, 2010).
Culture in the 21 century cannot be examined without looking into the technology of the country. One out of six people in the total population of Jordan uses the internet (CIA World Factbook, 2012). The significance of this is the amount of cultural influence can be received from outside countries and cultures. The advent of social media has allowed countries that traditionally been a closed society to opened up due to the citizens availability to the internet. Even though countries like Jordan have attempted to censor what the residents can view at some point the users find a way around the censorship (Bawaba, 2012).
The culture must change some because of the information one receives from the internet. In the past information had been exchanged by face to face contact, printed material, and phone conversations now the quality of information is a lot richer than before. In addition authenticity can be checked in a more precise manor even with censorship laws (Lee, Choi, Kim, & Hong, 2007).
The Kingdom of Jordan identifies itself with the religious practices of Islam. Islam is the major religion within the region of the Middle East with the exception of Israel, which as a country practices Judaism. Even though the two religions hold similar views and similar history, and even some of the same books in each sacred text, the two religions have fought wars for centuries both in the name of their own personal God. The two religions differ in the way they both see the last days Islam sees the end of times as resurrection and judgment for those who do not follow Allah and the prophet Muhammad (Satterlee, 2009, p. 45).
The Islamic faith has its beginnings dating back to 570-632 AD when the Islamic god, Allah, chose Muhammad to be his prophet to the world. The world Islam means to submit, which calls for all who follow Islam to submit to Allah (Maqsood, 2008).
A major cultural issue is that the true follower is charged by Allah to kill anyone who opposes the spread of Islam (Satterlee, 2009, p. 45). This charge could possibly hinder business transactions with countries such as the United States or even the neighbors to the west in Israel. However, David Schafer wrote in his paper Islam and Terrorism a Humanist View that most Muslims believe that there is “no true Islam.” He goes on to say that what concentrations of uniformity are held in what he calls the five pillars; “the confession of faith, the prayer ritual, fasting during Ramadan, giving alms to the poor, and the pilgrimage to Mecca” (Schafer, 2002). Schafer had indicated that very few who practice Islam follow all five of these pillars. With this knowledge, one could begin to understand how there is confusion among the those who practice Islam and terrorists formed out of the religion.
Ethics are an intricate part of culture. Culture and ethics really cannot be discussed without thinking of the each other. Khaled M.K. Alhyasat described ethics as a set of rules and abstract principles that govern human behavior (Alhyasat, 2012, p. 140). With the definition of culture being a social programming of one’s thoughts and behaviors ethics falls into the same similar definition. Ethics is a broad topic blanket to try and cast over a society that does not tie into the culture from a religious aspect. This is in the same way that the ethics and values of the United States as a generalization hold close to Christianity, so do the Jordanian values follow those teaching of Islam.
Values and Attitudes
An attitude is a person’s enduring favorable or unfavorable emotion to an object or an idea (Zabadi, Shura, & Elsayed, 2012, p. 81). Webster’s Dictionary describes values as “something (as a principle or ideal) intrinsically valuable or desirable” (Merriam-Webster, 2008, p. 704). Another definition for values is the principles or standards informing an individual a group of ideas (Matless, 2009).
When examining attitudes it would be best to look at one issue toward which the Jordanians show a negative attitude toward. This was a case study that was conducted in which a marketing team wanted to see how favorable Jordanians were with advertising in which phone text messaging was used. The study showed that in the end that text messaging as a use for advertising was seen in a negative light (Zabadi, Shura, & Elsayed, 2012). A case study to look at is how student nurses see older patients within the medical field. This is important to look at in order to gain an understanding on how the older generation is viewed by those that are younger in age. In this case the conclusion was that younger nurses see older patents in a strong positive note (Hweidia & Al-Obeisat, 2006). This study would indicate that the younger generation has a strong support for those who are older; this could also contribute to the strong religious influence that resides in the Kingdom of Jordan. After seeing these two cases of Jordanian attitudes and values one could ascertain that much of how the local people view culture is with the eyeglass of Jordanian filter.
An area of major interest that one may begin to question is women’s rights within the country of Jordan. Traditionally Arab countries have been known for unequal rights between men and women. Much like the culture of the US at the turn of the 20th century work was considered as a man’s domain. Women were not allowed to work or be involved in the professional environment with the exception of specialized fields such as nursing and teaching. Like the US, this sentiment has changed to where it is acceptable for women to work and operate alongside of men in the workplace. King Abdullah II has begun to initiate this major change within the Kingdom. Mr. Abdullah believes that in order for his kingdom to move forward and be prosperous women needed to have the right to a strong education and be allowed to enter the work place (Kharouf & Weir, 2008).
The country of Jordan holds a strong value system that coincides with the teachings out of Koran (the Islamic holy text). Even though some countries in the Middle East have a strong ideology about the teachings of Allah, Jordan has tried to move culturally with a more western mindset. Example of this is the blending of women in the workplace, which would create a stronger economy for the country. This can also open up Jordan to international business opportunities. A great deal of western companies employs women in managerial roles. If a country does not have equal rights for women to work companies cannot send the best person for to complete the task.
How are these elements and dimensions integrated by locals conducting business in the nation?
Jordan is a Kingdom style of government, which has the King or a single overseer that controls the entire operation of the country. This form of government can lead to a very bureaucratic that does not help out the local business with quick decisions. Even with a growing organizational culture, decisions are very slow. Much of this can be contributed to the religion and tribalism that the Middle East has allowed to become the culture (Sawalha & Meaton, 2012).
The religion affects the ethics that are generally viewed as acceptable in daily business decisions. At the same time ethics are understood to be different for each industry (Alhyasat, 2012, p. 141). For example the local culture has more ethic demand on those in the banking industry than the local meat market. These views can show how and why a local company does business with either another national or local company or even a multi-national company. The culture places a great deal of stress on the ability to trust the person in which he or she is doing business in (Wallace, 1987). The example of the local culture’s ability to trust an individual or company is based on what that individual or company is seen doing by practice. If a person is seen on a regular basis attending local mosque or church one could assume that he or she is a follower of that religion. The ethics of this individual would be judged accordingly (Non-Verbal Communication Modes, 2012).
Local companies also need to take into account prayer time. Within the Islamic culture prayer is a strong and even mandatory function that must be completed at least five times a day (Stacey, 2010). With the understanding that Jordanians see that actions can prove the character it could be wise that a local company would encompass prayer time within the company’s policies and procedures.
In the history of each country there are policy changes that redirect the course of a country. Today with the information available this policy shift would be the ability for women to be educated and enter the work force. The Jordanian constitution says that:
“Jordanians are equal before the law, no discrimination among them in rights or duties whether they differ on grounds of race, language or religion. The Country shall ensure work opportunities and education within the limits of its possibilities and ensure tranquility and equal opportunities for all its citizens (Nidal Al- Ahmad, 2009).”
Even with strong non-discriminatory actions from the government women in the work place continues to be far below even the rate from Saudi Arabia. In 2010 only 15% of women that are above the age of 15 are in the work place compared to Saudi Arabia is around 17% (World Bank, 2012). This is of great consequence considering the country of Jordan has no natural resources to speak of. The only major resource that the country has is the human one (World Bank, 2005). With the country losing 85% of its female workforce good talent could be lost or simply undiscovered. If one would look at US culture there are several large profitable companies that would not exist if only 15% of the women who are eligible to work actually work. So the cultural effect of only a few women in the workforce is a major impact to the way local business conduct daily duties.
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The case study with the nurses respecting older patients could be an accurate generalization of the culture-at-large, the idea of honestly and respecting elders may very well be incorporated in daily business. By completely respecting one’s elders one could ascertain that this would create a more polite society. This practice begins to bring people into perspective when the younger generation is thankful and respectful to those who are older than they are (Frase-Blunt, 2003). This ideology carries into the workplace. Managers must build human resource policies to protect the workers who are older. This protection goes beyond just allowing them to keep his or her job; rather it goes into the area of knowledge that in some cases worth more than the salary that is being paid. The joy that the Jordanian culture seems to have in taking care of the elders of the community shows a great sense of compassion that can spill over into a business, which then tips out to the customers that in turn brings them back to purchase more.
How do both of the above items compare with US culture and business?
The generalizations of culture in the two countries (the United States and Jordan) have similarities and differences. These similarities include: religion, communication, and business operating hours just to name a few. The US and Jordan have a few areas in which they agree on but also can disagree at the same time.
The US has been known as the world’s melting pot due to the vast mixture of cultures the country has. As a generalization the major religion in the US is Christianity and laws are for the most part written with the Bible’s moral code. George Washington said “it is impossible to govern without God and the Bible” (Federal Intercessors, 2012). In a similar fashion that most of the laws written in Jordan are around the Koran and Islamic law. Even though the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, this doesn’t take away from the fact that America was founded on religious freedom (Newport, 2009) . It is in this freedom that gives each individual the right to choose what he or she believes in (Shearer, 2008, p. 69). In contrast, Arab countries that identify with Islam. According to the Koran there is a call of Islam to kill anyone who opposes the god of Islam, Allah (Magloff, 2011). Even with the call to kill all who doesn’t believe in Allah Jordan has begun to accept Christians living within the average communities. Jordan is one of the main countries that accept Christians in a primarily Islamic society. Because of the acceptance of the Jordanian people, Christians have been successful in opening up businesses (Haddad, 2000)
A similarity between the two cultures of the US and Jordan is the attitude to advertising using phone text messages. A case study was conducted that showed that the attitude toward text messaging advertisement was concluded with a negative light (Zabadi, Shura, & Elsayed, 2012). The same study was completed in The United States with similar results. The United States showed in a case study that text message advertising was received in a very poor attitude as compared to some European countries. In the US text message advertisement only accounts for 17% of the total advertisements ran within the borders of the US as opposed to Europe where some countries see as much as 75% like Germany has (Fitchard, 2007).
Here in the US we are taught to respect our elders, but we have a great deal of nursing homes with the elderly being primary residence. These folks are not always there because they have a condition that makes them impossible to be cared for by family. In some cases it is due to family either too busy to care for them or don’t want the responsibility (Levine J. M., 2003). In Jordan the younger generation looks after and takes care of those who are older. This could prove to be beneficial to companies. From a human resource perspective, this could mean that the knowledge stays with the company longer. If a new employee is hired the manager has to spend a great deal of money to train him or her, whereas keeping the older one longer means the information that he or she has is worth more than what the training would cost for a new hire. In contrast here in the US employment laws had to be written against hiring or even firing someone based on his or her age (Burton III, 2011).
When it comes to communication the United States holds very close ties with those of the Arab world in Jordan. The primary language is English in North America and Arabic in Jordan, but the communication similarities reside in high context communication. The US relies heavily on the nonverbal cues that every person’s body gives off, much like the Jordanians. The phrase actions speak louder than words were coined in the US (utah.edu, 2012). A great deal of arguments is direct result of words saying one thing and the nonverbal body language saying something completely different (Sabatelli, Dreyer, & Dreyer, 1982). It would be easy for one to see that in Jordan, where the language is different but the form of communication is the same similar problems would arise.
Business hours of operation
Company’s hours of operation do not differ too much between the United States and Jordan. Most shops in Jordan open at around 0900 hours and close at 2000hr (8:00 P.M.) or as late as 2100hr (9:00P.M.). These shops may close for a couple hours throughout the afternoon. The Islamic work week runs Sunday through Thursday with Friday being the holy day. On Jordan’s government web page the authors write that most shops either are closed on Friday or close early and that Christian shop owners follow similar hours on Sunday (The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2012). In the US most businesses are open Monday through Friday 0900 to 1700(5:00pm) and shopping malls are open seven days a week but from 1000 to 2100 (9:00 pm). The major differences in business operating hours come into play with super centers such as Wal-Mart that are open 24 hours a day 364 days a year, only closed on Christmas day.
What are the implications for US businesses that wish to conduct business in that region?
In order for US companies to survive in Jordan several cultural differences would need to be overcome. A couple of these differences include religion and communication. Both of these cultural factors seem to be the backbone of Jordanian life style. In neither case is either country wrong, but just different.
In the United States most identify with Christianity as the majority religion however, capitalism courses through the veins of most American business people. After events of the financial collapse in 2008 (Mathiason, 2008) the veil had been torn down between the average American’s perception of capitalism and some of the corruption had been going on in major corporations. Even though some of the practices that brought down the US economy, and in some cases the global economy, would not affect some Jordanians opinion to support a US company. This however, may not hold true to the rest of the Jordan populace. The Jordanians as a whole see outward actions as a sign of trustworthiness (Non-Verbal Communication Modes, 2012). So for a US Company to enter Jordan first on the agenda should be to try and get to know the members of the community; not so much those who are in power but those who live in the area in which the store or plant is opening. Due to the fact that trust is a prized value with the Jordanian people, the locals associate good works with trust. Because Jordan has a fairly large Christian population getting the local residents accustomed to an American who may be Christian should not be a problem. If the business owner is Christian he or she must be aware of Islamic laws and holidays. One of the major rules in business is to take in account for word of mouth. If the owner offends the local population, a tremendous amount of work would be needed to bring back the reputation.
Another aspect for business owners to plan for that relates to religion is prayer time. The average Muslim is supposed to pray at least five times a day (Stacey, 2010). Those in human resources would need to adjust and understand that this would be a matter of great importance with Muslims. The company would have to find out how much prayer time would affect day to day operations. The human resource department could try and balance the amount of workers who are Christian to try and offset prayer time, or maybe account for major productivity loss during those times throughout the day. This should be taken into consideration even if current workers do not follow all of the pillars of Islam (Schafer, 2002).
If a company upsets local customers those customers may decide not to shop there any longer. The same applies to workers as well. If the local culture accepts certain customs but do not receive those workers may be hard to find then. All the customers in the Kingdom wouldn’t matter if there were no workers to help them.
Human resource managers (HRM) and business owners may also need to take in account the support for the aging populace. If the country has a strong support for the elders in the community employing those and treating them with the upmost respect will gain a great deal of trust in the community. This could include granting younger employees leave if needed to take care of older family members. Managers would also need to remember that in most of Jordan the family unit is strong. This has to do with the strong Muslim faith (Stacey, 2010). Business owners should be involved with the family as much as possible. In the US, companies and managers tend to try and separate themselves from the family life of his or her workers. In tighter communities, such as those in Jordan, managers would need to be more receptive. Once again this goes back to the acceptance of the elders in the community (Hweidia & Al-Obeisat, 2006).
The next major element that business owners would need to understand more would be the communication element. An owner learning Arabic is self evident, but this case and any case of international business the owner must learn and understand the nonverbal language of the area. The business owner or manager would have to remember and learn that those in the Arab world stand closer together while talking than is accustomed to in the US (Levine & Adelman, 1993). In the US this kind of invasion of space could be seen as offensive, where as in the Arab world it is the norm and could be seen as offensive if a person backs away. Also in the nonverbal communication aspect the manager should always be aware the he or she may be watched by the local population (Non-Verbal Communication Modes, 2012).
Due to the low numbers of women in the work place an area that a HR manager should highly consider is recruitment of talented female workers. With only 15% of the total possible female work force working this could give the new business a strategic advantage over competing companies (World Bank, 2012). The King of Jordan has made strong steps to ensure that women have the same right to an education as men do, but one of the problems is letting these women know that quality jobs are available. Once more women get into the work place once could assume that more women would soon follow in trying to gain more education in order to try and obtain a better job (World Bank, 2005). The possibility of maybe moving into a career would have to be one that would be appealing in a society that traditionally looked in an unfavorable light toward women in the work place. When companies began to hire women in more career roles an explosion of talent was then unlocked, women began to take pride in what they are doing then other ladies wanted to join in as well. There is no reason why this would not work within the borders of Jordan. Technology is working its way in the country and women are seeing that the possibility is hers.
With over 7 billion people living on earth and well over 100 different countries culture is going to shift and be different (CIA World Factbook, 2012). Even so, for every case that culture is different there is evidence that some is the same. Languages and even religions are different but human behavior tends to be consistent. In the US the religion of Islam is painted with an ugly brush and the same goes for the Middle East and Christianity. But hope is shining through on both fronts. Christians are living peacefully in primary Muslim countries; Christians are opening up businesses and are actively involved within the community (Haddad, 2000).
US businesses can thrive in Middle Eastern countries if the owner or CEO would take the time in researching the local customs and cultures. Communication barriers would need to be addressed. The US business owner would have to learn and perhaps master the Arabic language as well as learn what nonverbal body language says and how to use it within the culture. A wise business owner or CEO should probably gain access to someone from a local area that would be willing to show him or her what would be considered acceptable practices. One would only need to examine the culture in the US and the importance of body language to know that it would be extremely important for the company to fully understand and learn what is acceptable in Jordan.
This paper has discussed a great deal of information that takes a strong look into the culture of Jordan. Even though Jordanian culture is heavily influenced by the regional culture and of the religion, the King is trying to move the Kingdom forward. Evidence is profound in some areas and subtle in others. The area where change has been rather consistent is in the arena of women in the work place. Even though only 15% of the possible female population is currently employed, the willingness of the King to include nondiscriminatory statements in the constitution shows strong movement. One would only have to look at the history of the US to see how significant this step is.
One of more subtle yet still significant improvement is how Christians coexist in the country. Some who believe in “true Islam” believe that Christians ruined the reputation of Allah (Satterlee, 2009) and for this peace to happen within the country major expansion in the economy can take place.
Technology has a major role in the culture of not just Jordan but the entire world. Because technology, internet specifically, is connected to different countries, this opens Jordan up to new ideas and new cultures. Jordan has enacted some censorship for the usage of the internet but even censorship cannot stop all internet traffic through (Bawaba, 2012). The information that does make it through can change and shape culture.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is evolving into a potentially strong country economically. With the King openning up from the traditional islamic ways while still keeping the identiy there, he is making his country look more attractive to outside investments. Mulitnational companies from the US, Japan, and Europe may find Jordan’s main resource to be attractive. When a country’s only real resource is its people the King has to work and try to sell that resource to bring in companies that can increase and grow the country. From the research in this paper those steps that are needed have been taken. The next major step is get
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