What are aspects of politeness in Algeria and American society, and their social norms?

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jerseygyrl1983 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the surface, there may seem to be sharp and distinct social differences between the United States and Algeria. The lives of Algerian people are generally defined by the rules of Islam. The United States has a strong Christian influence, but is primarily a secular society in which people are permitted to wear, eat and drink, and speak however they choose. However, aside from differences in religion, language, dress, and custom, Americans and Algerians are not so many worlds apart.

For example, small talk is also very common in Algeria. People who know each other will greet by shaking hands, then asking about family or work, or talking about something as mundane as the weather. Americans frequently do this, too. The only differences are that this familiarity usually only exists between men. One should not get overly familiar with a woman whom one does not know. Also, Algerian society is very hierarchical. Honorific titles, such as "Doctor" or "Professor," ought to be adhered to and are usually spoken in French. Again, in American society it is often the same, though more casual social contexts and familiarity can result in people choosing to use first names. 

Furthermore, Algerians may take more time with small talk than an American. After all, Americans live, even unconsciously, by the dictum, "Time is money." This extends to social relations. Americans engage in small talk at work or, perhaps, while waiting in line at a bank or market, but one is not expected to spend too much time engaging in small talk. On the other hand, Algerians seem to revel in small talk. According to the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who wrote extensively on Algerian life and culture, Algerians developed an "entire art of passing time . . . taking one's time, with politeness and the art of speaking being essential aspects of this."  

Arguably, in regard to family and honor, Algerian people are not much different from Americans. The family is the most important social unit. Nepotism is supposedly as common in Algeria as it would be in many other places. The possible difference between Algeria and America is that the individual is never to take precedence over the family. In terms of honor, it is important not to criticize, insult, or make others uncomfortable. This creates a sense of honor being lost. Finally, turning down a friend's request for a favor could also result in a lost sense of honor. At first glance, this may seem radically different from American custom, but Americans, too, seldom turn down a friend's request for help. To do so would contradict, in the view of many, the very purpose of friendship.

Perhaps the most stark difference between Americans and Algerians revolves around dining. Men and women usually eat and drink separately in Algeria. People generally eat with their hands, though, for practicality, couscous is eaten with a tablespoon and stew is eaten with a fork. When entering a room, after having removed one's shoes, it is best to greet the eldest first. Finally, there is no drinking of alcohol.

As in the United States, relationships are of the utmost importance. This includes not only family and friends, but business relations. When trust is established, people help each other. Algerians, placing the utmost importance on honor, may take this custom further than Americans, but the principle exists in both societies.