“Inshallah” – “If God wills”, “bukra” – “tomorrow” or “at some time or other”, and “malesh” – it doesn’t matter” or “no harm meant” are set expressions that are nourished from Arabic proverbs and will reach your ears several times a day when you are travelling in Arabic-speaking countries. Because of their conspicuously frequent use it is popular to refer to the “Arabic operating system IBM – Inshallah – Bukra – Malesh”. But can anything concrete be derived from that?
Proverbs mirror ways of thought
In general proverbs mirror the ways of thought or acting in a culture. Most Gulf Arabs make a sport of literally tossing proverbs around. Their figures of speech serve to elevate and fortify their standing and their reputation.
While in many cultures proverbs are used but their meaning is often unrelated to actions, things are quite different in the Arab Gulf states. The flowery expressions mirror the whole way of thinking and acting of the people living there.
So let us take a closer look at the individual figures of speech.
“Inshallah” – “if God wills” does in fact mean that the future is preordained by God. But it does not at all mean that people in the Arab Gulf states lean back and fold their hands on their lap because they cannot change anything in any case. Instead the Arabs interpret that figure of speech to mean that they are the masters of their decisions in the here and now.
In practice this means that Gulf Arabs are reacting to what, in their opinion, God intends at the present moment. An example makes it clearer: a Gulf Arab tries to save money and to think of tomorrow. But he knows that what may come is not in his hands.
”Bukram”, which means more or less “tomorrow” or “at some time or other”, arises from the figure of speech “Inshallah”. In principle Gulf Arabs prefer to postpone their weightiest decisions. Nevertheless, they leave it open to react to a situation immediately if it is very acute and does not permit procrastination.
If business deals have to be clinched the conduct of most Gulf Arabs will at first be rather evasive. A clear-cut response is not to be expected. Gulf Arabs will then often withdraw from the situation and the responsibility linked to it by referring to tomorrow. They are speculating that the future will bring new aspects that make God’s will clearer in this matter.
“Malesh” is translated as “no harm meant” or “it doesn’t matter”. That expression is derived from a sura in the Koran which states that from something bad a positive may come forth. Hence people in Arab Gulf states can more calmly accept defeats and failures. So they do not grieve for a long time, but console themselves with the thought that that failure can also be good for them because there are grounds for that which they do not recognize at the moment.
Here and now
Now you may be wondering how to use the knowledge you have gained about the internal operating system IBM of the Gulf Arabs for your business? Due to the rather temporizing tactics of most Gulf Arabs it is advisable to develop a high degree of flexibility. Do not make plans far into the future. Instead direct your actions to the present moment. Make appointments on a short-term basis. You now know that a Gulf Arab acts in the here and now. What the future will bring is known by God alone.
But if you want to plan a little ahead and, for example, have agreed on an appointment weeks beforehand, then make inquiries once more close to the date as to whether it really will take place? In return you can always count on the spontaneity of your Gulf Arabian business partner. If, for example, you have to deal with something in Dubai and ask for a meeting on short notice, he will be flexible and make it possible to meet you!