Arab Ettiquette and Social Custom

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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

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Ettiquette and Custom

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Conventional good manners and consideration for the customs and beliefs of others prevail in Saudi Arabia as elsewhere. The Saudis themselves are good homoured, kind and informal as they expect others to be. They are not likely to take offense at social blunders made by foreigners, which arise not from intent, but from ignorance of customs.

In social conversations or even in opening a business conversation, there is always the give and take of good homoured small talk in which an interest is shown in the health and well being of the other party. In conversing with Arabs one should not show impatience, preoccupation with other affairs or undue haste. In entertaining visitors, the host should never terminate a conversation abruptly or seem to be dismissing a guest, no matter how busy the host may be.

An Arab should never be urged to uncover his head, indoors or out. The expat’s habit of relaxing in a chair with legs crossed or propped up so that the sole confronts the visitor offends most Arabs. It is regarded, as indicating that the other party is no more than dirt underfoot.

It is good form for a host to accompany his Arab visitor to the street or waiting car. The Arab’s insistence that his host remain comfortably in the living room is largely a formality.

The host promptly upon the arrival of a guest normally serves coffee or some refreshment. A bearer, who waits to serve again, until a sign is given, serves Arab coffee flavored with cardamon, in small portions. One or two cups are cups are polite, but rarely more than three. The sign to indicate that no more coffee is desired is to shake the cup with a wrist motion before returning it to the server. Tea and soft drinks may follow coffee.

Neither food nor drink should ever be taken with the left-hand from an Arab host or bearer. However, despite stories to the contrary, many Arabs hold their fork in their left hand and left-handed people need not anticipate embarrassment if they eat as they would at home.


You are an invited guest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. You were not forced to come here. You are subject to their local laws. It is prudent for your family to make themselves aware of the relevant laws and customs.

Here are some suggested “do’s” and “don’ts” for your own comfort and well being.


Keep an open mind regarding the cultural and social differences you observe. Be flexible and open to change. You will appreciate the new experiences. Accept the challenge of life in a wonderful, ancient country with a rich and exciting history.

Attempt to learn and use the Arabic language.

Remain flexible and try to adapt to local customs. For example

Attire: Women should wear conservative, loose fitting clothing. If you feel better when wearing the abaya, then do so. But, remember the abaya is NOT used to cover improper clothing such as shorts.

Ramadan: is an Islamic month marked by fasting. Respect this religious holiday by refraining from eating, chewing gum, drinking or smoking in public during daylight hours. You could be arrested for breaking the law.

Remain calm and polite if you should be involved in any conflict, such as a personal disagreement, a traffic accident, detention by police, or accosted by the Mutawwa.


Try to impose your Western values on the Saudi Society. Don’t expect life to be just the same as it was in your home country.

Photograph people or any area of national security such as airports, military installations, refineries etc.