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Dinner Etiquette & the Arab Culture

posted on: Sep 16, 2015

falafel recipe

Being an Arab American has many advantages and disadvantages. If you were born and raised with typical American principles but have a traditional Arabic family, gatherings and holidays can be pretty confusing. Am I allowed to eat this? What if I’m not hungry? Here is your guide to cultural norms when it comes to dinner etiquette for traditional Arab families.

Be cautious with any type of meat. In the Quran, it is not acceptable to eat pork or meat that is not halal (permitted). Lamb is very common and always a safe choice. Alcohol is also forbidden.

Accept whatever is offered to you. It is impolite to refuse food or drink if you are a guest. Typically, the host will offer snacks and as the guest you should humbly deny the first offer, but accept if the host insists. Tea and coffee are always expected to be drunk in small quantities and are signs of friendship.

Only use your right hand! If you are left-handed, this rule is a tough one! In Arab culture as well as many from the east, the left hand is considered unclean. Throughout history, it was common practice to use the left hand in the restroom to clean oneself, keeping the right hand sanitary for shaking hands and eating. Even in today’s modern times, the tradition carried over and touching anything with the left hand makes the food unclean and unfit to eat.

Always wash your hands before eating. Hygiene plays a huge role in Arab culture. It is important to always wash your hands before touching any food.

Do not eat everything on your plate. Leaving behind a small amount of food on one’s plate is a sign of wealth. Be careful not to leave too much behind, however, as this shows a dislike in their food.

Leave shortly after dinner. Typically dinnertime is the highest point of the evening in which you have conversations and enjoy each other’s company. Staying too long after the meal can be disrespectful or a sign of not being satisfied with the company.

By following these simple rules, you will not only have a smooth, enjoyable dinner with people you love, but you will show your Arab family and friends that you respect and acknowledge your cultural roots.

Tiffani Ahdia

Arab America

Contributing Writer