- Some Middle Easterners are very westernized but other are not, so don’t be afraid to ask what is and is not appropriate in a given situation.
- Showing the bottom of your shoe to anyone is considered very offensive, so don’t cross you legs and keep you shoe soles on the ground (even when taking your shoes off).
- Friday is the Muslim sabbath, so the work week runs Saturday through Wednesday.
- Middle Easterners are usually more event-oriented (focused on the person/circumstance at present), so time is not the major consideration in going to events.
- Tasks are often difficult to do in the Middle East, so patience is needed and rarely is more than one thing planned in a day (because of all the possible delays one could experience).
- Relationships are very important and it’s important that the person likes you.
- Personal space is usually much closer for people from the Middle East that for Americans.
- Sometimes men hold hands as a sign of friendship (but not between the sexes publicly); take is as a compliment.
- Face-saving is important (shame-based culture), so “Yes” means “possibly” and compromising on an issue so the other person can save face is important.
- The topic of Israel should probably be avoided.
- Eating in a Middle Eastern home, adding salt to a food that has been served would be considered insulting as it suggests that you find their hospitality lacking in some way; leave some food on your plate to indicate you are finished eating.
- Don’t be surprised if a Middle Easterners greeting is effusive; their tradition demands they welcome you several times.
- The left hand is considered unclean so always use your right hand unless you are handling something considered unclean.
- The “thumbs-up” gesture is considered rude throughout the Middle East.
- If invited to a home, bring a gift of baked goods or chocolate; if offered a gift, it is impolite to refuse it.
- Men are usually expected to wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt; women are expected to cover up modestly.
Principles cited in this blog: Many dos and don’ts to remember to be thoughtful to students from the Middle East.
Application for ISI ministry: We desire to be winsome and thoughtful to our guests from other countries. Learning a few small customs can make a big difference!
Next blog topic: Preparing international students to return home after graduation
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson