Algeria cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
Even if Arabic is the official language in Algeria, French is most commonly used in the workplace. As a result of 132 years of colonization, Algerians speak and understand French.
When meeting people, you should approach them differently depending on their gender. It is also best to briefly find out some general information about the person’s social and professional environment, the company and town where he/she works (the town’s population, history, the name of the town’s soccer team, etc). When first meeting, the following are good subjects to help direct your conversation and make a good impression:
Sports (with Algerian men)
Soccer is as popular as hockey is in Canada. Algerians will be pleasantly surprised to hear a Canadian speak about the local or national soccer team and talk or ask questions about the game.
Travel, history, art, and music
Asking questions about Algerian history, geography, tourist attractions, and economics show that you are interested in knowing more about the country.
Ask about people’s current projects, backgrounds, studies and degrees.
Family (only when speaking to a woman)
You can ask questions about her marital status, and if she is married, ask questions about her husband, children and or other family members including their education, work, ages, and interests.
Algerians generally have a great sense of humour. Mutual trust can be built up during casual conversation. Subjects to be avoided depend on the people you are meeting and their gender. With men, avoid the following topics:
Generally, Algerians like to keep their private lives to themselves and do not like to be asked about their family, and particularly their wives. It is the man’s responsibility to keep his family safe and protected and when asked, men may reply with a rather superficial response such as "Yes, I have two children and they attend such and such a school...", but they will never talk about their wives.
This is a very sensitive subject for Algerians since taking sides or stating one’s opinion is considered to be interference in their internal affairs.
Islam is the predominant religion in Algeria, and with the current outbursts of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and civil war, it would be quite awkward to start up a conversation about religion and its place in society, or about secularism.
Algeria’s population is 75% Arab and 25% Berber. The Berber minority tries to get by and push for its own identity and space in a predominantly Arab country. Arabs and other leaders find such behaviour disruptive and perceive it as creating regionalism in Algeria. Therefore, it would not be advisable to ask the ethnicity of the person you are meeting. Avoid asking people if they are Arab or Berber, as this could raise suspicions and be misinterpreted.
It is considered impolite to talk or joke about this as it infringes on personal, religious and cultural intimacy, so leave it up to the other person to bring up this topic.
With women, the same subjects should be avoided; however, females will willingly talk about their children, husband, parents, and extended family.
A distinction should be made between two basic situations: official meetings (in the workplace or during official social activities) and informal introductions in a relaxed environment where nothing is at stake.
In the first case, it is necessary to act very formally since Algerians (and people living in Northern Africa in general) are rather reserved and distrustful of foreigners. When first meeting someone, avoid getting into too many details, taking a firm stand on a subject, or making any judgments about anything even if several people seem to share your opinion. Nothing is black or white. Very often, the person with whom you are meeting will seek to get an idea of the kind of person you are; if further meetings are necessary it would be better if the person likes and respects you. The Algerians will build the relationship with the foreigners.
If you are interested in Arabic poetry, do not hesitate bringing it up in conversation with Algerians as they know a lot about literature. If you want some good topics of discussion, go to museums and talk about what you saw that you found interesting. Algerian humour is very different; do not attempt to make jokes even if they are well-phrased, subtle or non-offensive topics.
Attitude is more important than the topic of conversation, but I would say that, first of all, you should avoid talking about religion or supporting Israeli or American actions. Moreover, if you associate Islam with terrorism, people will automatically and politely turn their backs on you unless they feel offended and take you to task without any warning. Avoid speaking about internal politics since doing so is automatically perceived as interfering in State affairs. Also, avoid praising individual rights since Algerians have suffered a lot and do not consider individualism to be a step in the right direction.
Do not drink alcoholic beverages—even if you are offered some. If you politely refuse and ask for juice or mineral water, it will reflect well upon you.
Regardless of a person’s position or age (or physical appearance, particularly if you are speaking to a woman) you should ensure that your body language and the manner in which you speak and are always respectful, polite, and formal.
European football (soccer) is another good topic of conversation as Algerians are very passionate about their teams, particularly during the World Cup. Discussing the weather and asking if there has been enough rain for the crops is always well received as this shows your understanding of Algeria’s preoccupations. It will be very poorly viewed if you try to joke about the subway in Algiers as a Canadian. Be subtle when commenting about the traffic in the country as it is a very sensitive subject and people have talked about getting a subway system for the past 30 years.
When meeting someone in private, the way you should act will vary depending on your official duties (because they are of utmost importance) as well as how naturally comfortable you are in adapting to other cultures. Things will also change depending on whether you are alone or accompanied by someone. The general rule of thumb is that you want people to find you warm, but not "over the top" (particularly if you are female). A good approach to take is to first ask the other person’s opinion before giving your own. Being patient and calm makes a good impression. Algerians are sometimes rather expressive, but with time, and once trust has been established, you will no longer be the object of animated outbursts. Men should not feel uncomfortable if your male host walks hand-in-hand with or hugs them as these are signs of respect.
When first meeting or when greeting an acquaintance, both male and female Algerians typically shake hands and people do not kiss one another on the cheek until they know one another better and have a closer relationship.
Both men and women should stand at least 80 cm apart when speaking. Avoid any physical contact (e.g., slapping shoulders, touching), as this is only acceptable once you know someone very well.
Acceptable personal space is much closer than in Canada although the distance tends to be greater when speaking with foreigners. Nevertheless, once trust has been built up and the relationship is closer, this space becomes smaller. Currently, it is up to the foreigners as to whether they want to maintain a greater personal space or not.
Eye contact is also important when speaking with someone and it is considered impolite not to maintain eye contact as the person may feel that you do not respect him/her.
Algerians often use their hands to express themselves when they speak, but there are some gestures that should be avoided such as shaking your hand while extending your index finger (authoritarian) and pointing with your index finger (akin to giving orders), and putting your left fist on your outstretched right palm facing upwards (this could be taken as a sexual reference).
Be tactful when voicing a conflicting opinion on a subject. Avoid contradicting someone in public and do not raise your voice or be too direct as people may be sensitive to this.
There are many topics which may lead to arguments and since people like to deal with calm and patient people, you may be respected for trying to control your anger and disappointment.
When first meeting, an appropriate distance between people allows you to talk to the other person without yelling and without breathing on him/her; in other words, it is approximately the amount of space you need to shake hands without being forced to move forward or pull away. It is acceptable for men to look into the eyes of someone of the same sex, but not to stare. This will be complemented by other aspects of communication: distance, tone of voice, topic of conversation, or choice of location (i.e., moving to another place or table). After a while, touch becomes more important and it must not be forgotten that Algerians are Mediterranean. If you have the opportunity to observe them when meeting in the airport or in a restaurant in Algiers, Oran or elsewhere, you will see them touch one another, walk arm-in-arm, and gesture. However, with foreigners it will take a while for them to feel comfortable enough to be themselves.
Display of emotion
In Algeria, it is not commonplace to see public displays of affection and they are strongly frowned upon or even forbidden. This type of behaviour is confined to an individual’s private life and has to do with humility and intimacy. Nevertheless, it is acceptable to kiss, hold, and hug a young child in public.
It is also acceptable to show your friendship in public by slapping someone on the shoulder, standing close to someone, and (particularly for women) walking hand-in-hand. Showing your anger in public is tolerated, but is very poorly viewed. It is best to speak to the person one-on-one and in private about any disagreements or differences of opinion. The individual in question will appreciate this approach as is it is not well viewed to lose face in public.
They speak loudly and give the impression that they are arguing, although I never saw people fight with one another. The opposite is true with regard to professional relations, as self-restraint is the rule of thumb. For Canadians, the rule is simple: it is not worth it to be noticed; do not raise your voice to anyone. Particularly as a foreigner, being calm and showing self-control will earn more respect and appreciation than being overly enthusiastic.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Algerians generally dress the same as Europeans, so for work it is recommended to wear dark, professional jackets and slacks. For women there is no set dress code, but they should avoid wearing short skirts and low-cut blouses.
There is a difference in the way one communicates with colleagues as opposed to superiors. With the former, you can call them by their first name and use humour and a casual tone although you will not likely see one another outside of the workplace unless you later become friends. In the case of a superior, you should use formal, neutral language, call them "Mr." or "Ms", and avoid becoming too familiar with them.
Punctuality is not very important in the Algerian workplace, particularly in the public sector. However, it is still well viewed and encouraged. Generally the highest-ranking person sets the standard. If he arrives on time, others will appreciate his professionalism and follow his example. Similarly, productivity is encouraged and rewarded.
Absenteeism without a valid excuse projects a negative image and is poorly viewed in the workplace.
Dress appropriately for your position as Algerians have adopted a more formal European style, even if they admire the fact that Canadians are very casual. It is also important not to overdress either because your Algerian counterpart will not likely have the same financial resources (particularly in the public service). In private life things are different, but even sports pants and a top are better than wearing a t-shirt and jeans since you never know whom you might meet during your extra-professional activities. For women, elegant and quality clothes are key. Do not wear anything that is provocative or that catches the eye even if it is hot outside and there are few escalators that work properly.
As a general rule, you address people by the formal form of "you" ("vous" in French). Yet as the relationship develops, if you are in a position to insist that this level of formality be reduced, your relationships may become closer. However, pay attention to the hierarchy: do not do this with your superiors. It is a good idea to address someone in his/her capacity as someone in charge of something or as a person of authority than as an individual "regular Joe." For example, you can address someone as Mr. Metcour using Mr. Director every now and then to make him feel that he has authority (if that is the case) over, alternatively, that he is under the authority of others. Do not abuse the position of authority that foreigners have over Algerians as they are very proud and know their limits. They have a long history of independence and dignity is more important to them than it is to other people. This is perhaps even truer of those living in the Berber part of the country (Kabylie).
The way time is perceived depends on the person, as members of the younger generations have had a wide variety of upbringings and cultures, and the Algerian population is becoming younger and younger. A look at the age pyramid will show you that since Independence the younger generation are almost at the top and they are increasingly controlling both public and private industry as they follow the trend toward globalization. Time (other than the fact that the weekend is on Thursday and Friday) and the way people make use of it is the same as it in Canada. However, outside of urban centres, religion, customs and traditional activities are given priority and the weather also affects the rhythm of life as time seems to hold still when it is hot.
Preferred managerial qualities
Skills, education, general culture, punctuality, experience, perseverance, good standing, and thoroughness are qualities most highly regarded in a superior/manager, local or foreign. However, being a foreigner can also be an advantage as Algerians generally tend to give more weight to foreign skills and trust them more.
The way you are greeted (briefly or sincerely), how tasks are performed (with speed, interest or lack thereof) are indications of how the staff perceive you.
The qualities most highly regarded in the workplace and signs of authority are very simple when it comes to Algerians: an individual who has a lot of experience and who treats people equally will gain a lot of respect. Given that there are not many methods of evaluating people’s work, superiors’ authority is not called into question very much and agreement prevails. Superiors are in their positions because they have been given the position; therefore, the qualities that are highly regarded in a supervisor in Canada are more subtle. In the Algerian environment, the individual’s reputation and background are more important and things are this way because authority takes precedence in this society.
An expatriate in a position of authority will always be closely scrutinized and he/she should always have very good morals. If an expat commits the slightest injustice to an Algerian, junior employees will object and take sides. The judgement will be irreversible and they will distance you to make you aware of it; you may not be able to recover your authority. In order to avoid getting yourself in this kind of situation, take your time before making a decision. Time may take care of the issue by itself. However, taking too long to make what is considered to be an obvious decision will discredit you since, paradoxically, people respect those who exercise their power.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Depending on their importance and nature, decisions may be made in the following ways: 1) some are imposed by the supervisory department and the manager must obey them; 2) some stem from the manager’s own initiative; and 3) other decisions are made after consulting with staff members.
All employees can present their own ideas; however, they must pass them on to their superior who will communicate them to the top. Immediate supervisors may also be consulted for feedback or work-related questions.
Decisions may be taken without informing others or they may be made from the top. The decision-making process is hierarchical as Algerians are not used to taking initiative. They have grown up in a system based on obedience and, in fact, bosses are there to make decisions. Anticipating a need may be seen as a defiance of authority and you should expect that during meetings bosses will speak while others will show their agreement. You may be able to get a better feel for individuals’ opinions in one-on-one conversations, but even in these kinds of situations Algerians will not totally open up. Jobs are scarce and there are many people who need and want one so why would anyone confide in a stranger, especially one in a position of authority?
As far as getting feedback on other’s reactions, opinions, and reinforcement is concerned, it is best to do this when you first start. People will initially forgive your mistakes early on as long as you do not commit faux pas in your area of specialization. People will appreciate it if you consult with your superior as long as it is done at a good time in the proper manner. Asking for information at any time might show that you have privileged access and your superior might not want to give this impression to other employees. Knowing when to seize the moment is as important as the topic that you plan to broach. You will pay the price if you want feedback on something that is obvious or that should be common sense.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
In Algeria, men have all the rights and, moreover, the political powers instruct women to follow the "family code of conduct" which limits their freedom. Women are not welcome in places that are reserved for men, such as movie theatres, cafes, bars, or soccer stadiums.
This attitude is also seen in the workplace, which is male dominated. Women’s skills are underestimated and there are many difficulties associated with working in mixed-gender groups. Women working in areas outside of education or the health and secretarial sectors are seen as intruders.
The Muslim religion has a large place in everyday life in Algeria. It is what assists and guides interpersonal relations, yet in the larger cities (Algiers, Oran, Annaba), Western influence, and the French cultural in particular, is very noticeable. Algerians avoid making negative judgements about their religion and are attached to it even if they are not necessarily very devout.
In terms of the workplace, the weekend in Algeria was changed to Thursday and Friday (from Saturday and Sunday), due to religious considerations. Prayer sessions are held five times daily and play an important role for Muslims. Work hours are set according to economic needs and not according to prayer hours. Muslims may accumulate their prayers and do them all at once in the comfort of their own homes. Employees must also follow the workplace dress code.
After living for more than 30 years under a socialist regime, which promoted equality, Algerians are having trouble adapting to the current way of life. Following the political changeover, and the adoption of the market economy, society was hit hard by an economic crisis. This has resulted in a class system (the rich, middle class, and poor), and the poor are currently in the majority. For the average Algerian, economic conditions rather than social factors determine class.
This new situation has led employers to take a very authoritarian attitude. Employees have less protection and are slaves to the job market, unemployment rates, and their employers’ moods.
Ethnologically, Algeria is not very diverse. Algerians are very aware of the fact that the population is 75% Arabic and 25% Berber. Yet, the Arab majority tends to marginalize the Berbers, which provokes a strong defensive reaction from the Berbers. It should be noted that there has been progress in making Berber the second national language, although it is not yet official.
The impact of ethnicity on work relations is not very significant. Both ethnic groups work together without any problems. As in any workplace, groups, cliques, and friendships are formed based on different reasons such as ethnic, regional or tribal affiliations.
This varies widely depending on age and education, but in general, older women are not considered as equals since there is a kind of submissiveness in male-female relations. Nevertheless, in the last couple of years younger people’s conversation and everyday life is becoming more westernized. This is a slow process as there are other priorities. Although Algeria is not in the same position as Tunisia, which is more open in this regard, it is becoming more common to see female police officers, for example, who have authority even over men. This is not to say that all is well all the time, but there are big differences compared to the 1980s. Nonetheless, this is a topic that can be discussed openly.
In Algeria the dominant religion is Islam and it is very present in everyday life as it is the glue of the human mosaic. People who find religion to be very important are respected since Algerians are, by nature, very tolerant. One thing is certain and that is that you should always respect any Islamic influences. It is suitable to keep displays of other religions to a minimum, even if it does not seem to be an issue. Algeria is still not completely secular no matter what the statistics show.
I do not know of any existing notion of classes in Algeria other than the ruling class similar to what we have in Canada.
You need to have a good understanding of Algerian (and Northern African) geography and history in order to distinguish between different ethnic origins. You will hear about the Mzab, Kabylie, Algerois, Oranais from Constantinople and a good way to get to know about them is to go to the business class lounge in the airport and look at the different traditional Algerian costumes that are on the walls. You will see quite a variety, but what exactly does this mean? You can see how such things as living in a rural area make a difference on the language, customs, cultures and different traditions. However, Algeria enjoys modern conveniences and everything is becoming increasingly homogeneous with cellular phones, cars, and technology in general, whether you are in Marseille or Algiers. You will even note that, like elsewhere in the world, there are noticeable ethnic clusters. Things can be explained; whether you will be privy to such explanations is a different matter.
As a foreigner, it seems useless to broach such topics until you know more about them. If you want to learn more, look around you and see if you can find someone (such as a university sociology or history professor) who can speak to you about them. In order to avoid negative repercussions because people interpret things the wrong way, be very cautious in your approach. People will not take kindly to you if you (as a Westerner) try quickly to identify with their values; this would be to deny them their roots and their history.
In Algeria, business relations do not generally need to flow from already established personal relations; they are based on economic criteria alone. Nevertheless, that does not mean that this will not happen and personal relations may lead to other business opportunities with different business partners. It is also helpful to be recommended or referred by someone who knows the person with whom you want to conduct business personally. Trust will build quickly.
It is acceptable to have personal relations, but they should not be forced or directly linked to business matters. They develop over time and, in fact, Canadians have the reputation of rushing into business matters. It is actually quite simple: business is conducted only with people who are trustworthy as this is the only way you are guaranteed that the transaction will be completed. Do not think that a relationship can be built during the course of a single dinner or meeting. Shared experiences, similar points of view, memories of spending good times together, and helping others can only build up over time and this is the only way to build a relationship. How can this be done? Be dependable and choose your friends wisely and do not make them feel that the relationship is work-related but let them know that you will do business if everyone is on the same wavelength, beyond just the timeframe of the business at hand. Without forcing things, make yourself available and do not hesitate to greet friends who are not directly involved in your business and be supportive when they are going through hard times.
Privileges and favouritism
In Algeria, hiring family or friends or recommending them to colleagues is not seen as patronage or favouritism. Rather, it is seen as a privilege (luck) to have an influential family member or friend. Socially and culturally it is gratifying to help out others.
Therefore, when work relations stem from personal ones, the colleagues or employees in question expect to receive preferential treatment, such as having access to confidential information and employing family members and friends, but not necessarily a salary increase. For these colleagues and employees, it a social advantage to have a friend who is the director of a company and they will do all they can to preserve and maintain the friendship. There are no considerations or special treatment for these kinds of relationships. It is always best to do what colleagues and employees expect of you.
I cannot allow myself to encourage this kind of behaviour when it is obvious to innocent bystanders. Such behaviour creates a dangerous precedent resulting in inequity. Do not fall into this trap and try to create alliances with some people to the detriment of others. Nothing says that the person whom you granted the privilege will not be against you later. Do not cross the line. However, if you have the opportunity to contribute to financial collections or parties due to the discretionary power of your position, it will be viewed positively.
Conflicts in the workplace
In general, Algerians do not like to lose face and do not appreciate expressions of anger or negative remarks about their work, attitude, or behaviour directed at them in public. They do not want to lose face in public.
Because they seek approval and acknowledgement, particularly from foreigners, Algerians will be less likely to accept criticism from non-Algerians as the impact is greater. Therefore, it is best to take the person aside and talk one-on-one.
Algerians do not tend to confront others directly, particularly superiors, about a problem. They prefer to use nonverbal language to express their dissatisfaction and expect that the other person will approach them. This language may be articulated by facial expressions, avoidance, and distance. You should, therefore, pay attention to sudden changes in the attitudes and behaviour of your colleagues and employees.
Never put an Algerian’s pride to the test in front of others. As with all conflict resolution methods, you need to find some common ground before bringing up differences in opinion. You should also find out if the problem is related to work, people, or responsibilities as this will change how you manage it. If you are in a position of authority, simply open discussion, ask for explanations, and exercise the least amount of authority possible as it could have resulted from differences in perception and have nothing to do with authority at all. It may be easier to make the time to talk with colleagues. If you are working under someone, you may need to take another look at the way you are acting and perhaps ask another colleague at your level for his/her opinion unless the matter is very personal. Some situations cannot be fixed and it may be that the conflict has been created to test you and see how you will react.
In any case, once the problem has been identified, you should own up to it if you are responsible or if you are not, just let things slide. If both of you are at fault, go for coffee the following morning. The main thing is to not give more weight to the problem than the solution.
Motivating local colleagues
Algerian employees expect to be appreciated and compensated for their efforts. In particular, they are motivated by salary and good working conditions, which will generate loyalty. They like to work with competent people who have mutual respect and consideration for others.
This is a very difficult question as things are constantly changing in Algeria. Generations are clashing and companies are still managed in a very "socialist" manner based on a purist Soviet model. The concept of initiative is a very sensitive subject because far too often, in spite of the desire for individualism, a tendency of levelling downward can be observed. The worth of the level of a position is certainly related to its influence and prestige, which stems from the fact that the position often comes with privileges, power and money. Someone who has a high-level, influential job will likely have similar privileges for himself and his family. Other motivational factors do not count as much. In certain sectors, it may be money, in others it could be working conditions, and in others still it may be enough to work for personal satisfaction, so that motivation is simply being able to provide for basic needs.
Recommended books, films & foods
Below are some references that may help you learn more about Algerian culture:
- Education and Culture in Algeria: From the Beginnings to the Present Day, Chems Eddine Citour, (1999)
- Nedjma, Kateb Yacine (1956 and 1996); Roads that Lead Upward, Mouloud Feraoun (1998) 2nd edition
- The Roundabout River, Rachid Mimouni (1982).
- "Un toit une famille" (One Roof, One Family)
- "La montagne de Baya" (The Baya Mountain)
- "De Hollywood à Tamanrasset" (From Hollywood to Tamanrasset).
Personally, I read up a lot on the geography, ethnography, photography, culture, and economy of every country before going abroad. I would recommend creating an idea and your own point of view and not only sticking to tourist areas. You may choose to go and live with the people and get a feel for what makes them tick. A major part of Algerians’ worries stem from the lack of housing, which is an important aspect of life that needs to be understood in order to realize the daily challenges of city dwellers and certain ways that men and women interact since young people cannot ever totally be alone in their own home.
There are a lot of books written about Algeria and reading about the desert will teach you a lot about the people. You should also read bout Kabylie, but there are also a lot of excellent Algerian novels and love stories. Large chain stores (such as Renaud-Bray or Archambeault) as well as libraries have lists of what is available. You can get the address of the Canadian-Algerian Association from the consulate or embassy. There are a lot of Algerians in Montréal and in Canada in general and if they feel they can trust you they will speak openly about their country.
As for food, there are restaurants you can visit, but if you have a good chat with the owner of an Algerian restaurant you can likely get some recipe books or ideas of places where you can get the necessary ingredients. If you have tried to make couscous, you will have something to talk about as Algerians are very generous with their suggestions.
There are ample ways to get close to the Algerian community either through cultural associations (refer to your consulate or embassy) or through your children’s schools. Is it is pretty much assured in larger cities that there will be some native Algerians attending the school. Restaurants also seem to be a good route as well as community groups, but you should be choosy and careful since some peoples’ situation in Canada may not allow them to open up and meet our expectations even if all you want is for them to share their points of view. When you have lived through what they have, it is only natural to be guarded.
Places to visit
There are many places to visit in Algeria including Algeria’s Kasbah, Le Tipaza Antique, Le Mzab, and La kabylie.
In Algeria, television and radio cannot be privately owned and are a State monopoly. There is only one television channel in Algeria (http://www.entv.dz). There are four national radio stations (http://www.algerian-radio.dz/accueil.htm) and a few local radio stations. TV shows worth suggesting include: Lamassète, Djelsette tareb, and Bonjour d’Algérie (Hello from Algeria).
- El watan (www.elwatan.com)
- Liberté (www.liberte-algerie.com)
- Le soir (www.lesoirdalgerie.com)
- El Modjahid (www.elmoudjahid.com)
- El Heddaf (www.elheddaf.com).
French language channel: Algiers Channel III.
attend soccer matches of the major teams such as JSKabylie, CRBelouiizdad (Algiers), USMAlger, et MCOran.
In order to immerse yourself in the local culture, nothing is better than connecting with the people. To do so, it is a good idea to go to the town café and bar, museums, and walk around. At first, it is best to have a local accompany you in order to get an idea of peoples’ behaviour, gestures, etc.
Finding a local resource person, without someone introducing you to him/her, is not easy. The best way is to ask Algerians in Canada to put you in contact with someone on the ground.
The basic approach is to learn to discover and love. Otherwise you risk being misguided by prejudices. Things will happen every day that will add nuance to your opinion, but if you start out with this approach, your behaviour is likely to match your first impression. However, if you are searching for reasons to not embrace the differences you see in Algeria, you will easily find ways to feed your intolerance.
In addition to people you have things in common with, you will come into contact with different kinds of people who will be able to help you out during your sojourn. Volunteering is another excellent method of getting to know people.
For arts and other activities, Algeria is quite similar to Canada. There are local organizations and foreign cultural centres that welcome clients. A hint that is valuable for any country: flip through the telephone book and other directories that list businesses and cultural events as they can give you great ideas.
Algeria’s thousand-year history includes many historical figures that have fought and won battles, from the time of the Romans to the 20th century, that have allowed the Algerian people to survive to this day. The following figures are worthy of note:
- JUGURTHA (160 to 104 B.C.). The son of Moustanbal and nephew of Massinissa. He was the symbol of defiance against Rome during 8 years of war. The independent and sole king of the Kingdom of Numidia, who was betrayed, conquered and sent to Rome where he died in hiding in January 104 B.C.
- Emir Abdelkader (1808-1883). He was a theologian, politician, military leader, and philosopher. He was appointed as the head of the resistance and became Emir on November 22, 1932. He stopped the French takeover and became known as the head of the Algerian state. When he was freed, Abdelkader found himself lacking support and had to surrender in 1847. He was liberated by Emperor Louis Napoleon in 1852 and died on May 25, 1883 in Damas.
In other uprisings that followed, Boubaghla (in 1850), Fatma N’Sumer (1830), Cheikh El Hadad, and El Mokrani (1871), and Bouamama (1881) demonstrated fierce resistance.
- Abdelhamid BEN BADIS (1889-1940). Alongside figures such as Cheikh Larbi Tebessi, Bachir Ibrahimi, he formed the Oulébas Association on May 5, 1931. Abdelhamid Ben Badis provided a major intellectual contribution and a clear vision of traditional Algerian society taking into account also the demands of modern society. He had a very open and tolerant personality.
- Amirouche AÏT HAMOUDA (commonly known as Colonel Amirouche) was also called "King of the Mountain" and his death on the battlefield on March 29, 1959 was a major event in the eyes of the French press as he was considered to be a great danger for the French in Algeria.
There are definitely many Arab scholars and great intellectuals, but Houari Boumediene cannot be ignored. He was the Algerian president and political leader; he built Algerian pride. He was also responsible for Algeria’s position in the world of international finance (the group of 77, for example).
In sports, there is Aidane, the soccer star and in the arts there are many singers (eg: Raï) and Kabyle songs (such as Idir).
Shared historical events with Canada
Relations between Canada and Algeria have always been friendly and cordial. Canadians have an excellent reputation with Algerians as they are considered to be serious, human, reliable, and welcoming. Professionally speaking, relations depend on financial considerations and profit.
There have been contentious issues between Canada and Algeria in the past (during the late ’70s). However, this is pretty much forgotten and things have actually improved since Canada took its position on the Iraq war. In my opinion, the fact that Canada will not admit that things have changed drastically in Algeria since the ’90s may harm relations to some extent. Algerians are proud of the progress they have made in the fight against terrorism and the fact that Canada continues to adopt extreme security measures for its diplomatic corps and that the Department of Foreign Affairs puts warnings on their Web site does not go unnoticed.
The fact that René Lévesque was chosen as a reporter for the French CBC during the Algerian War was a bonus in our relations. Canada is Algeria’s most important business partner in all of North America (due to gasoline exports).
In general, Algerians stereotype Canadians favourably; however, they are perceived as being distant and hard to approach, which may be interpreted as not being very open to others.
However, Canadian citizens are respected and even liked although they are considered to be rather naïve in their business relations as compared to Europeans, and particularly the French. We may seem too direct while Algerians tend to have planned strategies and hidden agendas. Our need for transparency and efficiency turns into a weakness if there is a lack of strategy.
It is also possible that Canada’s political decisions seem to be too directly linked to the United States.
Finally, one of the things that we are most criticized for is lack of reliability and patience in our relations. It is essential to be diligent and patient. There is a lot of bureaucracy and the ability to make decisions quickly is currently non-existent, not because people do not know how to handle the situation, but because they lack the tools and methods to deal with it. Decision-making is an everyday occurrence in Canada, but in Algeria decisions come from the top. Thus, they are two worlds trying to understand one another and this is the trickiest part of doing business or development work in Algeria.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter, the second of seven children, was born in Algeria and grew up in an urban area. He studied architecture at the Université de Tizi-Ouzou, which is about 90 km east of Algiers. His studies first took him abroad in 1989 to do a Masters in development at the Université de Montréal. Later on, he immigrated to Montreal in 1993 to work as an adviser for the financial aid services at the University until 2001. Since 1999, he has been living in Ottawa, where he is a financial aid officer at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. Despite living in Canada for the past 10 years, he spends his summer vacations in Algeria and, thanks to Internet, has managed to stay in touch with his family and friends in his native country and keep abreast of what is happening and how things are evolving. He is married and has two children.
Your cultural interpreter, the eldest of two children, was born in Québec. While he was growing up he lived in Longueil, Montréal, Québec City, and Hull. He studied educational counselling in Montréal and Ottawa and, subsequently, educational technology and international cooperation at Université du Québec and Concordia University and the University of Ottawa. His work first took him abroad to Algeria in 1978 for two years. He later brought his to family to Morocco, the Congo (formerly known as Zaire), and Burkina Faso to work on a variety of African fieldwork projects. In 1998, he supervised a project in Algeria and returned there again in 2003 for work. Although he has been working as a consultant in Gaspésie for the past three years, he is still active on the international scene. He is married and has three children.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
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