Rules of Etiquette to Keep in Mind When Holidaying in the Middle East

While most people shy away from the Middle East, a trip there can be an extremely eye-opening experience. The culture and people are highly exotic, and your holiday will provide you with a great many pleasant memories. While there though, it will be best to follow their rules of etiquette so as to not offend anybody. Remember that you are in their home and you should obey the rules they have laid down.

A man cycling in Tel Aviv
Holidaying in Israel or any other Middle Eastern country?

1. Respect Your Elders

Residents of the Middle East have a great deal of admiration for those older than them. If you are visiting someone’s house, you should always stand if there is an elder in the room. It is considered polite to wait for their permission to sit down before doing so. It’s also proper etiquette to greet those older than you first. In situations where you are the elder, the other person should provide the initial greeting.

2. Greetings on Arrival

Following on from the above tip, it’s also important to say hello to everyone when you enter a room. If you miss someone, that could be considered offensive. Instead, put in the effort to greet all those there so you remain on their good side.

3. Public Affection No Nos

When visiting the Arabic region with your partner, be aware it is a very conservative area. Holding hands is OK but hugging and kissing are forbidden in the Middle East. If you do have to show affection to your loved one, make sure you are in your hotel room. In the bigger cities, there are cameras everywhere so you should avoid excessive displays even if you think you’re completely alone.

4. Your Word as Bond

Arabic locals are generally highly honour bound. This means that they will hold you to any promises that you make. If you give your word about something, ensure that you can actually fulfil it afterwards. If you break your promises, the Middle Eastern local will deem you as a man or woman without honour. Just be careful about what you say though, and you should be able to visit without offending anyone.

5. Accepting Hospitality

As a guest, you will undoubtedly be welcomed with open arms by the locals. This applies whether staying at one of the Middle East’s many luxury hotel resorts or travelling through as a backpacker. In these cases, it’s deemed impolite to refuse the request whether you are being invited for a coffee, light meal or fancy dinner feast. If you’re unsure about what to do, always follow the actions of others in the room. For example, you may have to scoop food out of a central plate with some unleavened bread or you may have to sit in a certain manner to avoid showing the soles of your shoes.

6. Using the Right Hand

Traditionally in the Middle East, people use their left hand to clean themselves after going to the bathroom. This means you should never use it to touch food or other people as it’s deemed unclean. Always use your right hand in these situations and you will get by without offending anybody.

7. Polite Dress Tips

Another tip relating to the conservative nature of the Middle East is what clothes you should wear. From Saudi Arabia to the UAE there are different dress codes though. Here are some easy tips to help you choose the right clothes for your next holiday:

  • In Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, simply cover your shoulders and knees with regular clothing like jeans and t-shirts.
  • Completely avoid short skirts and pants, especially those that show off the wearer’s midriff, as you can be fined by the police.
  • Accessories such as jewellery, handbags and makeup are fine as many local Middle Eastern women also wear them.
  • In Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Yemen, women should cover themselves from head to toe. This can be done with scarves, long pants and tops.

For women, a safe tactic is to carry around a scarf always so they can cover up if they find themselves in a more modest part of town.
With these tips, you should be able to travel around the Middle East without worrying about offending any of the locals while there.

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