Understanding business etiquette and culture in the Middle East

ByAndrea Thompson

June 24, 2024

The Middle East is a region steeped in history, culture, and economic potential.  It offers compelling opportunities for international business. To navigate this diverse landscape successfully, understanding local customs and adhering to business etiquette is crucial.

We highlight some of the etiquette you should adopt

Formal Greetings:

  • Start meetings with a handshake. It’s advisable to allow women to offer their hands first, as customs regarding physical contact can differ.

Use of Titles:

  • Address individuals by their professional titles (Mr., Mrs. etc) followed by their surname.

Dress Code:

  • Dress conservatively – men in suits and ties, women in modest attire covering shoulders, arms, and legs.

Hospitality and Meetings:

  • Accept offers of coffee or tea during meetings as a sign of respect.
  • Meetings may start late and seem unstructured, with personal discussions preceding business talks.

Gift Giving:

  • Small gifts may be appreciated. Present them privately and avoid extravagance.

Middle Eastern Business Culture:

Relationship-Oriented:

  • Building strong personal relationships is crucial.
  • Face-to-face interactions are common, and trust and rapport take time to develop.

Hierarchy and Respect:

  • Hierarchical structures prevail. Show respect to senior figures.
  • Identify decision-makers – the highest-ranking person usually makes final decisions.

Communication Style:

  • Communication tends to be indirect. Read between the lines.
  • Be tactful with criticism to save face.
  • Email is not always the chosen form of communication.  Usually written communications on messaging apps or even voice notes.

Importance of Business Culture:

  • Meetings can change at short notice so an ability to adapt
  • Adapting to local customs unlock vast opportunities.
  • Stay ahead of news and developments in the area, this demonstrates commitment to the partnership.
  • Use social media such as LinkedIn to share greetings as you will stand out.
  • Know the calendar for important dates such as Eid and Ramadan.

Remember, patience, flexibility, and cultural sensitivity are your allies in Middle Eastern business endeavour’s.  So, embrace these principles and you will thrive in this dynamic region.