If you want to succeed in a fast-growing region, you must first learn how to do business in the Middle East. For clever businessmen and women prepared to step outside their comfort zone in order to reap rewards, the Middle East offers a plethora of chances. This article offers tips on a few areas of Middle Eastern business culture and etiquette, and should serve as a useful starting point for individuals interested in learning more about the region.
The varied working week is one of the most basic yet easily neglected aspects of doing business in the Middle East. In Islam, Friday is considered a holy day, and congregational prayers are held at noon. As a result, most Middle Eastern countries’ weekends fall on Friday and Saturday, with a few exceptions.
While the Gregorian calendar is the official calendar in most of the Middle East (with the exception of Saudi Arabia), the Islamic lunar calendar has an impact on life in terms of religious festivals and festivities. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are two prominent Muslim celebrations to be aware of.
The first occurs after the end of the Ramadan fast, and the second occurs after the conclusion of the annual pilgrimage (also known as Hajj). These festivals usually run three days, but governments frequently extend them as needed.Plan a visit to the Middle East. Because the Islamic calendar is based on lunar rather than solar movements, it’s difficult to forecast when the holidays will occur, and the dates will differ from year to year. As a result, it’s a smart idea to avoid scheduling business around these two festivals.
Plan a visit to the Middle East
In the Arab culture, there is significantly less of a separation between personal and professional life, therefore personal touch and face-to-face communication are essential. Instead of conducting business over the phone or over email, make an effort to schedule a face-to-face meeting.
If you don’t have a senior contact in a firm or organisation, consider hiring an intermediary, or someone who is known as a “contact-sponsor,” to help you find the proper individual.
Although it varies by country and by company, organisation in the Middle East can be more haphazard than in other parts of the world, where at least first meetings must be scheduled weeks, if not months ahead of time. Try not to schedule a meeting too far ahead of time, and confirm the meeting by phone a few days ahead of time.
Arabs are immensely proud of their language, which is derived from Classical Arabic, which is used in the Holy Qur’an to record Allah’s revelations to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).
To build a cordial connection with anybody you may be meeting, it is therefore essential that you learn some easy Arabic greetings. Because it is assumed that foreigners will not have taken the time to learn Arabic before arrival, a little knowledge will go a long way.
In the Middle East, handshakes are the most common form of physical greeting, but they are likely to linger longer than Westerners are accustomed to. It’s best if you wait for the other individual to remove his or her hand before doing so. Wait for an Arab businesswoman to extend her hand before welcoming her, as some conservative women prefer not to shake hands with men. Similarly, if you’re a businesswoman meeting Arab businessmen, you should wait for them to start the handshake.
The right way to address the person you’re meeting will differ from country to country and business to business, but if in doubt, keep it formal. Mr/Ms, followed by your first name, is most likely how you will be addressed. For country-specific advice on approaching possible business partners, see the sections below.
In the Arab world, business cards are expected, so make sure yours are printed in both Arabic and English. Remember that Arabic is read from right to left, which means that an Arab’s eyes are pulled to the right side of a piece of literature, so arrange your corporate logo on the card properly.
Meetings in the Middle East
When it comes to meetings in the Arab world, the first thing to keep in mind is that the definition of punctuality might vary greatly. Expect your adversary to arrive up to half an hour late, if not longer. In the Middle East, time moves in a different, more leisurely manner, and it is easier to go with the flow rather than become frustrated. However, as a showing of respect to your host, it is recommended that you, the visitor, arrive on time.
Meetings in the Arab world are typically structured differently. In contrast to the tightly linear tendencies of most Western corporate procedures, you may expect a far more circular framework. There aren’t likely to be any agendas. The issue of business will be brought up and discussed after the typical five minutes of small conversation, most likely with the most senior businessman in the room leading and steering the discussion.
Even during what appears to be a private meeting, interruptions are typical. Other employees or guests visiting the office or room to get signatures or advise, phone calls to be taken, or emails to be checked should all be expected as part of a business meeting in the Arab world’s protracted process. This feature of a meeting in the Middle East has been exacerbated by the region’s fast use of smartphones.
Even when they are seated and talking with you face to face, Arabs are very open to checking their smartphones and connecting with them. Prepare yourself for this and try not to become frustrated or offended.This is not a show of disrespect in the Middle East; it is simply a feature of today’s technology-fueled lifestyle.
Remember to bring several copies of any printed materials, business plans, or brochures you plan to use or present during the meeting. It’s possible that the individual you’re speaking with isn’t the company’s real decision-maker, and that your meeting and materials will need to be transmitted to others later.
Dress Code for business in the Middle East
Visitors to the Middle East can expect to dress similarly to those in their home countries. A smart business suit will suffice (though dark colours are suggested), and in some locations, much more casual clothes is appropriate, depending on the country, region, and business sector, just as it is everywhere else in the world.
When travelling in the Middle East, however, avoid wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts or t-shirts, as many communities consider modesty in attire to apply to both men and women.When visiting the Middle East, businesswomen should dress conservatively, covering their arms at least to the elbows, their legs to the ankles, and avoiding cleavage.
The specific clothing code for ladies varies widely depending on the country. Check the country-specific suggestions below to see if conservative business attire is OK, or if there is a specific dress code that must be followed. Many Arab communities place a high value on outer appearances as indicators of social rank, and high-quality clothing reflects a comfortable or powerful social position. To make a good impression, it is therefore essential that you pay attention to the quality and appearance of the clothes you are wearing.
Be mindful that your Arab peers, particularly those from the Gulf, may dress in traditional attire. A long white robe known as a thobe is typically worn with a red and white checkered headpiece known as a keffiyeh. From country to country, region to region, and even tribe to tribe, the exact style and colour of this clothing will differ. The traditional black robe known as an abaya is worn by most women throughout the Gulf, along with a headscarf. Don’t be tempted to dress up in traditional attire since it may offend others who wear it as a symbol of a continuous legacy and custom.
The way businessmen and women dress differs widely across the Levant and North Africa. Some would dress traditionally, but others will dress in suits or other casual wear that you might find everywhere else in the world.