Working in the Middle East / Saudi Arabia

Behavior Dos and Don’ts

Date Posted: February 17, 2016      

In the Arab world there are a few actions that in the Western world may not be considered impolite, yet in the Middle East could cause offence. Within the context of a work environment there are some basic dos and don’ts that may be useful:

  • It is considered impolite to expose the soles of the feet or footwear to anyone as both feet and shoes are perceived to be unclean. Similarly crossing of legs is usually an unconscious gesture made by Westerners, which can be deemed disrespectful particularly if the foot of the upper crossed leg is pointed in the direction of an Arab.
  • Hand gestures considered rude in most societies will also be regarded as similarly offensive, as is asking someone to approach you by beckoning with your upright forefinger. This is another gesture that can be made unconsciously by a non-Arab. Excessive pointing, fist clenching and pounding of the right fist into the left palm is also considered rude.
  • Similar to the patriarchal traditions often seen in Asian countries (like Japan and Thailand), Arabian culture is more hierarchical than some Western societies. Arab men are generally proud and the importance of honor in the Arab culture cannot be underestimated. Therefore, please do take care not to do or say anything that would cause another person (particularly an Arab or Saudi Arabian citizen) embarrassment or loss of face.
  • Always give and receive business cards with your right hand (the left is regarded as unclean).
  • Do not allow any form of physical contact with members of the opposite sex in public. Do not even extend your hand to shake a Muslim woman’s hand as this could be seen as offensive.
  • Do not swear in the work place or make any statements (either verbally or in writing) that insults Islam, the government, royal family or Saudi Arabian culture.