Things You Should Know About Arab Culture and Business Culture

Planning on visiting or doing business with an Arab company? Here are few tips about Arab business and culture for visitors, exporters, and international traders to understand the culture, business culture, and how to do business with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and other Middle East countries.

Conservative behavior: In public, Arabs behave conservatively. Display of affection between spouses is nonexistent. It is a private society and display of one’s feelings is kept private. You will also notice that laughter and joking in public is toned down, which is not the case in private gatherings. Arguments between spouses, friends, and people in general are also kept private or conducted in a way that guarantees no one else is aware of it.

Invitations: If you are invited to dinner or lunch, you are not expected to bring food, drinks, or gifts. Upon entering the house notice the guest room you are taken to. If shoes and sandals were left at the door by other guests, then take off your shoes. It is customary when entering guest’s room or office to greet everyone there by saying Alsalamo-Alikom, which means “peace be with you”. The reply to this greeting is “Wa’alikom Alsalam”. Once inside, everyone will stand up to greet you and shake your hand. Start with the person standing on your right side or the one who is approaching you. Notice that in both modern and traditional Arab guest rooms, attendants are seated in a circle to ensure that no one is facing someone’s else back. Also note that the soles of your feet should not point directly toward someone else. Always use your right hand when giving or receiving objects.

Save Face concept: The Arab culture is a non-confrontational one which seeks the least conflict possible. A concept called “save face” is a way to solve conflicts and avoid embarrassing or discomforting the parties involved. Saving someone’s face or dignity involves using maneuvers or holding one’s reactions to give the other party a way to exit the situation with minimal discomfort or harm to their dignity. It involves compromise, patience, and sensitivity. The “save face” concept is looked at as a behavior of high quality ethics and manners. The Arabian culture encourages people to act humbly and with sensitivity to a person’s dignity, especially when that person’s dignity and self respect is endangered. This is a crucial tip for those who might be involved in managing businesses in an Arab country.

Family structure: In an Arab family, gender and age plays a big role in deciding responsibilities. The father is usually the head of the family and the provider for its needs, while the mother plays a major role in raising children and taking care of the house. Although culture, traditions, and Islam strongly stress the importance of women’s roles in taking care of the house and raising children, it is a mistake to think that Arab women are confined to this role. Before Islam there were many successful Arab businesswomen and they still exist throughout the Arab region, but because of cultural reasons, they conduct business in an inconspicuous way. A daughter lives at her family house as long as she is not married. Sons might move to their own houses when they get married, but at least one son will still live at the family house even if he is married in order to take care of the parents. When a woman gets married there are no changes made to any part of her name.

Business Meetings with Arab companies: Sometimes when trying to set up meeting dates with your Arab clients you will find that their answer is something like “Whenever you are in the area give us a call”. Don’t interpret this as a sign of lack of interest in your business. It is equal to an answer that sets a specific date and time. Allow enough time for social chat with your Arab clients before you open any business discussions.

Advertising and Marketing to the Arab Market: Your business Advertisement should be conservative in content and appearance and does not present any social values or situations that contradict with the Arab culture or Islam. In almost all the Arab countries advertisement should not directly or explicitly contain comparison between two different brands for the same type of products. Message should place more emphasis on the quality and functionality of the product. The main advertisement outlet sources are newspapers, magazines and television.

Asian Culture 101: Tips for Your Next Business Trip to Asia

When speaking about cultures or business etiquette, Asian countries are often grouped together. However, it is not necessarily true that cultures or ethnicities in the same area of the world share the same traditions or values. While there are some similarities in history and culture across Asian countries, each country and the way its people conduct business is unique.

The most important thing to remember is to be respectful of everyone you meet. If you don’t know the right thing to say or do in a business or casual setting, ask rather than make an inaccurate assumption and offend your hosts.

Demonstrating that you are interested in learning and abiding by their norms is one way to show respect. However, even if you cannot learn or adapt to all the traditions of these many countries, here are a few key things to remember when traveling for business.

Japan

In Japan, it is common to bow when meeting someone new. However, your hosts may be familiar with Western traditions and offer to shake your hand. Be prepared for either or both forms of greeting and follow the lead of your host. To bow properly, keep your back straight and hands down at your sides. Refrain from putting your hands in your pockets or crossing your arms. As is true in American culture, this is a sign of boredom or disinterest.

Business cards are a bigger deal in Japan than in the United States. When presented with a card, accept it with both hands and read the card. This shows respect and care for the card and person who handed it to you. If you are seated, leave the card out on the table or on your card case. Do not shove the card into you pocket or bag. It’s best to keep your own cards in a nice case so they are not bent or dirty when you hand them out.

Avoid:

  • pointing with your fingers or any objects, such as chopsticks or pens.
  • It’s not customary and can be considered rude.
  • pointing out someone’s mistake. Always be respectful of your hosts and business partners.
  • being late. In fact, be 15 minutes early.

China

Just as you would in America, offer a firm handshake when meeting someone for business. Similar to Japanese culture, business cards are a big deal. Offer and receive cards with both hands. If possible, print your information in Chinese on one side and English on the other.

Patience and appropriately following up are very important in Chinese business culture. No big decisions are made quickly and you should prepare for longer meetings and speeches. You may be asked to speak as well but keep your remarks short and avoid “taking over” the conversation. Follow up after a meeting with an email highlighting the positive points and decisions, but don’t be too extensive with your remarks.

Business is frequently conducted over meals. Learn how to use chopsticks and where to put them when eating. It’s best to put them back onto the holder rather than placing them in or on the bowl or plate. If a second meal or meeting is requested, offer to host.

Avoid:

  • being late. Be on time, early if possible.
  • speaking too loudly or quickly. Match the tone of your host.
  • interrupting holidays or being ignorant of superstitions. Respect for tradition is important.
  • pointing with your figures or other objects.

India

Lucky for Americans, the most common business language in India is English, though Hindu is widely spoken in other areas of the country. Greet your host by saying “Namaste” with your palms together in front of your chest. Offer a slight bow or nod of the head.

Nodding is often a sign of understanding rather than agreement. Be careful not to confuse the two when speaking in business meetings.

Just as is true in China, be aware and respectful of holidays. In the Hindu religion, holidays can last longer than a day or two, so plan your trip accordingly.

Avoid:

  • shaking hands, especially with women, unless the host offers his or her hand first.
  • declining food or drink in a meeting. Accept what is offered so you don’t cause offense.