Business & Personal Etiquette and Customs

Updated 2011-07-19 05:24

Meeting Etiquette

  • Men shake hands. Good friends may greet each other with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek.
  • Women generally hug and kiss close friends.
  • Men and women would not greet each other in public I from outside the family.
  • When Saudis greet each other they take their time and converse about general things.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts are not the norm as in many other countries.
  • 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.
  • Gifts are not opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

  • Saudis socialize primarily in restaurants and international hotels when entertaining expatriates whom they do not know well. After some time you will be invited to the home.
  • Entertainment will generally be same-sex only. 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.

Table manners

  • 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.
  • Honoured 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.

Business Etiquette and Protocol Relationships & Communication

  • You will need a Saudi sponsor (wakeel) to enter the country. The sponsor acts as an intermediary and arranges appointments with appropriate individuals.
  • 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.
  • Saudis prefer to work with people they know and trust and will spend a great deal of time on the getting-to-know-you part of relationship building.
  • You must 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 at all possible.
  • When meeting with government officials, a firm date will not be settled upon until you are physically in the country.
  • Try to schedule meetings in the morning.
  • You should arrive at meetings on time, although it is an accepted custom to keep foreigners waiting.
  • It is not uncommon to have a meeting cancelled once you arrive.
  • Meetings are generally not private until after a relationship of trust has been developed. This means you may expect frequent interruptions. 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.

Business Negotiating

  • Decisions are made slowly. Do not try to rush the process.
  • The society is extremely bureaucratic. Most decisions require several layers of approval. It takes several visits to accomplish simple tasks.
  • Saudis are tough negotiators.
  • Business is hierarchical. Decisions are made by the highest-ranking person.
  • Repeat your main points since it will be interpreted as meaning you are telling the truth.
  • Do not use high-pressure tactics.
  • Decisions are easily overturned.
  • 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.
  • You may need to compromise on a point if someone's dignity is at stake.
  • There is a tendency to avoid giving bad news and to give effusive acceptances, which may only mean 'perhaps'.

Dress Etiquette

  • Most Saudis wear long white thobes. You would be expected to wear a suit.
  • Dress well if you want to make a good impression.
  • Business women should make certain that their collarbones and knees are covered and that their clothes are not form-fitting.

Business Cards

  • Business cards are given to everyone you meet, although it may be an idea to be selective if you have few in your possession.
  • Have one side of your card translated into Arabic. Be sure to check the translation carefully as there is often confusion with the order of western names.
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