Iraqi Culture


Basic Etiquette

  • It is important to respect the age . Stand up when someone older than you enters the room and offer them your seat if there are none available. 
  • Men are expected to stand up to greet women—especially those with children. 
  • Avoid sitting in any position that allows one’s shoe to face another person. This is considered insulting. Similarly, it is inappropriate to cross your legs when facing someone.
  • When someone offers you something or makes a kind gesture towards you, it is polite to lightly protest first (e.g. “You shouldn’t have”, “That’s lovely, but I couldn’t”). Once the person insists, you may accept the offer.
  • Some Iraqis observe a separation between the functions of the hands. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should be used for removal of dirt and for cleaning. It should not be used for functions such as waving, eating or offering items. Therefore, one should gesture, touch people, or offer items using both hands together. Using the one hand alone can seem too informal, but if doing so, use the right.
  • Be aware that if you show admiration for an item or compliment a possession, an Iraqi may feel obliged to offer the item to you as a gift. Thus, it is best to avoid making too many comments on objects that are portable and expensive in people’s homes.
  • In Iraq, people say ‘Na’eeman’ (meaning ‘be blessed’) after someone has just had a shower or a haircut. This is compliment is very common - similar to saying ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes. As it is a expected form of , neglecting to say it may be perceived as a slight or that you are ignoring the person.
  • It is common for Iraqis to be late. Punctuality is not highly important in Iraq and unpredictable incidents can disrupt daily schedules. Events and appointments also often run overtime as people usually try to give each other as much attention and respect as possible. Therefore, It can be a good idea to allow more time for an arrangement with an Iraqi than you normally would.
  • It is expected that men pay for the women in Iraq. One’s honour is often judged by their generosity as well as their ability to provide for others in Iraq. Therefore, Iraqi men may insist on paying the bill for other men as well—especially in a small group or business setting. Among friends, people may protest lightly before allowing the person who volunteered to pay. However, it is considered very awkward and rude to completely refuse to let someone pay for you and pay for yourself instead. Some may see this as an insult to their honour.


  • It is considered an honour to host guests; therefore, invitations to attend dinner or occasions at Iraqi homes are often offered quite early on in friendships. People are may also be deeply proud of their friends or family and may invite people over to ‘show off’ their inner circle.
  • As Iraqis take pride in their hospitality, be sensitive to throughout your visit and avoid making any comment that could be perceived as a slight on their generosity.
  • Dressing casually to attend social events or house gatherings can be perceived as a lack of respect to the host. 
  • It is customary to bring a gift with you when invited to an Iraqi home (see Gift Giving below).
  • It is best practice to take off your shoes when entering a household.
  • You may not get a tour of the home. Wait until your hosts directs you as which room you will be seated in.
  • Some Iraqis may sit on pillows on the floor in their homes.
  • The genders are separated on most social visits in Iraq. Normally men socialise together in one room and women in another. The female hosts generally bring food and refreshments to the men before leaving and joining the women again.
  • You will likely be offered a drink of tea or coffee as a refreshment. It is good manners to accept this as it shows that you value their friendship and hospitality.
  • Never show anticipation or haste to leave. It is very rude to appear as if you want the visit to end quickly.
  • When the visit has concluded, expect goodbyes to be prolonged as every person farewells each other individually. You may have to politely insist on leaving by giving a reason.


  • Wash your hands before eating.
  • Pass all food with your right hand. Do not touch food with your left hand unless using utensils. 
  • If fruit is offered, cut slices off for yourself as you eat instead of biting into it.
  • It is polite to accept everything offered. If you refuse something, they may see it as a token protest made out of and will therefore insist that you receive what is given instead of accepting your refusal. This can lead to awkward situations in which non-Iraqis may feel the offer is being forced upon them. 
  • You will likely be served second or even third servings. It is a great gesture to eat more servings, so it is best serve yourself less initially so you have more room to eat another serving. 
  • If you honestly would not like anymore food, the best way to refuse a serving is to place your hand over your heart and give your thanks whilst saying you are full and the host provided greatly.
  • Leave a little food on your plate when you are finished as eating everything on your plate indicates that you would like another serving.


  • Gifts represent friendship to the Iraqis — the monetary cost of the object is not taken strongly into consideration. Take care to make sure the timing of gift is appropriate. It should compliment gesture of friendship it offers (for example, giving a gift when visiting or when your friend is ill).
  • Offer gifts with either the right hand only or both hands and receive them in the same way.
  • Appropriate gifts to give a host could be flowers, sweets or small gifts for their children.
  • Never give alcohol as a gift to a devout Muslim or any Iraqi you do not have a close personal relationship with. 
  • Do not open a gift immediately after receiving it.
  • Be aware that giving very expensive items can be misinterpreted as bribery.

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