Trading Specialization

This is not a post about what a nice guy I am for fixing my co-worker’s computer. It’s a post about the efficiency of trading expertise.

I have a 19 year old co-worker from Iraq who has about half a year’s worth of English language skills under his belt. A few months ago he bought a laptop which he began using prolifically to (what else?) use Facebook, access music, and do whatever else it is that the average young adult does with the internet. One day, however, the computer became virtually unusable. “Computer fucked up man”, he said dejectedly. Apparently he had resigned himself to the fact that his once beloved laptop was now useless and there was nothing to be done. Apparently he had no idea who the fuck I was.

“I don’t work Tuesday” I said, “but I will come in to work. Bring your laptop. I will fix it.” He appeared doubtful at first although I assured him I knew what I was doing. His doubt quickly changed to hope and on the designated day I came in to work, created a little work station for myself, and proceeded to do my thing.

He thought it was a virus. As I suspected it was really just a shitload of malware along with some debilitating toolbars and addons. When I first opened up a web browser other tabs started popping open on their own with a lethal quickness. I can only imagine the difficulty he had trying to troubleshoot a computer with a lack of experience and a language barrier. What was next to impossible for him was simple for me and after disabling the addons and toolbars, uninstalling the malicious programs that come bundled with intentional downloads, and installing and running anti-malware, I got the computer running once again in good condition.

I returned the laptop to my co-worker and pronounced the problems fixed. A couple of days later at work, he pulled me aside to thank me for the work and said the computer is running very well. “No problem”, I said. “I put two Arabic songs on your computer desktop. Did you see them?”


“Just listen to those songs and type the lyrics for me in Arabic script. That’s all I want in return.”

He laughed but I assure him that this will be a big help to me. I’m good at reading Arabic but absorbing and understanding it verbally is still something of a problem. What I traded with this guy was my ability to troubleshoot his laptop, which he couldn’t easily afford if I charged him money, for his expertise at Arabic language which would have cost too much for me if I had to pay an actual language specialist. This is yet another example of how trade is not a zero sum game.

5 Responses to “Trading Specialization”

  1. Phelps says:

    There is a second layer of economics there in specialization, as well. Even if he could have done it himself, it was still a good trade, because you wouldn’t have been able to transcribe the songs in less time than it took you to fix the laptop, and he wouldn’t have been able to fix the laptop in less time than it took to transcribe the songs.

  2. Citizen Quasar says:

    I tried to learn Arabic once. I worked with a bunch of Moroccans who spoke excellent Arabic and French but hardly any English. I speak English, a tad of Spanish, and used to have about a hundred word Russian vocabulary so I decided to tackle Arabic. After all, Arabic speaking nations have been in the news for years.

    I was OK with the right to left thing. When I realized the alphabet was ONLY cursive, I began to get discouraged. Realizing that pronunciation of one of the letters required me to make a guttural chocking-as-if-being strangled sound was just too much for my vocal cords so I gave it up.

  3. Mexigogue says:

    That is the a’yn. If you want to see something hilarious regarding this, look at this tutorial video starting at the 3:45 mark:

  4. fatimah23 says:

    Regarding Trading Specialization:
    Trading one thing of value for another thing of value (real or interpreted) is great. Whatever value the parties agree upon (actual or interpreted). Generation or collection of interest – also known as usury- is no good.
    It is distressing your Arab friend uses the “F” word. That, and other vulgarities are used so so much in common discourse that perhaps your friend thinks it is an okay thing to say. Perhaps he needs some guidance. Just a suggestion.

  5. mexi says:

    My impression is that Arab males tend to use vulgarities at a rate comparable to Americans with one exception (I’m speaking generally, I’m sure there are some guys who don’t cuss although I’m not sure I’ve met them). The presence of women in hijab changes that dynamic. The double standard is glaring. Around non-Muslim females these guys will continue to cuss without a second thought. For what it’s worth this is my anecdotal observation.

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