11 Culturally wrong things Expatriates do while living in Saudi Arabia

Expatriates living in the Kingdom often come across several differences in culture, especially from the western world. There are numerous customs of the Kingdom which the expatriates are completely unaware of.

Even though they have lived here for a few years, they don’t know the customs and cultural norms and sometimes make mistakes. Here are a few pointers to help you out.

1-One should be aware that it is not acceptable for women to be shaking hands with other men.

There are several ways in which people greet one other in the Kingdom, it may be perfectly acceptable for women to shake hands with other women.

However, it would be treated very inappropriately if a man shakes hands with a woman especially if they are not closely related. Hence it is advisable to keep your hands to yourself.

2-If you feel compelled to ask about the health of another person’s family, make sure you make it sound general and do not go into any names, especially of the female relatives such as wife or mother. This should also be avoided.

3-Most of the residences have been designed to accommodate segregated events according to gender, hence if you have been invited to a new friend’s house for tea or for a meal, do not expect to be sitting with your wife.

4-On weekends, groups of single men are generally not allowed into malls, as the weekends are reserved for families only. Women may go shopping on weekends as it means less single men at the malls.

5-If the sole of your feet is facing another individual, it is considered offensive and they may be offended by it.

6-There are numerous singles sections across the Kingdom, however, the singles section is not meant for single women.

The singles area is reserved for single men, while single women can enjoy the family area which is usually better decorated and caters better service to the customers.

7-The Authorities are always coming up with new ways in which to improve the traffic situation, however until the issues are completely resolved, you must be aware of the driving patterns.

Sometimes you may witness heated arguments taking place, however, they rarely turn into full-blown brawls.

8-If a car behind is flashing you, in the west, it means that it is giving you permission to pass, however here it is a warning sign rather than allowing another to pass. Over here it can be roughly translated to “watch out, here I come”

9-Eating or pointing with the left hand is a big no-no since the left hand is considered unclean.

10-Many people wonder why men walk hand in hand, this is just a sign of friendship and a cultural thing more than anything else.

11-Gifts are not a necessity; however, they are widely appreciated. If you admire an item too much, the host will give it to you.

If you do come across such a situation, avoid accepting the gift too readily, however, if the giver in insisting, then declining the gift is rude.

Source: Destination Jeddah


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Steve has been living in Saudi Arabia since 2013 and writing about Saudi rules, regulations, guides, and procedures since then.