5 Tips on Etiquette for Travelling to Saudi Arabia

A vacation to Saudi Arabia isn’t complete without indulging in their unique cuisine. If you’re planning a holiday, or already have your visa, you should consider these tips in etiquette to make the best impression with locals.

Saudi Arabians, in general, are gracious hosts, but striving to be an outstanding guest is equally important. It’s very common after a party or event such as a business meeting that someone may invite you to their home.

The experience of dining with a family in Saudi Arabia goes above and beyond restaurant dining.

1. Where the Party Starts and Ends are in 2 Different Places

Whether it’s a wedding or a business meeting, most Saudi people prefer to move the party home after a while. This custom allows them to leave the event while continuing to socialize with those who accept the invitation.

Many events are held in hotels rather than at someone’s home.

Keep in mind though that when at an event certain customs may go unnoticed. It’s easy to pass on coffee when you’re at a wedding.

However, if you are at someone’s home, you should always accept.

2. Go With the Flow

Go with the flow on hot-button topics such as gender segregation. Although it seems strange in some culture, many cultures naturally exclude the opposite gender.

In Saudi Arabia, entertainment for ladies will be in one room, and entertainment for men will be in another, or even outside.

It’s also important to follow your hosts lead in how they greet the people in the room. Greeting the elders in the room, or home first is essential to show respect.

Another sign of respect is removing your shoes. Again, take queues from your host.

3. Try Everything

Whether you’re attending a party at a hotel or accepted an invitation to a family home for a meal, try everything on the table. Saudi Arabian cuisine focuses on using proteins like chicken or lamb with exotic spices.

But, aside from getting a taste of everything for the experience, meals are always served family style. Instead of receiving your plate of food you’ll see communal food trays.

These trays are often passed around, so get a taste of everything to avoid looking rude.

4. Avoid the Topic of Gifts

If caught admiring a piece of art, or a trinket in someone’s home will likely incite the host to offer it to you as a gift. Then, as you inevitably turn down something you were admiring, they may feel insulted.

It’s best to avoid the topic of gifts altogether. Don’t openly admire your hosts’ possessions.

However, if you’re attending an event where a gift is appropriate, you should know what not to bring. Don’t gift alcohol, flowers or perfume. Also, don’t expect to watch them open your gift. In Saudi Arabia, they open presents privately.

5. Know Which Gestures to Use

Non-verbal language is a travellers guide to the world, but it’s important to know what you’re communicating.

In Saudi Arabia, never use your left hand to gesture, especially towards people. And, the lessons about not pointing when you were a child will now come in handy. If you are signalling a person to come over to you, direct your palm down and make a scratching motion with your index finger in their direction.

When in Doubt, Look About

If you’re ever unsure about etiquette, you’re better off taking queues from a Saudi colleague or your host. When dining if you see your host is sitting cross-legged it’s best to imitate this, as this is the correct way to sit during a meal.

Finally, if you aren’t picking up on the etiquette from people nearby, don’t hesitate to ask.

Richard Collett