I’m traveling to a Muslim Country to work an assignment, any protocol tips? -Nathan Cummings, CA
When travelling or working in a Muslim country the first rule of thumb is to dress conservatively. Males, stay away from shorts. For females, knee length or below for skirts or dresses and at least elbow length sleeves with shirts; your outfit should not be form fitting. Always carry a headscarf as it may be necessary when entering some buildings (Mosques) or addressing certain officials or royalty.
When meeting and greeting clients or associates do remember that a firm handshake is wise but do not offer one to the opposite sex. Learning a few words in Arabic or the local language can also be very beneficial. A customary greeting is salaam alaykum (Peace be upon you). Shaking hands and saying “kaif halak” (how are you?) to a male or “kaif halik” if greeting a female.
There are several styles of greetings used in the Islamic world; it is best to wait for your counterpart to initiate the greeting. A more traditional greeting between men involves grasping each other’s right hand, placing the left hand on the other’s right shoulder and exchanging kisses on each cheek.
The left hand is considered unclean and reserved for hygiene. Do not point at another person and do not eat with the left hand. (See HERE)
Try not to cross your legs when sitting and never show the bottom of your feet to others.
When in the presence of a VIP, avoid admiring an item too much, you host may feel obligated to give it to you. When offered a gift, it is generally impolite to refuse.
Arabic names can often be confusing to foreigners. It’s best to get the names of those you will meet, speak to, or correspond with before hand and practice saying them to yourself. Find out both their full names and how they are to be addressed in person.
In political settings, it is proper etiquette to refer to a royal as “Your Highness”, and any members of the government ministries as “Your Excellency”.
In many countries, males will stand closer to each other than many westerners are used to, and members of the same sex will often touch arms when postulating or emphasizing a point. You should not draw away from this, as it would be considered rude and rejecting.
A useful online guide for some simple greetings and basics can be found at http://www.linguanaut.com/english_arabic.htm
Susanne Dancer is a former butler and administrator who has trained with the Guild of Professional English Butlers. Her work in Etiquette has taken her from Brisbane to London with an emphasis on International Protocol. She is regularly consulted as an expert in her field on subjects such as how to dress appropriately while working with High Net Worth individuals, and the delicate subject of table manners.
Have an etiquette question for Susan? Ask it HERE.