Friday, June 6, 2008

Don’t they Know it’s Friday? by Jeremy Williams

For anyone traveling to the Gulf to do business Don’t they Know it’s Friday? should be the first thing to put into the suitcase.

The fact that this book is into its eighth edition is testimony to the book’s authority and usefulness. Since 1998 it has been updated by its author, Jeremy Williams, who has two decades of work experience in the region and whose resume includes service as the British Defence Attaché to the UAE and Bahrain.

While this book is written to advise business people, with its chapters on basic Arabic expressions, arranging a marketing visit, entertaining clients and Shariah banking, it has a wealth of insights for travelers and residents working in other spheres.

Williams draws back the veil on revealing how expatriates are viewed, the process of getting a driver’s licence, appropriate and inappropriate touching, exposure of flesh, understanding the different parts of a man’s name, driving in the Gulf, attending and/or arranging a meal, food etiquette and determining who pays the bill.

Don’t they Know it’s Friday? is studded with anecdotes like this one to illustrate the Arab sport of bargaining:

A young Arab boy was asked the question:
“What is 2 and 2, Mohammed?”
He replied, “Am I buying or am I selling?”

Some of the insights in this book are fascinating. Others are of paramount importance especially if you are seeking to do business. The author adds emphasis for items in this category such as in the section on 'Business Behaviour' when he says, “The ___________ is probably the single most important activity for any company new to the Gulf.”

Jeremy William’s thirty-five years of army experience is evident in this book. His preparation is extensive, the topics are well organized, the information is marshaled effectively, the table of contents is clear, the Arabic terms are conveyed with precision and the maps and pictures illustrate with decorum and flair.

Information is given firmly but not patronizingly. The chapter on ‘Understanding Time in the Gulf’ (see the author’s insights at this link) reveals the way Williams wants his readers to understand why Arab thinking is different from western perspectives and how the Arab approach to time is shaped by such things as history and religion.

While many of the cross-cultural considerations for business and life relate to all Gulf countries, the author is attentive to national differences and he backs these contrasts with well-referenced examples.

It is difficult for visitors and residents to ferret out information quickly on what to do and not do but the beauty of Don’t they Know it’s Friday? is that it brings together masses of essential information into one volume, presents it in a form that is easily readable, adds a comprehensive index and tops it off with a bibliography and list of web sites if and when one needs to know more.

Jeremy Williams, Don’t they Know it’s Friday? Cross-cultural Considerations for Business and Life in the Gulf (Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 1998, 2008.

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 75.00.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Don’t they Know it’s Friday?

Jeremy Williams runs seminars for business people visiting the Gulf countries. More information can be found at Handshaikh which offers this test to see if you are ready to visit the Gulf:

1. When is Ramadan this year?
2. Doesn't Ramadan mean 'fasting' in Arabic?
3. What does 1427AH mean?
4. Arabs are all the same, aren't they?
5. All Arabs are Muslims, surely?
6. We need to book an appointment in three days' time, don't we?
7. What is an Eid?
8. What should I wear?
9. They all speak such good English the proposal can be in English, can't it?
10. Excuse me Mr Abdullah, but what is your Christian name?
11. Iranians are Arabs, aren't they?
12. He seems to be very nice so shall we have him as our Agent/Sponsor?

SPEAK TO HANDSHAIKH LTD FIRST (especially the last three!).
(Or at least read the book).