Saudi Arabian Culture

Do's and Don'ts

Do’s

  • Show a Saudi respect by following the correct etiquette, and remaining modest and polite (see Etiquette).
  • Spend some time building a relationship and engaging in small talk before discussing a particular matter with your Saudi counterpart. Being too direct or task-oriented can come across as impolite or impersonal.
  • Show interest in the well-being of a Saudi’s family whenever you see them (e.g. “How are your children?”). However, it is best not to enquire about a man’s wife or personal matters unless they open up to you first. Innocent curiosity about certain family matters can make people feel uncomfortable.
  • Acknowledge Saudi Arabia’s modern advancements and achievements where appropriate. The country is currently in a state of cultural and social transition, and most Saudis are likely to appreciate it when foreigners recognise them as progressive people.
  • Deliver criticism sensitively and indirectly. If you need to correct someone, take an indirect approach to the comment and include praise of any of their good points.
  • Respect people’s religious beliefs and make accommodations to allow people to observe religious rituals of prayer, fasting and dietary choices.
  • Try to be generous with your time and be open to performing favours. Saudis often go out of their way to help those that they have a good relationship with if it is within their means. To be ‘cheap’ or ‘stingy’ is considered a very poor quality.
  • Say “Mashallah” (May God bless) after complimenting or praising something. This phrase lets your Saudi counterpart know that your compliment is well-intentioned (see Offering and Complimenting Items in Etiquette).


Don’ts

  • Avoid pushing people to share their opinion on Saudi politics or the royal family’s leadership. Saudis generally do not feel comfortable discussing or explaining these topics. It is common for people to give a generic answer to deflect the question (e.g. “the royal family is wise and can be trusted to steer the kingdom’s affairs”).
  • Do not assume that your Saudi counterpart follows an ultraconservative or fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. While most Saudis are very devout, levels of conservatism vary across the country. The beliefs of the Saudi ‘ulamā’ (religious scholars) do not necessarily represent the religious interpretations of the entire population (see Religion).
  • Do not criticise the Islamic religion or Saudi cultural practices. Comments implying that Saudis should grow out of their culture or religious observance to be more modernised/liberated are inappropriate and can be highly offensive. It is often best to avoid talking about religion altogether.
  • Do not openly discuss anything of a sexual nature, especially around members of the opposite gender.
  • Do not presume that Saudis are ‘closed off’ to the West or lack international awareness. Many Saudis are exposed to different lifestyles and cultural ideas (such as western pop culture) through the internet, international study, trade and travel. You can expect an urban, educated Saudi to be familiar with other cultural backgrounds and global influences.
  • Avoid mentioning issues relating to women’s rights, or drawing presumptions about a Saudi woman’s freedom or happiness on the basis of her hijab, abaya or niqab. Wearing a hijab is a woman’s personal decision and does not necessarily indicate that she holds conservative ideologies or is oppressed.
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