Culture Shock in Iraq

Expats moving to Iraq should expect to experience elements of culture shock. Expat life can be isolating as socialising may be limited to a small community of expats, all of which are in the country on short-term assignments. The transitionary nature of the Iraqi expat community frustrates the task of forming meaningful relationships.

Religion plays an important role in everyday life in Iraq. Expats need be sensitive to Iraqi cultural norms and adjust their lifestyle to best accommodate their interactions with the local population. While expat assignments in Iraq tend to be fairly short, those who make the effort to learn about local culture and engage in a meaningful way with Iraqis will find their time in Iraq to be a more fruitful experience.

Language barrier in Iraq

Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages of Iraq. While Arabic is the official language of business, expats will find that English is also widely spoken. In some cases, expats might want to consider arranging an interpreter to facilitate important communication. It is wise to always have any official documents and agendas translated into Arabic to ensure that communication is transparent.

Expats who make the effort to learn some basic Arabic greetings will find that their efforts are appreciated.

Religion in Iraq

Regardless of the ethnic groupings in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqis are Muslim. The position of Islam in Iraq has altered quite markedly as the country has gone through political transitions. Although Saddam Hussein's regime was characterised as secular, the current Iraqi state has used Islam to legitimise its rule and actions. The transition to the current regime has also resulted in a shift in power from the Sunnis to the Shias.

Regardless of denomination, Islam informs Iraqi society by governing political, legal and social behaviour. Most Iraqis look to the Quran for moral instruction. Expats will become familiar with the sound of the call to prayer, which signals the five times a day that Muslims are expected to pray. The country comes to a standstill on Friday, as it's a day of congregational prayer. Accordingly, the weekend for most companies falls on Friday and Saturday in Iraq.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. This also means that Iraqi businesses operate on a reduced schedule.

Family and honour in Iraq

Family is of paramount importance in Iraqi culture. The extended family, or tribe, is both a political and social force. Families hold their members responsible for their conduct and any wrongdoing is thought to bring shame upon the entire family. Loyalty to the family comes before other social and business relationships.