English is truly the common language of business and technology.
All or our interaction with the customer is in English. All of my co-workers speak English fluently. Most of the customer representatives speak English fluently – certainly all of the men who work in technology. Actually, the Arab guys who work in technology speak Arablish to each other…a patois of English and Arabic…and they speak it rapidly and fluently.
Just last week, I asked one of my Arab-American friends if he thought in Arabic or in English. He said it depended. If he was with his family, he usually thought in Arabic. But, if he was at work, he almost always thought in English because it was much easier to think in English when it came to to computers and technology. They speak Arablish in person and on the phone with one another. One of the customer managers told me that, one time, he went to dinner with some relatives who spoke only Arabic. During the conversation he noted some truly dumbfounded looks, and he realized he’d been speaking in Arablish and had not even realized it. Of course he lived in Oklahoma City for ten years.
That’s an interesting point, too. The guys who have lived in the U.S. always understand us. But, the guys who have only lived in the Middle East – even if they are fluent in English – sometimes have to ask the guys with U.S. or British experience what we mean by a word or an expression. Sometimes they have to ask what an Arabic word means in English so they can properly express their meaning. It’s not that they don’t speak English fluently; it’s that every language has its words with degrees of meaning. Getting it just right can be very important sometimes.
Another fun thing is when you’ll be in a meeting, and all of a sudden the customers will stop talking in English to us and begin talking in Arabic to each other. The meeting comes to a halt, and you’re left wondering what exactly is going on. That’s why I always take an Arabic-speaking employee of our company with me when I go into a meeting where that could happen. Keeps ’em honest.
As you know, if you’ve read through much of this blog, I am working on learning Arabic. I am at that stage where I know a lot of words, and some phrases, but I can’t quite string it all together coherently enough to carry on a dialogue. I am not far off from there; but, just not there, yet. One of the most irritating things for me is when I say something in Arabic to an Arabic speaker – then, they smile and answer in English. It’s infuriating. Remember that if you happen to be mult-lingual. If someone asks you something in a language that is not their own – and you happen to speak the target language and theirs – DO NOT answer them back in their own language! They’re trying to learn the other language.
So, now, I think I’ll finish my qawa and fix some dinner. Ma’asalaama.