Etiquettes to Keep in Mind When You Visit the Arab World
By: Noureldin Mohamed/Arab America Contributing Writer
Etiquette is rather important to observe when learning about various cultures and traditions. Each Arab culture is unique in its traditions and etiquette.
The Arab world is an area that encompasses the region from the Atlantic Ocean near Northern Africa east to the Arabian Sea. Its northern boundary is the Mediterranean Sea, while the southern boundary extends to the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean. Made up of 22 countries, it encompasses rich cultures, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. The importance of family, faith, and justice/equality seems to be some of the essential values that Arab people hold true to themselves.
But maybe you are asking yourself, “what are some things I should know about Arab culture?” Here’s a short list you may find interesting:
Admitting “I don’t know” is distasteful to an Arab.
Constructive criticism can be taken as an insult. Be careful not to insult.
Unlike Western cultures, the family is the center of honor, loyalty, and reputation for Arabs. Males are always the head of the Arab family.
Body language is important, specifically handshaking. Personal space is of little importance as they are friendly and appreciate the warm closeness of people.
The use of full names and the importance of recognizing women in any presence is essential.
Time is of the essence, but not necessarily to Arabs.
They like to be social and they want to know more about you so you could get to know them as well in the process.
And maybe most evident, Arab hospitality is like no other. Here is a good list of etiquette to follow:
- Before entering a house, take off your shoes and leave them outside. Always enter a home with your right foot first and wear slippers if provided.
- Do not stretch your legs out in front of others or sit higher than others. Avoid putting your left hand behind your back and don’t put your hands in your pockets. Show respect, don’t put your feet on furniture or lean on walls. Remember to use your right hand.
- Don’t raise your voice.
- Understand that there will be a lot of socializing and talk before the meal. There is little talk during the meal so you can enjoy the food.
- Some consider it rude to eat everything on your plate, so leave some as this is a compliment to the host.
- Muslim Arabs are restricted from eating pork, unscaled fish and most carnivorous animals. Alcohol is forbidden. As a guest, accept food offered to you as a snack but only after refusing the first offer.
- When you go over to a friend’s house, it is important to find their parents and greet them as well.
- If they offer you tea or coffee, try to refuse a few times to show respect and don’t finish in one gulp.
- Some Arabs enjoy talking about politics but only engage when they begin the conversation as it might be sensitive for some too.
- Arabs say “Alhamdulillah,” giving thanks to God and is used to show appreciation and humbleness to the divine power.
- If you are invited over to someone’s house for a meal, bring them a gift (fruit, flowers, dessert, books, etc.). Give or receive a gift with two hands!
- In an Arab home, you can expect to find a mix of many different spices, dates, tea, coffee, and delights to munch on.
- Use the word “Mashallah” when complimenting Arabs or their house.
- The word ‘exotic’ is an offensive word to describe an Arab.
- There are over 30 modern Arab dialects. You don’t need to know all of them, but some words may mean a different thing with some ethnicities. Make sure to read context clues!
- The older the family member, the more respect you should display for them. (Grandfathers and grandmothers, etc.)
- Greetings and goodbyes are essential, they do not stop until they know you have left safely.
- A proper grasp of these customs and traditions will help any non-Arab understand and make observations as they go about Arabs and their etiquette.
Modern-day Arabs are very fond of Western culture, but they stay true to their traditions and customs. Although technology, communications, and the fast-paced life we live in makes us sometimes unable to understand the identity of others, it is still essential to clear our minds of stereotypes of different cultures and people different from us.
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