Syrian Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • If you are offered something, decline the gesture initially before accepting after the host has insisted. This exchange is polite; the person’s insistence to extend the invitation shows their hospitality and one’s initial refusal shows humbleness.
  • Stand up when someone older than you enters the room and offer them your seat if there are none available. Men also stand for women, especially those with children.
  • Syrian men rarely swear in the presence of women.
  • Spitting in one’s face or in front of them is a sign of disrespect.
  • Syrians often visit each other without invitation. In Syria, if someone visits you without prior notice, it is expected that you will stop what you are doing and make every effort to be as hospitable as possible.
  • It is common to smoke cigarettes in public places in Syria, including indoors.
  • Displaying the soles of one’s feet to another person is improper. Similarly, placing one’s feet on top of the table is not acceptable.
  • Many Syrians observe a separation between the functions of the hands. This custom is tied to Islamic principles that prescribe the left hand should only 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 only the right hand or both hands together. This may not be strictly followed but it is best not to use the left hand unless the action is inevitable.


Eating

  • If in the middle of eating when encountering someone, it is courtesy to always offer them some of that food. The person is then expected to politely decline the initial invitation regardless of whether they actually would like to eat some or not.
  • Lunch is eaten in the early afternoon at around 2:00 or 3:00pm. It is usually the largest meal of the day whilst dinner is eaten late and is a similar size to breakfast.
  • Observant Muslims will not eat food that contains traces of pork or alcohol. However, it is common for many secular Muslims to consume things that are typically prohibited by the Islamic script. For example, it is normal for some Syrian Muslims to drink alcohol.
  • Bills at restaurants and cafes are never divided. Men customarily pay for women’s meals and fight over paying the bill with each other. In a polite argument over paying, it is best to insist on offering a contribution before conceding to allow the oldest or wealthiest person to pay. However, close friends who dine together often will take turns.
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