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11 Behaviors of Arab Americans in Times of Illness

posted on: Jan 24, 2018

By: Noor Almohsin/ Arab America Contributing Writer

Arabs, who have a collective and high context culture, tend to value family and large groups. This becomes more apparent during both happy and hard times. This article lists a number of behaviors Arab American families do in times of illness.

1. Use heat

To many Arab Americans, heat has a magical healing power. For different types of pain, Arabs would use hot water bottles, hot bricks, or more recently, hot electric pads. They would also heat a spoon and place it at the sole of the food to reduce tummy pain.  I was introduced to ICE when I first moved to the US. So even when hospitalized, Arab Americans would request hot pads to reduce the pain.

2. Lots of food

One way Arab Americans show care for the ill person is by feeding beloved ones. It becomes mandatory during illness. All sorts of soups and other good foods are served to the ill strongly believing it will grant him/her the energy to feel better and faster. Many times the fridge at Hospital’s ward can’t take it all!!

3. Everyone has their own prescriptions/remedies

Everyone provides their own experience with remedies, recipes, and prescriptions that helped to heal. Try “kawarea”, “egg-milk”, “meat broth” all those rich in protein will make your bone stronger, and will magically make you strong as a horse. Other instructions include to beware of cold: do this and avoid that. At least it’s good to know that everyone has good wishes for you to get and feel better.

4. Non-Stop phone calls

Once the news about your illness is out, expect to have difficulties putting away your mobile with all the phone calls you receive. And if you don’t pick up, they will continue calling or they will come in person, thinking the worst has happened (La Samah Allah/God forbid). Recently, creating a WhatsApp group can be a savior.

5. More details

Phone calls won’t stop! Expect to repeat telling the story of your condition and treatment a million times with every phone call you receive, especially those from overseas. It is not only the patient’s phone but also the phone of whoever around you; everyone wants to be assured in person.

6. Relatives come from everywhere


Arab Americans are very family oriented, and family support shows the most during hard times. To them, immediate family is not limited to parents, siblings or children; it includes, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces who will drive, fly, and probably swim for miles to be there for you. Family support is the best!

7. Everyone is in charge

What many Americans find it difficult to comprehend is the connections within Arab American families. To Arab Americans, the whole family is responsible for the patient. Trying to make a single person in charge will frustrate Arab immediate family members, and will give difficult time to healthcare providers.

8. A lot of visitors

Restricted visiting time is a pain to Arab Americans, though they try to abide by the rules, at many times, they end up mingling together outside Hospital’s ward. Oh many times, hospitality is delivered to them outside patient’s room and their visit gets very much appreciated.

9. A lot of gifts and flowers

Flowers and gifts are always beautiful to cheer the patient, especially when he/she is admitted to the hospital for a long time. But sometimes, flowers become too much to the extent of suffocating. No worries, Arab Americans would place the vases by the outside door of the room to reduce floral aroma inside the room. Other than flowers and chocolates, Arab Americans like to give money as a courtesy gift to support the patient. Sometimes, a group would pitch in to give money.

10. Insist to give money to the nurse/staff

Giving money, gifts, and food to the nurses and staff is not only a form of hospitality but also to ensure they will treat our patient well. Though giving money, in particular, might be taken offensively by some health care providers, it is very difficult to convince the elder Arab Americans to stop this habit. They say, “it is not a bribe, it is a gift that may make them happy!!  Would you say no to a gift of money?”

11. Please don’t die

Because Arab Americans can be pessimistic, when someone is very sick, people would make sure he/she is debt free. When people are sick, they would write their will before they undergo surgeries. They would also give orders to their offspring in the presence of the guardian, in case something bad happens.