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Cross Cultural Awareness - 'Big Brother' in Arabia

The breadth and scope of cross cultural understanding applies to many fields in the business and personal spheres. Many cross cultural experts focus on the application of cross cultural communication to business and related areas such as negotiation, advertising and marketing. Others promote the idea that cross cultural awareness is necessary in most aspects of 21st century life due to the international nature of the world today. Therefore art, music and TV are also areas where cross cultural awareness becomes relevant.

A recent example of poor cross cultural sensitivity occurred with the launching of a new TV show in the Middle East.

The television show 'Big Brother', where contestants are kept under lock and key inside the same house until public voting leaves a winner, was first launched in the UK on Channel 4 in 2001. It has gone on to see spin off versions in countries such as Russia, Turkey and Australia.

In early 2004, the Arab TV channel MBC surprisingly decided to produce their own version, Al-Ra'is (the Boss), in Bahrain. Perhaps just as unsurprising was the decision to cancel the show after its second showing following intense media criticism accompanied by protests on the streets of Bahrain.

One can only wonder how the MBC producers failed to see the cross cultural implications of Al-Ra'is. An understanding that the format and logistics of the show demanded some cross cultural modifications became manifest as the producers decided to segregate the sleeping quarters of the male and female contestants. In addition a prayer area, women's lounge and mixed-sex communal area were introduced to better accommodate Islamic principles.

Targeting an audience comprising of mainly Muslims, Al-Ra'is failed to read the cross cultural signs. The close quarter interaction between men and women was culturally unacceptable to the majority of viewers. "It is normal for males and females to mix, but not to put them together in the same house for a long time," said 21-year-old student Maryam al-Sayrafi, who summed up most Muslims' feelings on the show.

The failure of Al-Ra'is points to two things: 1) the adverse consequences of a failure to incorporate cross cultural analysis into a business strategy; in this case a TV show, and 2) the importance of cross cultural understanding in transferring ideas and concepts across cultures.

© Kwintessential Ltd

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