Saudi Arabian Culture

Greetings

  • In Saudi Arabia, the most common form of greeting is a handshake and the phrase “Assalaam ‘alaikum” (May peace be upon you), to which the reply is “Wa ‘alaikum assalaam” (And peace be upon you).
  • Handshakes are most common in business settings and always use the right hand.
  • Muslims generally do not make physical contact with members of the opposite gender. Therefore, when greeting a Saudi of the opposite gender, it is best practice to simply greet them verbally with a nod of the head and wait to see if they feel comfortable extending their hand.
  • It is a general custom that one should not extend their hand to touch a woman during a greeting if she is dressed in a niqab.
  • It may also be appropriate to greet someone of the same gender verbally with a respectful nod and smile if you perceive they are unaccustomed to being touched.
  • Greetings among friends of the same gender often involve kisses on the cheek. The left hand is extended to the other person’s right shoulder whilst leaning in to give three kisses on the cheek (either right-left-right, or all on the same cheek). This is very common between close friends and at social events, but can also occur when first introduced to someone.
  • Saudi men who are very close friends may greet one another by touching noses. This indicates trust, intimacy and respect in the friendship. It is not performed unless people are deeply loyal to one another.
  • Greetings between Saudi women tend to be very affectionate, involving hugs and two or three kisses on each cheek. However, women tend to be less physically affectionate if they are greeting in public or are in the view of men who are not family members.
  • A high degree of respect is paid to elders in Saudi Arabian society. They may be greeted with a kiss on the forehead.
  • People expect to be referred to by their titles – especially if they are your senior and/or elder (e.g. Mr/Mrs, Uncle/Aunt, Doctor, Professor).
  • It is polite to address colleagues or superiors with the title ‘Abu’ which means ‘the father of…’ followed by the name of the father’s eldest son (e.g. Abu Ahmad, Abu Mazen). This indicates familiarity and respect.
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