Syrian Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Indirect Communication: Syrians generally communicate in an indirect fashion. One’s express point is generally reached in a long, roundabout way. This has the purpose of avoiding embarrassment or offence and respecting the other person in the conversation. The best way of reaching an understanding is to ask open-ended questions that allow them to reach their answer in their own time and give agreeable and accepting responses that do not directly disrupt the speaker’s discussion.
  • Communication Style: Syrians commonly joke and banter during conversation. Men often try to one-up each other with witty insults. The humour is likely to be different to what a Westerner is familiar with, however somewhat easy to engage with.
  • Raised Voices: Raising one’s voice is not immediately interpreted as aggressive in Syria. Speaking loudly and with passion shows one’s sincerity and investment in a matter. Such genuine expression often gives leverage and appeal in discussions and is not necessarily a sign of anger or offence.
  • Refusals: To questions and requests which require a yes or no answer, a Syrian’s preoccupation with appearances and politeness automatically requires that they answer “yes” whether it is true or not. A flat “no” can indicate that you want to end the relationship. The polite way to say no is to say something along the lines of, “I’ll see what I can do”, no matter how impossible the task may be. After the person has been queried several times concerning their success, an answer such as, “I’m still checking” or something similar signifies “no”. Such an indirect response also means “I am still your friend/ally, I tried”.


Non-Verbal

  • Personal Space: People often sit and stand closer to each other than the Western norm. Some Syrians may stand at proximities that are slightly uncomfortable for you. In this case, keep in mind that they may not have been made aware of the Australian standard of personal space, and probably do not realise the awkwardness it can create.
  • Physical Contact: Syrians are generally very comfortable touching people of the same gender. People often hug and kiss one another, lean on each other and walk holding hands or with linked arms. This display of affection between friends of the same gender or family members is more common in public than that between a husband and wife. However, affectionate conduct between a man and a woman is likely to draw the quick assumption that they are in a romantic relationship.
  • Feet: Displaying the soles of your feet to someone is considered rude.
  • Eye Contact: Syrians expect people to maintain eye contact during interaction. It demonstrates respect, attentiveness and confidence. However, devout Muslims may lower their gaze when talking to those of the opposite gender.
  • Body Language: Syrians may be quite animated when they communicate. They typically gesture largely with their hands and head to emphasise their words. The theatrics of their mannerisms sometimes distract from the conversation, often causing it to digress. To a non-Syrian this body language can make a casual conversation seem quite intense.
  • Refusals: Tilting one’s head back while raising the eyebrows can indicate “no”.
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