Palestinian Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Indirect Communication: Palestinians generally have a tendency for communication. This means people can be vague in their response to questions and give their opinions in long, elaborate ways. Palestinians prefer to accommodate the opinion of their conversation partner and avoid unpleasant answers or confrontation. This is described in Arabic as “musayra”, meaning ‘to accommodate’ or ‘go along with’.1 This has the purpose of avoiding embarrassment or offence and respecting the other person’s honour in the conversation. 
  • Refusals: Palestinians can be quite hesitant to give refusals, especially when asked to perform a favour by a friend. This can mean that they agree to do something they do not want to or cannot do in order to avoid sounding rude. If you receive a final answer that is unsettled (e.g. “maybe”, “let’s wait and see” or “let me think about that”), it is generally a good indicator that they mean “no”. People also often respond with “Inshallah” – Arabic for "If God wills it”. This phrase is a polite way of remaining non-committal. For example, if you ask someone to do something and they respond with “Inshallah”, it generally means they are unprepared to say ‘yes’ and are indirectly declining or postponing the action. 
  • Emotional Expression: Palestinians tend to be quite expressive and warm in their communication. However, they are generally more comfortable expressing strong opinions or emotions (e.g. anger, disgust, sadness) with those they know well. They may also be reluctant to express themselves to those of a higher status, such as someone older than themselves. Generally, women tend to be more reserved than men in this regard.2
  • Raised Voices: Palestinians may speak with passion, sometimes quite loudly. A raised voice often indicates passion and investment in the conversation. However, it is not appropriate to yell out of anger. It is also seen as more improper for women to yell.
  • Repetition: Palestinians commonly repeat themselves when trying to place emphasis on something or convince someone of their point. Repetition is also used frequently when complimenting or praising things.
  • Swearing: Palestinians rarely curse or swear unless in a religious sense (e.g. "May God curse your family”). Avoid dirty language and jokes, especially sexual references.

 

Non-Verbal

  • Physical Contact: Palestinians are generally quite open, people. It is common for friends of the same gender to kiss during greetings and hug one another. However, physical contact between unrelated members of the opposite gender is less appropriate. Some Palestinians may be comfortable with it, although others may avoid it altogether. After the first handshake (if there is one), a man and woman are unlikely to touch unless he is giving her physical assistance – for example, offering his hand to steady her or escort her somewhere. Open displays of public affection between couples are not socially accepted and are thus usually avoided.
  • Personal Space: The natural distance that people tend to keep between one another is closer than what is common in many English-speaking Western countries. However, it is polite to keep a larger distance between yourself and members of the opposite gender.
  • Eye Contact:  eye contact is expected throughout conversation, conveying attentiveness and sincerity. However, it can also be used as a non-verbal gesture. For example, a parent may make strong eye contact with a child to indicate it is time for them to leave a room of guests.
  • Feet: It is considered rude to show or expose the soles of your feet to other people. Avoid pointing your feet towards other people when sitting down or crossing your legs around elders. Do not rest your feet on tables or chairs either.
  • Hands: Palestinian Muslims separate the function of their hands. The left hand is used for the removal of dirt and hygiene purposes. It is not used for actions such as waving, eating or offering items.
  • Gestures: Palestinians use hand and facial gestures heavily when communicating. 
    • Patience: If a Palestinian wants someone to be patient, they bring together all their fingertips and thumb of one hand with the palm facing upwards and motion to the person they wish to ask to wait. For example, this action may be performed by someone who is speaking on the phone to another person approaching them, indicating that they are in a conversation and need to wait. The gesture is often used to children and can also indicate “slow down”, “be patient” or “be careful”.
    • Refusals: People decline something politely by placing their right hand over their heart and shaking their head slightly. Lifting one’s palm out towards the person is a more instant way of refusing something.
    • Obscenity: The Western symbol for ‘Okay’ (with the forefinger and the top of the thumb meeting to form a circle, with the other fingers stretched out) has an offensive meaning. The use of the gesture can be a threat.
    • Serving Guests: Palestinian mothers may non-verbally ask their daughters to make coffee for their guests by raising their thumb and pointing in a circular motion, similar to stirring a cup of coffee. They may also move their heads slightly to the left or right as a sign for daughters to bring in some sweets or nuts for guests.

 

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1 Ellis & Maoz, 2002
2 Flicker, 2019

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