Term Paper: Bridging Business Cultures Between Saudi Arabia and the Midwest of USA

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Saudi/American Midwest Cultural Differences in Business

The increasing globalization of modern business means that it is now more important than it ever was before for business professionals to become more aware of the various customs and expectations of business partners from different parts of the world. In general, the greater the difference between the respective societies and cultures or between any two nations or regions, the greater the potential dangers of failing to learn about one another's culture before starting to do business.

As is the case in other parts of the Middle East, religion plays a much greater role on Saudi Arabian society than it does in American life. That is not to say that Americans are not religious; but in the United States, religion does not intersect as thoroughly with secular elements of society and does not dictate ordinary social interactions and social customs to the same degree that it does in most Middle Eastern nations.

In that regard, the culture of Saudi Arabia in particular is hinged strongly on Islam as a religion and the political, economic, personal as well as the legal aspects oft their lives are strongly dependent on the rules of Islam as a religion like the prayer observance as well as the fasting during Ramadan. Therefore, Americans hoping to do business successfully with Saudi nationals should note that the religious aspect of their life guides their ethics at work and hence the engagements and decisions that the American will be negotiating should be pivoted on the religious laws and guidelines so as to make the business a success.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is such a large country that there are important social differences from region to region. In the Midwest, as in most of the rest of the U.S., Christianity is the dominant religious orientation. The social culture of Americans from the Midwest typically emphasizes family and community involvement and that usually also involves church affiliation. In general, Americans have a reputation in many parts of the world for being somewhat ignorant of the norms, values, and cultures outside of their own society and this dynamic also exists within the U.S. As pertains to the various regions. For example, many parts of the American Midwest have been so culturally and religiously homogenous for so long, that many people from the Midwest may have never come into contact with anybody who is not also Christian, let alone Muslim.

Naturally, the relative unfamiliarity of Midwestern Americans with other cultures in general and with Middle Eastern Muslim societies in particular can pose a significant set of potential barriers when doing business across cultures. For Americans contemplating doing business with Saudi nationals, they should be aware that violating various social norms and expectations can completely undermine even the best laid business plans and prospective partnerships. It is probably a less important issue for Saudis doing business with American partners, mainly because the social norms and business practices in the U.S. are not as rigid and violating them is much less likely to have as damaging an effect as the other way around, where Americans accidentally violate Saudi norms and social expectations.

Respective Cultural Overview

The American Midwestern social culture emphasizes family and so-called "family values" and this is one aspect of social culture shared, very generally, with Saudi Arabians. In Saudi Arabia, the family is an institution that is strongly respected and tribe affiliation also plays a big part in the social structure of the Saudi Arabians. The heritage, clan, extended family as well as the nuclear family is highly regarded hence preserved through naming, and their responsibility to the family is guarded with utmost care. The social network of an individual is derived from the family and nepotism is viewed with a lot of positivism since it points towards working with people that one knows and trusts, which to them is the primary consideration. Conversely, in the U.S., nepotism has negative connotations in many respects because it is believed to be a fundamental contradiction of the notion that rewards in business should be earned through hard work rather than inherited by blood.

Ordinary business interactions are very different in the U.S. And the Middle East and, more particularly, between the Midwestern part of the U.S. And Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, it is a social norm within the culture for men to shake hands though if they are good friends they may have a kiss on each cheek. On the other hand, it is common for women to hug and even kiss their close friends. It is not a common practice however for men and women to shake hands if they are from different families and the Saudis are known to take time to converse about other general issues during the greetings.

In the U.S., men do not kiss and in business relationships, men and women interact, in general, without regard to their gender. While men do hold doors and engage in other token acts of politeness toward female coworkers, there is no difference in the way that men and women greet one another, such as by the traditional handshake. This is equally true of business culture in the Midwest because it is not something that typically varies from region to region domestically.

Cultural Differences that Midwestern Americans and Saudis Should Understand

There are very significant differences in the way that Americans and Middle Easterners engage in ordinary business interactions (Zahran, 1995). Again, this is not particularly dependent on regional connection within the U.S. because American business etiquette is substantially standardized in that respect. To the extent the Midwest differs from other regions, it would be more in relation to social expectations outside of the business environment. Some of the relatively minor differences that do exist between Midwestern Americans and their counterparts from other regions might include greater interpersonal disclosure in the Midwest (and also in the American South, especially) and Americans from the Northern and Northeastern states.

In the U.S. (including in the Midwest), business associates and prospective associates or partners usually make initial contact by telephone or email communications (Locker, 2003). The more senior the individuals involved, the more likely that these initial communications will be handled by the respective assistants of the principals involved. Americans should be aware that this is not the way that business overtures are typically made in Saudi Arabia, especially in connection with first contact with foreigners (Hughes & Chesters, 2003). When it comes to the business aspect, foreigners usually need a sponsor who must be a Saudi in order to enter the country and he will act as an intermediary in further business interactions.

Saudi Arabian business people do not expect to be contacted directly by foreigners seeking to do business. Instead, they expect foreigners to wait until their arrival in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to contact their offices and request an introductory meeting (Hughes & Chesters, 2003). This may be one of the easiest cultural norms to violate without meaning to, especially by Midwesterners and Southerners because they tend to be somewhat less formal in their business communications than their counterparts in the rest of the country.

The Saudi business class places a high value on the timeliness of appointments, just as is usually the case in the American Midwest in business. However, it is expected that foreigners making business appointments will do so at least one month prior to the meeting day. Furthermore, a definite date for the meeting will not be given until one is physically present in country, especially if the meeting is with the government officials. Most of the meeting are usually in the morning hours, though foreigners can be kept waiting for some time. There are expected cases of cancellation of meetings even after one has arrived and if they take place, they are never private until the host has developed trust with the guest. The meetings have a very informal start with issues of discussion such as general health and family, although Americans should never ask about the wife of a Saudi national (Kwintessential, 2012).

In Saudi Arabia, the business decisions are never rushed and there is a lot of bureaucracy involved with various tiers of approval of the business deal and may cost an American several trips to get a deal. Saudis are also generally known to be tough negotiators and there is a lot of hierarchy involved with the highest ranking person given a lot of respect and priority to make decisions. Americans should avoid engaging in any high-pressure tactics towards a closing of a deal and simply repeat the main points of argument. That will be viewed as a sense of honesty and truth telling. It is worth noting that decisions can be easily reversed in this setting. There is a habit of quoting extremely low prices when Saudis negotiate to buy and extremely high prices when they are selling. Therefore Americans should be aware of such norms in both respects. One should also be ready to give… [END OF PREVIEW]

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