My Lower Intermediate students were reading a text in New Headway Plus about the souqs of Marrakesh. It describes how the carpet seller welcomes you into his shop, pulls out rug after rug, brings you tea….
“Now, there’s real hospitality!” my students said. It was a good salesman, they said, who anticipated his customer’s needs before the customer, who brought out tea, who engaged the customer in conversation.
It started an interesting conversation about differing ideas of hospitality. To most Westerners, what Arabs consider good hospitality and customer service is too intrusive, too pushy. When we walk into a shop, we want to be left alone to look by ourselves, with the shop assistant on hand to answer our questions if we have them. Arabs consider this extraordinarily bad customer service; they expect the shopkeeper to strike up a conversation with them from the moment they walk into the shop, and they don’t feel that such a conversation constitutes pressure to buy something as we in the West often do. It was one of the many cultural adjustments I had to make as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and one that I still struggle with 4 years later!