If you’re travelling to the Middle East on business, and want to make a good impression, then it’s important you understand behaviours that are considered rude or even taboo.
Be careful, a behaviour that might be tolerated in one part of the Middle East, might not be viewed so flexibly in another. However, we’ve highlighted some behaviours which are considered rude and offensive in a blanket sense across most of the Middle Eastern cultures.
1. Do not show the soles of your feet even of your shoes
The soles of the feet are considered dirty because they are the lowest part of the human body and the part of the body that touches the ground. Exposing the soles of your feet while sitting is bad manners, even if you only expose one foot by crossing your legs.
2. Your left hand keep it in your pocket
Another part of the body that is taboo is the left hand. The left hand is normally only used to clean oneself after going to the toilet. In the Islamic tradition, the left and right hands also have spiritual symbolism; the right hand stands for good, the left for evil. Therefore, it is considered bad manners and impolite to give something (such as money, gifts or food) with the left hand.
Eating together from a large bowl placed in the middle of the dining room is a common form of communal eating in Middle Eastern cultures. If you are invited to such a meal, use only your right hand to pick up the bread or spoon sauces, etc. If you use your left hand, your behaviour will be frowned upon.
3. You should not swear in public
In most Middle Eastern cultures, swearing, especially in public, is taken much more seriously than elsewhere in the world.
Open and audible swearing in public is considered extremely disrespectful and can even lead to arrest, depending on the context. There have been many cases of foreigners in the UAE being arrested for swearing in public.
In this context, it is important to consider religious sensitivities and avoid expressions such as “Oh God!”, “For God’s sake!” or “Jesus Christ”.
4. Take care about your opinions
Another taboo, also punishable by imprisonment, is public criticism of the government or the royal family. In some countries, especially in the Gulf States, any form of harassment of the royal family can have serious consequences.
Even if you are not reprimanded by the authorities, your colleagues in the Middle East may find your comments extremely rude and disrespectful. If someone asks for your opinion on the subject, pretend that you do not know enough about the subject to comment.
Similarly, any criticism of Islam or religious conversion can be life changing. Avoid speaking out about religion especially about the Prophet Muhammad or the Islamic religion, as your remarks could at the very least be misinterpreted and make you appear rude or ignorant.