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Navigating Cultural Expectations in the Middle East

Navigating Cultural Expectations in the Middle East

Planning to travel or work in the Middle East? Learn how to navigate its complicated culture with this comprehensive guide on cultural expectations in the region.

Travelling or working in the Middle East can be an exhilarating experience, but it can also have its challenges. Understanding the culture and customs of the region is vital to ensure you respect the values and customs of those living in this part of the world. This guide will provide insights into cultural expectations while travelling or working in the Middle East.

Show Respect for Religion

The Middle East’s foundation is based on a long-standing and deeply rooted religious background. When paying attention to the culture and customs in the region, it’s important to show respect for religion. While there are some fundamental differences between the five main religions, each has its place in society and their faith should be respected. Attire should also reflect your cultural understanding – appropriate dress is generally expected in public places, especially when visiting places of worship.

Dress Appropriately

Appropriate dress is very important in the Middle East to show respect for local culture and customs. Women should cover their shoulders and wear clothes that cover to their knees, while men should also avoid wearing shorts or anything too revealing. It’s also advisable to bring a scarf to cover your head when visiting religious sites. Of course, always ensure you look clean and well-presented – this goes a long way in the Middle East.

Adhere to Codes of Honor and Rank

Many Middle Eastern countries are steeped in tradition and follow codes of honor and rank. Islamic law also plays an important role in daily life, particularly in relation to gender roles. Respecting the codes within each country is essential – especially if you have an audience with leading figures or royal representatives. It’s best to err on the side of caution and err on respect for local conventions.

Avoid Discussing Controversial Issues

Steer clear of discussing topics like politics, religion and other sensitive issues. You may come across topics common in your home country but seen as disrespectful in the Middle East. Being aware of what is deemed offensive can help to ensure that you do not cause any offence, even inadvertently. Similarly, dietary and dress restrictions should be taken into account during visits to mosques or religious sites.

Pay Attention to Formal Greetings

It is important to take the time to greet people respectfully when visiting or engaging with someone from the Middle East. Depending on the country, shaking hands while saying as-salamu alaykum (peace be upon you) may be expected. Other formal greetings include handshakes and hugs combined with either Uhlan rifqa (welcome), Marhaba (hello) or Sabah el-saher (good morning). Similarly, the appropriate response to ‘Wafiq’ – good luck – should always be ‘Leisk Musaeed’ meaning ‘May you have success too’.

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