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How to Follow Proper Business Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

Americans tend to be loose with customs and manners, but you will have to learn the proper business etiquette in Saudi Arabia, a country where customs matter. Pay attention to the small gestures that are expected of guests.

Instructions

  • Step 1: Expect dinners, unless otherwise announced, to be all-male functions. Refusing an entertainment invitation on these or any grounds will be taken as an affront. Use only the right hand when eating.
  • Step 2: Avoid admiring any of your host's property, which may result in having the object offered as a gift, an ancient custom.
  • TIP: Women may sometimes attend business meetings, but only if accompanied by a male representative, who conducts the meeting for her.
  • Step 3: Observe strict Saudi cultural behaviors and only snap photos of people who give permission. Photographing mosques, palaces, government buildings, airports, railroad stations, and most souk areas is forbidden. Have restraint at all times in Saudi Arabia.
  • FACT: The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush in December 2008 was reportedly offered $10 million by a Saudi businessman for his shoes.
  • Step 4: Indulge the Saudi custom of insisting on refreshments, the coffee offered to guests in order of rank, if familiar with the host. Drink only as much as your host, declining by shaking the cup when handing it back to a servant. Abstain from alcohol altogether.
  • Step 5: Accept a Saudi's touch during conversation; pulling away is rude. Sitting with the soles of your shoes or feet facing others is also deeply offensive.
  • TIP: Learn several Arabic greetings -- Saudis will appreciate your effort.
  • Step 6: Address Saudi men with an honorific and their first or given name. Saudi names represent their genealogy, and are relatively long compared to American ones. The given name is followed by one indicating whose son they are, and then is finally followed by the tribe name.
  • Step 7: Follow business etiquette and show deference to an older or more senior person, who is allowed through a door first. When walking together, a guest or senior person should be on the right as a matter of respect.
  • Step 8: Make small talk to establish trust. Introductory business conversations focus on the health and well-being of the other person. This does not extend to a wife or female relatives, so practice the expected etiquette and avoid the subject.
  • Step 9: Endure a Saudi tendency to greet with kisses on the face and to hold hands, though as a westerner you may get a handshake. Use only your right hand -- the left is considered unclean.

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