Skycore Aviation concludes its three-part series with “Insights for Living in Saudi Arabia” providing information on Saudi communication styles, navigating restaurants and general tips to remember. Part I Living and Working in Saudi Arabia and Part II The Business Setting of the series focused on a general overview of the country, cultural impacts and business protocol. The series is based on our 11+ years of experience in Saudi Arabia performing helicopter maintenance, training and flight operations.
As discussed in Living and Working in Saudi Arabia, the family is very important and the center of the Saudi social structure. Given this perspective, it’s understandable that the Saudi’s guests are often asked questions about their family and lifestyle. Learning and expressing genuine concern about a new associate’s family without being too personal, especially regarding females, is a natural step in developing a relationship – even a business relationship.
As a sign of respect, Saudi’s often praise the qualities of associates and superiors. They also enjoy flattering guests. Such compliments are best accepted in the positive and friendly spirit intended and if possible, returned in kind.
The tone and volume of conversations differ from Western discussions. Speaking loudly, with volume and a rising tone shows the sincerity of the speaker. It’s evidence that the person is engaged and interested in the dialogue rather than a negative sign. For your part, be sure to maintain strong eye contact and provide positive visual feedback.
Restaurants and Dining
A major distinction between Western and Saudi restaurants is the separation of women and men. Saudi restaurants have two (2) doors, a ‘singles entrance’ used only for men dining alone or part of an all-male group. There’s also a second entrance labelled ‘family entrance’ which is used for everyone else including women dining alone, a group of women, married couples or parents with children. This long held practice prevents men from seeing or being in close proximity to women to whom they are unrelated by birth or marriage.
When dining in a restaurant, be aware that seating reflects a person’s position within the group of diners. The most honored position is in the middle of the table and the honored guest, or second most important person, sits next to the head of the table. The honored guest is served first, then the oldest male, next the rest of the men and if present, children and finally women. As food is served, guests will say, “Sahtain” (similar to bon appetit) or “Bismillah” (In the name of God). Diners wait to eat or drink until the oldest man at the table has been served and has begun.
At formal dinners toasts are made to the health of the host, all those present and the prosperity of the business under discussion. When eating or even passing food, diners always use their right hand. The left hand is considered unclean and should be left at a person’s side. Hand washing should always occur before and after meals. All restaurants have wash areas. Meals will be served with an abundance of food to shower the guest with generosity. Be sure to try a bit of everything and don’t be surprised if there is little conversation during meals to allow diners to relish the food. After the meal, thank the host for a wonderful meal and say, “Daimah”, meaning ‘may there always be plenty at your table’.
Tips to Remember
In our previous article The Business Setting, we reviewed the importance of respect in the Saudi culture. For that reason visitors should be aware of Saudi customs and etiquette to avoid appearing disrespectful.
In general, an elementary knowledge of the everyday Arabic-language greetings is useful and will be appreciated. The most common greeting is “As Salaamu Alaykum” (may peace be upon you), to which the reply is “Wa Alaykum as Salaam” (and peace upon you too). Greetings can be formal and lengthly. When entering a meeting full of people, Saudis greet each person individually with a handshake or a kiss on the cheek while standing.
Other items to remember:
- The person extending an invitation to a Saudi colleague for a meal or coffee will pay for the bill.
- A Saudi may decline an offer to dine out or go for coffee at least one time out of politeness.
- Tipping is required in Saudi Arabia and is normally 10%.
- It’s best to carry your passport along with a letter of introduction from your company.
There are also missteps that should be avoided.
A visitor should never:
- Show the soles of your shoes while seated.
- Allow physical contact between men and women in public.
- Inquire of female family members.
- Refuse an initial offer of tea or coffee to drink.
- Point at people.
- Wear tight clothing.
- Say anything critical of the royal family, Islam or a person’s family.
- Slouch in a seat or lean against a wall.
Even though a visitor may not intend to be disrespectful, any of these actions can be perceived as ill-mannered or even insolent.
Skycore Aviation is an international helicopter personnel services and UH-60 Black Hawk provider (www.BlackHawk360.com). Our knowledge and experience enable Skycore to provide personnel and turnkey solutions for helicopter programs tailored to meet our customer’s operations, maintenance and training needs. To stay atop of the rotary wing industry, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.