One of the most vital things in business is to conform to etiquette. In international trade, it is very easy to cause offence by not understanding local culture and values. This can easily jeopardize a business prospect. This is even more important when dealing with other cultures. Social norms and business etiquette may be very different to your own. Arabic language and culture is quite different to most western cultures. It is well worth the effort of trying to understand them.
You should note that there is no single Arab culture or society. The culture is very rich and diverse. There are major differences not only from country to country but also from region to region. This being said, some generalization is unavoidable when discussing a group of people. It is vital that the reader bears this in mind. You should research the individual country, not only the culture as a whole.
Arabic Language and Culture:
The Arabic sense of heritage and reverence to their culture is one that we have arguably lost in the West. Their culture affects all their dealings and this is also strongly relevant in business situations.
Islam is extremely important, not just as a religion but as a code of behaviour and a way of life. Be aware that the common misconception that Arab implies Muslim can lead to offence. Arabic countries may be religiously diverse. However Islam is the predominant religion in the region. If you can show some study and acknowledgment of the religion then this will benefit you. The Islamic rule of law, known as Sharia, dictates nearly all political, social and economic atmosphere of Arab countries. Be aware that business meetings will have to be arranged around prayer times of practicing Muslims. These prayer times happen five times a day.
When greeting an Arab partner always use your right hand to shake hands. Hand shaking can go on for longer than in the West and a softer grip is used. If the person you are greeting is a woman then do not offer your hand to shake. Wait to see if she offers her hand first.
Arabic culture places a huge importance on personal life which they do not distinguish from their work life. They will only do business with people that they trust as family. Honour and friendship are fundamental to their way of life. Initial meetings will usually always be about building ties and relationship rather than going straight to the business at hand.
Bargaining is entrenched in the Arab psyche and no offer will be accepted at first glance. (If it is then you should be very worried about the price you just gave!) It is important that you maintain personal composure and confidence. Your demeanour should be such that no personal frustration is indicated as the negotiations progress.
Definitely do not:
- Openly criticise Islam.
- Sign anything in Arabic that you do not understand.
- Openly promote another religion.
- Wear revealing clothes, especially if you are a woman.