Things You Should Know About Arab Culture and Business Culture


Planning on visiting or doing business with an Arab company? Here are few tips about Arab business and culture for visitors, exporters, and international traders to understand the culture, business culture, and how to do business with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and other Middle East countries.

Conservative behavior: In public, Arabs behave conservatively. Display of affection between spouses is nonexistent. It is a private society and display of one’s feelings is kept private. You will also notice that laughter and joking in public is toned down, which is not the case in private gatherings. Arguments between spouses, friends, and people in general are also kept private or conducted in a way that guarantees no one else is aware of it.

Invitations: If you are invited to dinner or lunch, you are not expected to bring food, drinks, or gifts. Upon entering the house notice the guest room you are taken to. If shoes and sandals were left at the door by other guests, then take off your shoes. It is customary when entering guest’s room or office to greet everyone there by saying Alsalamo-Alikom, which means “peace be with you”. The reply to this greeting is “Wa’alikom Alsalam”. Once inside, everyone will stand up to greet you and shake your hand. Start with the person standing on your right side or the one who is approaching you. Notice that in both modern and traditional Arab guest rooms, attendants are seated in a circle to ensure that no one is facing someone’s else back. Also note that the soles of your feet should not point directly toward someone else. Always use your right hand when giving or receiving objects.

Save Face concept: The Arab culture is a non-confrontational one which seeks the least conflict possible. A concept called “save face” is a way to solve conflicts and avoid embarrassing or discomforting the parties involved. Saving someone’s face or dignity involves using maneuvers or holding one’s reactions to give the other party a way to exit the situation with minimal discomfort or harm to their dignity. It involves compromise, patience, and sensitivity. The “save face” concept is looked at as a behavior of high quality ethics and manners. The Arabian culture encourages people to act humbly and with sensitivity to a person’s dignity, especially when that person’s dignity and self respect is endangered. This is a crucial tip for those who might be involved in managing businesses in an Arab country.

Family structure: In an Arab family, gender and age plays a big role in deciding responsibilities. The father is usually the head of the family and the provider for its needs, while the mother plays a major role in raising children and taking care of the house. Although culture, traditions, and Islam strongly stress the importance of women’s roles in taking care of the house and raising children, it is a mistake to think that Arab women are confined to this role. Before Islam there were many successful Arab businesswomen and they still exist throughout the Arab region, but because of cultural reasons, they conduct business in an inconspicuous way. A daughter lives at her family house as long as she is not married. Sons might move to their own houses when they get married, but at least one son will still live at the family house even if he is married in order to take care of the parents. When a woman gets married there are no changes made to any part of her name.

Business Meetings with Arab companies: Sometimes when trying to set up meeting dates with your Arab clients you will find that their answer is something like “Whenever you are in the area give us a call”. Don’t interpret this as a sign of lack of interest in your business. It is equal to an answer that sets a specific date and time. Allow enough time for social chat with your Arab clients before you open any business discussions.

Advertising and Marketing to the Arab Market: Your business Advertisement should be conservative in content and appearance and does not present any social values or situations that contradict with the Arab culture or Islam. In almost all the Arab countries advertisement should not directly or explicitly contain comparison between two different brands for the same type of products. Message should place more emphasis on the quality and functionality of the product. The main advertisement outlet sources are newspapers, magazines and television.

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