- Implicit Meanings: The polite way for an Iraqi to say no is to say “I’ll see what I can do”, or something to that effect no matter how impossible the task may be. After the Arab has been queried several times concerning his success, an answer such as, “I’m still checking” or something similar means no. Such an indirect response also means “I am still your friend/ally—I tried”. Therefore, remember that when speaking to Iraqis, the “yes” you hear does not always actually mean yes.
- Raised Voices: In Iraq, a raised voice is not always interpreted to be a sign of anger but rather an expression of genuine feeling.
- Hands: For Muslim Iraqis, there is a separation of the functions of the hands. The left hand is used for removal of dirt and for cleaning and should not be used for functions such as waving, eating, or offering items.
- Eye Contact: In Islam, both males and females lower their gaze and avoid sustained eye contact. This is considered respectful and observant of differences in status. Younger people may also lower their gaze from elders. Christian and second generation Iraqis, however, may be more relaxed about this rule of respect.
- Obscene Gestures: Some older Iraqis consider the ‘thumbs-up’ gesture to be obscene, but the younger generation has taken up the Western understanding of it. Hitting one’s right fist into the open palm of the left hand can indicate obscenity or contempt.
- Indications: The right hand placed on the chest can indicate ‘thank you, but no thank you’.
- Physical Contact: It is okay to touch friends and family in a friendly way (such as backslapping) when in the confines of the home. However, in accordance with the public separation of men and women in Islam, it is inappropriate to be tactile with any person of the opposite gender outside of the house or in the company of those one does not know well. After an initial handshake (if there is one), there is usually no contact between genders. Public physical affection between men is permissible and it is more normal to see male friends walking whilst holding each other’s hands, but women do not generally display physical affection towards anyone unless they are out of the public eye. Christian Iraqis are likely to be less strict about this, but it still applies as a general public norm.
- Personal Space: Iraqis usually give people of the opposite gender a respectful amount of personal space (usually about an arm’s length), but often sit and stand very close to those of the same gender. Some Iraqis may stand at proximities that are uncomfortable to you or within your personal space, but it is likely that they have not been made aware of the discomfort that it can cause Australians and therefore may not notice the awkwardness of the situation.
- Punctuality: Iraqis are generally very generous with their time. Events and appointments often run overtime as people usually try to give each other as much attention and respect as possible. They are also quite understanding of tardiness as can be very difficult to be punctual in Iraq. Unpredictable incidents can occur (i.e. conflict) and disrupt daily activity.
- Feet: Displaying the soles of your feet is considered rude.
- Beckoning: In Iraq, people beckon by putting their hand out with the palm facing the ground and curling their fingers back towards themselves. The Australian way of beckoning with one’s pointer finger is considered rude.