Learning the Social Customs of Saudi Arabia

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One central factor you must be aware of in Saudi Arabia is the observance of Islam. The religion is practiced by every Saudi, and it governs their personal, work, political and legal lives. Because Islam is from Saudi Arabia, and it is stated the Muslims should go to Mecca, millions of religious tourists come here every year. Everyone realizes that Muhammad is the last prophet. Moses had brought the Torah, Jesus the Bible, and then Muhammad the Koran, the final book and word of Allah.

Religious Muslims pray five times a day, and the times are listed in the daily newspaper. Expect to be woken up at very early hours in the morning with loud prayers being sung. Friday is the holy day in Islam, and all businesses in Saudi Arabia are closed. Weekends are Thursday and Friday. During Ramadan, Muslims fast and only work six hours per day. If you are an expat in Saudi Arabia who is not Muslim, you are not required to do this. However, it is considered rude to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public.

Families are the central unit of the Saudi Arabian social structure. Saudis consider their nuclear family, along with their extended family and greater clan. They take responsibilities to their families very seriously. Nepotism is viewed as a positive and respectable practice.

In terms of greeting, men shake hands with members of the same sex. Women will hug and kiss close friends. Men and women often won’t greet each other in public outside their family.

When you are getting to know a Saudi, you probably won’t be invited to their home on the initial meeting, but taken to a hotel or restaurant. They will invite you to their homes after knowing you a while. Men and women are not entertained in the same rooms, but separated, and entertainment is usually only for one sex.

If you are invited to a Saudi’s house, you should remove your shoes before entrance, dress conservatively, and greet elders first. Saudis usually eat on the floor, cross-legged or sitting on knees. You should only eat with your right hand; the left is unclean. Meals are usually served family-style and there will be way more food than people can finish, but try to try a bit of everything. People halt conversations during meals so they can fully enjoy their food. Honored guests will be served some sort of specialty, which can be a sheep’s head or something else you are not used to.

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