New York Etiquette Guide

Meeting and Greeting Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

Posted on Tue, Sep 19, 2017


Saudi Arabia


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula and one of the world's most fascinating and rewarding travel destinations. Understanding and following the expected behavior in Islamic culture is the key to doing business and enjoying your visit there.

Although the culture might appear rigid or strict at first glimpse, business meetings in Saudi Arabia often have an informal feel and business visitors are treated cordially and with respect. Saudis are known for their boundless hospitality and generosity toward visitors.

In Saudi culture, it’s not unusual for the host to invite visitors to stay at his home. If you do so, be careful when offering compliments. Your host might feel compelled to take a painting off the wall and offer it to you; showing generosity toward guests is common and considered a polite gesture. Be sure to keep your distance from female members of the family. It’s best not to talk to them directly or ask your host about them. Also, be careful to avoid any public displays of affection.

Meetings and appointments are scheduled according to the prayer times—five times a day—so try to avoid rescheduling. For a business meeting, a Saudi host will usually wear traditional attire: a long white thawb (an ankle-length garment with long sleeves) with a keffiyeh (a traditional Arab headdress). Westerners are expected to wear a regular business suit and tie.

Punctuality is a sign of respect for the host but it’s customary for the locals to keep foreigners waiting. Be wise: don’t show frustration or impatience. When the meeting begins, greet the most senior or highest-ranking person in the room first. If unsure, start by greeting people on your right-hand side as you enter a business meeting. Always use a person’s title with his full name, for example, “His Royal Highness, Prince Ahmed Aziz bin Saud.” Though Arabic is the official language of the country, English is often spoken in business meetings and functions. However, all conversations start with the Islamic greeting, “Al Salam Aleikum” (May peace be with you).

Always accept tea, coffee and dates offered to you by the host during a meeting. When you finish your cup, your host will quickly offer you a refill. Don’t feel obligated to finish it. Sip your beverage slowly and maintain eye contact, a sign of trust and sincerity. 

Follow these tips while interacting with business associates in KSA and you will avoid embarrassment and misunderstandings and enjoy business success with your new associates.

To learn more about multicultural etiquette and how cultural myopia affects business, please go to: How Cultural Myopia Affects Business Communications

Photo credit: Google Images

Post by Lyudmila Bloch, International Etiquette Expert and Business Etiquette Coach

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