The More You Know: A Guide to Professional Etiquette in the Middle East


One of the main goals of the Global Leadership Certificate Program at Ohio University is to promote cross-cultural awareness and international communication. Many of us aspire to spend time abroad in the future, and some of us would even like to work in another country someday. In order to do that successfully, it’s necessary to have respect and awareness for that region’s culture and customs. There are many cultural norms in the Middle East that differ from ours in the United States, and these must be considered when preparing to interact on a professional level.

Dress

As in most professional settings, conservative dress is the most appropriate option for business meetings in the Middle East. Men should generally wear a suit and tie, and women should wear professional attire, being sure to cover their shoulders, arms (to the elbow), neck, thighs and calves. Also, avoid excessive make-up and jewelry.

Greetings

When Middle Easterners greet one another, they exchange more than the formalities that many Americans may be used to. They will often take a great deal of time to chat before getting to business matters, and visitors should not rush these conversations. Relationships are important in the Middle East, and warm, enthusiastic greetings are expected. Oftentimes, men will kiss each other on the check upon meeting, which has a different connotation in the Middle East than it does in the West.

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Spoken Agreements

In the US, people mainly rely on written contracts to formalize agreements, which contrasts greatly with the customs of the Middle East. More value is placed on spoken word there, and it’s worth it to remember when interacting socially or professionally that people will expect you to live up to what you say. It is seen as very dishonorable to go back on your word.

Dining

If you are asked to share a meal, accept the offer if at all possible. Be punctual and greet elders before others as a sign of respect to them. Keep in mind that it is rude to talk about business at a social gathering, but it is important to maintain general coversation. It is common for hosts to serve Arabian coffee and dates, along with a plethora of other foods. Politely accept what is offered to you, and give everything a try. Hospitality is an important part of Middle Eastern society, so don’t forget to show gratitude for your host’s generosity.

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Religion

Visitors must respect the religious customs and practices of those that they interact with in the Middle East, where the most prominent religion is Islam. Muslims pray five times a day and appointments and meetings are scheduled around prayer times for the most part. Friday is the weekly Muslim holy day, when men are obligated to worship and attend congressional prayers. Also, Muslims fast during the daylight hours throughout the holy month of Ramadan, and are permitted to work no more than six hours a day. Therefore, it is not advisable to initiate business during that time.

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It’s certainly wise to be knowledgeable of proper etiquette in the Middle East (or any place that is culturally different from what you are used to) before traveling to or conducting business with people from the region. I hope that these tips were helpful! If you know of any others that you think might be useful to add to this list, please leave them in the comment section!

Sources:

International Congress and Convention Association

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World Speaking

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5 thoughts on “The More You Know: A Guide to Professional Etiquette in the Middle East

  1. This is extremely useful, as respecting other cultures when working with them is essential. I find it interesting that people in the Middle East rely more on spoken word than written word. It’s refreshing to know that some people live up to what they say without the need of a contract. I think many people in America, including myself, could take notes from this. In general, they seem to have a very respectful and personal work culture, which I think is something to strive for.

  2. I think it is always important to know the business customs of different cultures. I thought that it was interesting how the men kiss each other on the cheek which, as you mentioned, is very different from the Western culture.

  3. Nonverbal communication is one of the main methods to convey meaning and is seemingly the same across cultural lines. I find myself listening to people’s tone and looking at their hands and body language (sometimes) more than I focus on the actual content. It sounds pretty bad, but that’s how we “read people”. I couldn’t imagine trying to communicate on words alone; context and nonverbal communication is so important, especially in professional situations!

  4. We talk about this topic a lot in my business classes and I always find it so interesting that in the Middle East that even in the business setting they actually have time dedicated to getting to know they’re fellow businessman. I’ve also found in many places I have traveled (not only the Middle East) its so common for people to greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. I liked reading about this topic and found the article very informative.

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