Full of magnificent architecture, wondrous landscapes, delicious food, and eye-opening cultural experiences, the Middle East is a dream destination for many travelers. Because the customs, traditions, and laws are so different in the region than they are in the west, however, many tourists find themselves in a state of shock when they arrive.
To blend in properly in the Middle East, and avoid standing out as a tourist and offending locals, it’s best to become familiar with certain etiquette that’s required of visitors to the area. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about etiquette in the Middle East.
10 Don’t Argue In The Markets
A market is one of the few places in the west where it’s still common to barter over price. But when visiting souks and markets in the Middle East, try to resist haggling and arguing with the sellers. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!
The best way to explain that you don’t want to buy something when a vendor approaches you is to say, “No, thank you.” If the seller thinks there’s any chance that they’ll get a buy out of you, they won’t leave you alone, and arguing will just make things worse.
9 Keep A Lid On Your Temper
Losing your cool in public is still looked down upon in the west, but at least you won’t get arrested for it. In places like Dubai, though, any kind of public meltdown could potentially get you sent to jail. In general, giving someone the finger, sticking your tongue out, and making any other rude gestures in public are against local laws.
If you’re driving in the Middle East, remember to contain any road rage that you might have. Being in a car on a public road still counts as being in public!
8 Dress Conservatively
While in the Middle East, which is predominantly Muslim, you should aim to dress conservatively to respect local customs. This is the case for men and women but applies to women in particular. Things like shorts, crop tops, and even singlets might be common in the west but are akin to going around in your underwear in some Middle Eastern countries.
Unless you’re at the hotel pool, it’s best to cover your arms and legs in lightweight (though not sheer!) material. This way, you’ll avoid causing offense and won’t be the subject of excessive staring.
7 Limit Your Physical Contact With Others
Many of the customs in the Middle East are deeply conservative by western standards. Public displays of affection are hugely offensive and are even punishable in some countries. Holding hands might be okay depending on where you are, but that’s probably the extent of the public affection you can engage in without causing offense.
If you’re with a partner, you definitely don’t want to be hugging, sitting on each other’s laps, and smooching in public. It’s not uncommon for western travelers to land in trouble for things like kissing each other on the lips.
6 Be Aware Of The Local Laws
Always remember while you’re in the Middle East that there aren’t just customs and traditions to respect—there are also laws which might be very different from what you’re used to. And breaking things could end up sending you to jail, or worse.
Alcohol is forbidden in many countries throughout the Middle East, so any display of drunkenness could potentially get you locked up, depending on where you are and how unlucky you are. Inappropriate behavior in public is also illegal in the stricter countries. Familiarize yourself with the local laws so you don’t accidentally breach them.
5 Use The Correct Dining Etiquette
The dining etiquette is a little different in the Middle East, as some things that are frowned upon in the west are actually encouraged. If you’re ever eating a meal at a restaurant, know that it’s okay to pick your teeth after a meal. You’ll probably even be provided with toothpicks!
There are a few things that are considered impolite. Don’t stretch to the other side of the table to reach for food, as this is thought to be rude, don’t leave the meal before the coffee is served, and never blow your nose at the table.
4 Don’t Hand Things Out To Children On The Street
In some parts of the Middle East, you’ll find that children will approach you for the street asking for food or money. Though this will tug at your heartstrings, it’s best not to give them sweets or leftover change. This encourages begging and will land you in serious heat with the locals.
If you want to help needy children in the Middle East, it’s better to give a donation to a charity or a school. Also avoid giving out medications to those who ask on the street, since you don’t know whether they’re going to take the medication properly or not.
3 Get Permission Before Taking Photographs
Taking photographs of everything and everyone is pretty normal in the west, but people tend to feel differently about it in the Middle East. While some locals will be okay with having their photo taken, others won’t be. They’ll either want to be paid to have their photo taken, or they won’t want it at all.
If you would like to photograph someone or something that belongs to someone, like their stall in a market, always ask. Simply smiling and pointing to your camera is a good way to ask if you don’t speak the language.
2 Respect The Local Religion
Religion tends to be taken very seriously in the Middle East, and this is one aspect of the local culture that you definitely don’t want to disrespect. You’re not expected to follow religious practices, such as praying during the day, but you should still be respectful.
For example, if you travel during the month of Ramadan, you’ll discover that the locals fast during the day. It would be considered insensitive to eat and drink in public during the daylight hours. Some restaurants have private dining areas for tourists during Ramadan, so you can eat away from the locals.
1 Be Respectful Of Important Sites
The Middle East is brimming with stunning landmarks and historically significant sites. Some of the prominent mosques throughout the Middle East are so remarkable that you’ll definitely want them on your itinerary. Though these are often full of tourists, it’s still important to be as respectful as possible in sacred spaces.
There is a certain etiquette to follow when visiting a mosque. Normally, you’ll be required to take your shoes off and cover your head before entering. It’s also advisable to stay quiet while locals are praying inside, the same way you would in a western church.