The Syrian Arab Republic is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest (Library of Congress, 2005). The capital of Syria is Damascus. Syria is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Syrian Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Circassians, Mandeans and Turks (Library of Congress, 2005). Religious groups include Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Isma’ilis, Mandeans, Shiites, Salafis, Yazidis, and Jews. Sunni make up the largest religious group in Syria (Library of Congress, 2005).
Greeting and Courtesies
Arab men often exchange embraces and cheek kisses as well as handshakes (World, 2010). Hand holding among Arab males is common and can be uncomfortable for Western men. However, it is a sign of friendship, not sexual interest (World, 2010). Syrian men will not offer to shake a woman’s hand unless the woman (usually foreign) extends her hand first (World, 2010). And, as the relationship lengthens, greetings become increasingly effusive and the level of inquiries more personal (World, 2010).
The Arabic culture demands high levels of hospitality and part of this is an enthusiastic and heartfelt greeting; they will expect the same in return (World, 2010). A warm, firm handshake, locked eye contact, and a beaming smile are the outward signs that cover any language problem (World, 2010).
Time and Punctuality
Syrians have a relaxed attitude toward time and punctuality. Waiting and delays are part of their culture, so patience, not punctuality, is considered an important virtue (World, 2010). In general, Syrians do not plan ahead, nor do they apologize for being late. A commonly used phrase in Syria is “Inshallah, Bokra,” meaning “God willing, tomorrow,” which aptly sums up the general attitude toward time (World, 2010).
Advice for Foreigners
The World Trade Press (2010) shared that it is good to arrive on time for all appointments, whether meeting with an individual or a group. It is helpful to carry a book and prepare to wait, as delays of half an hour prove common. The World Trade Press (2010) recommended to stay patient and good-humored, even if you have a longer wait. And, once a meeting does begin, prepare for an extended period of small talk and slow, circuitous negotiations. The World Trade Press (2010) pointed out that when setting a schedule in Syria/with Syrians, allow at least two to three hours for late starts.
The World Trade Press (2010) suggested that for social engagements, it is acceptable to be a little loose about punctuality. It is acceptable to be up to a half an hour late. Further, for meal invitations in a private home, it is good to arrive on time or just a few minutes late. And, for personal meetings with friends, it is preferable to plan on arriving punctually, but expecting to wait for the friend you are meeting (World, 2010).
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