One of the most readable anthropologists of the 20th century passed away earlier this month on Monday, July 20. Most known for his The Silent Language (1959) and The Hidden Dimension (1966), Edward T. Hall specialized in the analysis of body language and established his theory of proxemics. Hall received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1942. In 1979 Hall was interviewed by Kenneth Friedman in the August issue of Psychology Today for an article entitled “Learning the Arabs’ Silent Language.” His comments on Arab culture are worth revisiting:

Kenneth Friedman: Do we Americans understand the Arabs, or do we tend to caricature or stereotype them?
Edward Hall: I don’t think we understand them. We ten to think of Arabs as underdeveloped Americans – Americans with sheets on. We look at them as undereducated and rather poor at anything technological. All we have to do is make believers out of them, get them the proper education, teach them English, and they will turn into Americans.
To Americans, everyone is “like us” underneath. It just isn’t true. Anwar Sadat, for instance, wears Western clothes, but he’s not a Westerner. When he’s sitting and talking with someone, he often has a hand on the other person’s knee. this touching is very Egyptian and it’s an important part of communication in Arab culture.
The problem is that most Americans don’t really believe int he cultural dimension. A friend of mine, a political scientist, who is an extraordinarily successful scholar in international relations and has done a lot of work throughout Asia, said to me, “You anthropologists, you just made up all that culture stuff.” Whatever it is I am seeing.many other people are just not seeing…

Friedman: What’s the best way to approach an Arab in a business deal?

Hall: In the Middle East, if you aren’t willing to take the time to sit down and have some coffee with people, you have a problem. You must learn to wait and not be too eager to talk business. You can ask about the family or ask, “How are you feeling?” But avoid too many personal questions about wives, because people are apt to get suspicious. Learn to make what we call chit chat. If you don’t.you can’t go to the next step. It’s a little bit like a courtship, and without all the preliminaries, sex becomes just like rape. People will be watching you, and getting to know you, developing feelings about you. They’re probably even watching the pupils of your eyes to judge your responses to different topics.