Custom And Culture Guild For The Middle East
By: Anthony Bayyouk / Arab America Contributing writer
From Morocco to Kuwait, the Arab world covers 22 countries and has become a popular destination for many travelers. These are endless reasons why someone may visit the Arab world; business, vacation, and religious reasons are just a few. Ever since oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in the 1940s foreign businessmen have traveled back and forth to the region for business purposes. Today there is Aramco, the joint American and Saudi oil company. Saudi Arabia and Dubai aren’t the only countries foreign businessmen travel to. Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt have all had extensive business deals with foreigners around the globe. One of the most important factors when Americans or European travel to the Middle East to establish business ties is respecting the Arabs culture and costumes. Something that we will explore in this article is the dos and don’ts of traveling to the Middle East.
Many times in Arab World history, tourism had to be put on hold. Most recently the Arab Spring halted tourism in five countries in the Arab world. The halt on tourism affected economies and social development in these countries. Starting in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain tourism was significantly put on hold. Airports were closed, the streets were filled with military vehicles, resorts and hotels were forced to close their doors due to the lack of tourists. The number of people fleeing their countries was not appealing to potential visitors. Today the airport in Appello Syria has opened back up and tourism is slowly coming back. Egypt has gained a new president since the Arab Spring and the country is stable and tourism is bouncing back quite quickly.
Egypt has just finished building the biggest artifact museum in the world. Dubai is building a new skyscraper every month, and the projects across the Middle East aimed at welcoming tourists are endless. Globalization of the Middle East starts with investing in your own country. Not only has Egypt built one of the largest museums in the world, but they are also in the process of rebuilding their entire capital outside of Cario. The new developments have made it worth traveling to the Middle East. Yet, there are some customary things one must learn before visiting the Arab World.
First, learn a little bit of Arabic. A simple Salam (peace) or marhaba (hello) is a respectful way to greet someone. To thank someone just say shokran (thank you), Arabs also use hand gestures a lot, simply putting your right hand over your heart is a respectful way to say hello to the opposite gender without touching them. It’s also appropriate to put your right hand over your heart when thanking someone. Although you should keep in mind that a large percentage of Arabs in the Middle East do speak English, as they grew up learning British English in school. In some cases, Arabs speak better English than Americans especially in the capital city where you will most likely spend most of your visit.
The dress code in the Middle East all depends on where you’re traveling to. In Beirut Lebanon, Ramallah, Palestine, or Amman Jordan the dress code is very relaxed and you should feel comfortable in whatever you wear. Yet, in the Gulf states, men and women should cover their bodies, Although there are no legal consequences for foreigners that don’t follow the rules, people will stare and you will feel uncomfortable if you are not dressed modestly. Also out of respect for religion, you should always dress modestly when entering a mosque or a church. Some religious buildings will not let you enter if you are not dressed appropriately.
Always bargain for any goods that you buy off the street or at markets. Although in the United States and Europe we pay the set price for goods and rarely bargain, it is an everyday thing to bargain prices in the Middle East. To prevent being tricked, always have a currency exchange rate calculator on your phone when buying anything. Times that you will not bargain include buying food or shopping at a supermarket.
The most important thing to do while traveling to the Arab World talking to locals and enjoying the local food. Everyone has a story that is worth listening to. Although in America and Europe we have done a pretty good job recreating traditional Arab dishes and deserts, nothing is compared to the original stuff. Also, do your research before you go, the Arab World is home to thousands of years of history that have been preserved and are available to tourists.
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