LOCAL LAWS & CUSTOMS
Relationships & Communication
Saudis do not require as much personal space as most western cultures. As such, they will stand close to you while conversing and you may feel as if your personal space has been violated. Hey also prefer to work with people they know and trust, but they will also spend a great deal of time on the getting-to-know-you part of relationship building, and the secret is to be patient. Since Saudis will most likely judge you on appearances, dress and present yourself well.
Business Meeting Etiquette
Appointments are necessary and should be made several weeks to one month in advance if it is possible. When meeting with government officials, a firm date will not be settled upon until you are physically in the country and try to schedule meetings in the morning. Remember to arrive at meetings on time, although it is an accepted custom to keep foreigners waiting. Meetings are generally not private until after a relationship of trust has been developed. This means you may expect frequent interruptions as others may wander into the room and start a different discussion. You may join in, but do not try to bring the topic back to the original discussion until the new person leaves. Business meetings start after prolonged inquiries about health, family, etc. Never inquire about a Saudi’s wife.
Decisions are made slowly, so do not try to rush the process because the society is very bureaucratic and most decisions require several layers of approval as several visits to accomplish simple tasks is necessary.
Saudis are tough negotiators and business is hierarchical and decisions are made by the highest-ranking person and do not use high-pressure tactics.
When discussing price, Saudis will often make an initial offer that is extremely low when they are buying. Conversely, when they are selling, their initial offer will be extremely high and you may need to compromise on a point if someone’s dignity is at stake. Business travelers involved in commercial disputes with a Saudi company or individual may be prevented from leaving the country until the dispute is resolved
Most Saudis wear long white thobes and you would be expected to wear a suit as dressing well makes a good impression. Business women should make certain that their collarbones and knees are covered and that their clothes are not form-fitting.
Gift Giving Etiquette
Gifts are not the norm as in many other countries so if you are invited to a Saudi’s house bring something small as a thank you. Flowers do not make good gifts from a man, although a woman could give them to her hostess.
Never give alcohol unless you are positive they partake and gifts are not opened when received.
- Saudis socialize primarily in restaurants and international hotels when entertaining expatriates whom they do not know well and after some time you will be invited to the home.
- Entertainment will generally be same-sex only but if both sexes are included, they will be in separate rooms.
- If you are invited to a Saudi’s house:
- You would usually remove your shoes.
- Dress conservatively.
- Try to arrive at the invited time. Punctuality is appreciated but not crucial.
- Show respect for the elders by greeting them first.
- Accept the offer of Arabian coffee and dates even if you do not normally drink coffee.
- If you are invited for a meal, understand that there will be a great deal of socializing and small talk before the meal is served.
- If the meal is on the floor, sit cross-legged or kneel on one knee.
- Eat only with the right hand as the left is considered unclean.
- Try a bit of everything that is served.
- Meals are generally served family-style.
- Honored guests are often offered the most prized pieces such as a sheep’s head so be prepared
- There is often more food than you can eat. Part of Saudi hospitality and generosity is to shower guests with abundance.
- There is little conversation during meals so that diners may relish the food.
Consumption of Alcohol, illegal drugs and other
The importation and use of alcohol is forbidden. Possession of alcohol may result in imprisonment and corporal punishment. There are strong penalties for possession of or dealing in illegal drugs, including in some cases the death penalty. Preaching religions other than Islam may result in imprisonment and/or deportation.
The import and use of pork products and pornographic material is forbidden and can lead to imprisonment.
It should be noted, on marriage to a Saudi national that under the country’s customs the family has strong power over the individual, therefore if a woman wants her right of movement guaranteed, she must insist on a premarital settlement, stipulating this right. Such an agreement is binding, and can be used in court to settle a possible dispute. Men and women must not hold hands and/or kiss in public.
In public, ladies should wear an Abaya, a full-length black over-garment. It is also advisable to have a head scarf although it is not, strictly speaking, required. Men are also expected to dress modestly in full length trousers and shirts with sleeves, even if short.
Driving standards in Saudi Arabia are very poor and the annual death toll on Saudi roads is extremely high. Care should be taken when traveling by vehicle and seat belts should be worn at all times.
Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. For male drivers, driving can be difficult, particularly since road signs may not be in roman letters.
Given the relatively low cost, most visitors will use taxis or chauffeur-driven cars. Female travelers should only travel in pre-booked taxis known to be safe and should normally avoid hailing a taxi in the street.
Iran is an Islamic Republic. Islamic practices and beliefs are closely adhered to in the country’s customs, laws, and regulations and common sense and discretion should be exercised in dress and behavior. Visitors should dress conservatively (men should not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts; women must cover their head with a scarf and conceal the body’s contours by wearing a loose fitting knee length outer garment and trousers). Respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.
It is prohibited to import alcohol or pork products.
Photography near military, government installations and many other areas are also strictly prohibited and there may be warnings signs displayed to this effect. Any transgression may result in detention and serious criminal charges.
During the lunar month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Muslim calendar), visitors should refrain from drinking, eating, and smoking in public between sunrise and sunset.
Travelers have occasionally been victims of petty theft. Avoid displays of affluence and ensure personal belongings, passports, and other travel documents are secured at all times.
The standard of driving in Iran, particularly in urban centers, is poor and can be challenging to newcomers. Iran has one of the highest rates of road accidents in the world and travelers should drive with great care. If you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor, do not leave the scene. You should wait until the police arrive to make their report.
Visitors should bring sufficient hard currency (Euros or US dollars) with them to fund their stay.
The UAE is a Muslim country in which Islamic law is enforced. Women should dress in a modest way, particularly in Sharjah and Ajman emirates where Islamic law is rigorously enforced. Clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public. Sex outside of marriage is illegal, as is cohabitation, adultery and homosexual behavior. Swearing or making rude gestures is considered an obscene act and offenders can be prosecuted.
The importation of narcotics, pork products and pornographic books and material is totally forbidden. Fraud, including bouncing cheques and the non-payment of bills (including hotel bills), is regarded seriously in the UAE and can often result in imprisonment and/or a fine. Bail is generally not available to non-residents of the UAE who are arrested for crimes involving fraud. Convicted debtors will not generally be released from jail until the debt is paid or waived.
Consumption of alcohol
Liquor licenses can be obtained by residents to consume alcohol in private homes, and alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs. But it is a punishable offense to drink or to be drunk in public.
The penalties for drug trafficking, smuggling and possession are severe. Drug trafficking penalties can include the death sentence or life imprisonment. The presence of drugs in the body constitutes possession and carries a minimum sentence of four years.
Any such medication is not allowed into the UAE without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health. Medication on the website is listed by its generic name, so travelers should check the generic name of their medication with a doctor or pharmacist. Further queries should be directed to the local Embassy or Consulate of the UAE.
Excursions to the desert can be dangerous unless undertaken in adequately equipped 4 x 4 vehicles. You should always travel in convoy with other cars, take a supply of water and a mobile telephone if you have one and leave travel plans with friends or relatives. It is an offense in the UAE to drink and drive. There is zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and the penalties can be severe. Insurance is likely to be invalidated, leaving the driver to pay claims by other parties involved.
Egypt is a conservative society, and modest dress should be observed. Women’s clothes should cover their legs and upper arms. Public displays of affection are frowned upon. During Ramadan, eating, drinking or smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims, who make up the majority of Egypt’s population. To avoid offense you may wish to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public during this time.
Possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs is a serious offense and can, even for possession of small amounts, lead to long prison sentences (25 years) or the death penalty.
Driving conditions in Egypt can be hazardous and travelers are advised to avoid driving at night outside major cities. There have been a series of bus crashes in Egypt in recent years, which have resulted in the death of a considerable number of Egyptians and foreign tourists.
You should not become involved with drugs of any kind. Penalties for possession of narcotic substances can be severe. There is a minimum sentence of six months for possession of small amounts for personal consumption only. However, a 10 year sentence for possession of other amounts applies. The slow judicial process means that lengthy pre-trial detention, usually of several years, is the norm.
Table manners are formal but the formality is tempered by the religious beliefs of the various groups and most of the places, food is eaten with fingers.
- Wait to be told where to sit.
- If utensils are used, they are generally a tablespoon and a fork.
- Guests are often served in a particular order: the guest of honour is served first, followed by the men, and the children are served last. Women typically serve the men and eat later.
- You may be asked to wash your hands before and after sitting down to a meal.
- Always use your right hand to eat, whether you are using utensils or your fingers.
In some situations food may be put on your plate for you, while in other situations you may be allowed to serve yourself from a communal bowl.
- Leaving a small amount of food on your plate indicates that you are satisfied. Finishing all your food means that you are still hungry.
Business attire is conservative and men should wear dark colored conservative business suits. The weather often determines clothing. In the hotter parts of the country, dress is less formal, although dressing as suggested above for the first meeting will indicate respect.
- Indians revere titles such as Professor, Doctor and Engineer.
- Status is determined by age, university degree, caste and profession.
- If someone does not have a professional title, use the honorific title “Sir” or “Madam”.
- Titles are used with the person’s name or the surname, depending upon the person’s name.
- Wait to be invited before using someone’s first name without the title.
Pakistan is a Muslim state and local customs, such as dress and behavior, should be respected. Always dress modestly as men and women should cover their shoulders and legs when in public. Women should cover their heads when entering mosques or other holy places, and when traveling in more rural areas.
Importing alcohol and pork products is illegal. Possession of even small quantities of illegal drugs can lead to imprisonment and drug smuggling can attract the death penalty.
You are advised not to take photographs at military establishments, airports or any infrastructure, including bridges and dams or from aircraft.
Criminal violence, including armed car-jacking, robbery, kidnap and murder, is common, especially in Karachi and therefore travelers have been offered drugged food and then robbed. You should be very careful and confident of your personal security arrangements throughout your visit. Much of Baluchistan, rural Sindh and the North West Frontier Province, including the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and Agencies, have a high incidence of lawlessness. Beware of the risk of street crime and take personal security measures. Take particular care to safeguard your passport and bank cards, particularly when traveling by public transport and when walking in crowded areas.
Turkey has strict laws against the use, possession or trafficking of illegal drugs. If you are convicted of any of these offences, you can expect to receive a heavy fine and a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Normally, the dress code in Turkey is the same as in Europe, however, you should dress modestly if visiting a mosque or a religious shrine (long trousers or dress and women should wear a headscarf). Do not take photographs near military or official installations and seek permission before photographing individuals.
Incidents of violent crime against tourists in Turkey are rare. Street robbery and pick pocketing are common in the major tourist areas of Istanbul. There have been a number of cases of theft from apartments in some of the coastal resorts. Visitors should heed the advice of their local tour operator representative.
You should take particular care when traveling by road throughout Turkey, as road conditions and driving standards can be poor. Serious traffic accidents are common particularly at night.
Some other countries;
Clothing: Wearing shorts in public is generally not acceptable in most parts of the world, including some European countries. In Arab countries, low necklines, sleeveless shirts, and short skirts are definitely a bad idea. When in doubt, dress conservatively. Also, while it is tempting to dress in the local style, like wearing a sari in India, be sensitive to the culture – sometimes the local citizenry will appreciate your attempt to fit in; sometimes it will be considered an insult.
Greetings/touching: Handshakes are an almost universally accepted form of greeting, although in some countries, like Japan, a traditional bow from the waist down is preferred. Be careful how you address someone; don’t use first names unless you are invited to do so. In some countries, you’ll see a lot of hugging and kissing going on among the locals (Greece, Italy, Latin countries, Slavic countries); an affectionate hug or peck on the cheek that you share with a new acquaintance is fine, but usually if you are responding to, not initiating it.
Language/Gestures: Taking a crash course in the language of the country you will be visiting rarely results in the mastery of the language. Instead, learn some polite expressions (hello-goodbye-thank you) and relax. English is pretty common worldwide, especially in tourist areas, and you can always include body language to get your message across. However, some American gestures have totally different meanings in other countries. For example, in Bulgaria, shaking your head horizontally means “yes”; shaking it vertically means “no”. Also using the American gesture for “OK” (the thumb and forefinger making a circle with the other fingers pointing up) can be embarrassing. In Brazil that gesture means “screw you”: in Japan it means “money”: in Southern France it means “zero” or “worthless”.
Food/Drink: You may find yourself staring down at a local delicacy – snake soup in China, a yak burger in Tibet, sheep’s eyes in Saudi Arabia, calves’ brains in France – and wonder what to do, particularly if you are a guest in someone’s home. Be brave, take small bites, and pretend it tastes like something you like. When presented with a strong alcoholic drink, like ouzo in Greece, take small sips and stop when you must (you can refuse, citing medical reasons as your excuse). Remember that Hindus and some Buddhists don’t eat beef (the cow is sacred); Muslims don’t eat pork, and strict Muslims abstain from alcohol. If you are eating with Muslims, never touch food with your left hand (the left hand is for bathroom use and is considered unsanitary; using it would be very offensive).
Socializing/conversations: If you are acquainted with the history and culture of the country, you shouldn’t get unnerved. In general, some topics can be touchy or controversial, like money, religion, politics, and sex. But the particular nature of the people is critical. The Japanese do not want to talk about World War II; the French scowl at the classic American question: “What do you do for a living?”; the Chinese call their country “China” or the “People’s Republic of China” – not “the Mainland”; people in Scotland are “Scots” or “Scotsmen,” not “Scotch” (the drink) or “Scottish” (the language or the terrier).
Something to remember
Do not blow your nose in public as it is a sign of bad manner in Japan. The best would be to sniffle until you are alone. It is also seen as bad manners to open a gift you receive in front of the gift giver. The best would be to thank and wait until opening it when you are alone. When it comes to business cards, you should read it before you put it in your pocket or wallet.
Dinner in the evening? Then take a long shower or relax at home before you arrive. People do not arrive right on time in France or Latin America as people tend not to be on time because arriving right on time seems like you are greedy rather than being polite. Last, know your time as when the first people leave the table, the others follow after. Staying late will make you look like you are misusing the hosts hospitality.
In China, the food is eaten with chopsticks, therefore never leave the chopsticks vertical on the rice bowl but horizontal because it will remind of incense the Chinese use under funerals and seem rather offensive. And if you are served fish, do not turn the fish around cause according to superstition belief, if you turn the fish, the fishing boat will turn over in the sea as a result of an accident. But it is good to drink as Chinese people enjoy the company where alcohol is floating since peoples true colors come forward when they are drunk.
It is important to be careful in when traveling in Russia. Try to avoid these;
Do not shake hands in the doorway, light a cigarette from a candle or whistle inside. It is also important to not kiss someone on the forehead and give flowers containing of a even number as this is done for the deceased.