Prince Amir Al Saud

Differences in Business Culture between Arab and Western Countries

Differences in Business Culture between Arab and Western Countries


The business mores of Westerners differ from that of Arab nations. If entrepreneurs or corporate executives from both worlds meet, each one has to understand the cultures of each party. It is important to have a good understand of the business culture of Middle Eastern and Western nations.


Comparison of Attitudes & Cultures

It is not only important to learns the Arabic language if you want to conduct business in any Gulf Country. Be familiar with local business traditions as well to refrain from offending your hosts. Arabs’ business culture has tacit rules and outlook.  Do not overlook or disregard these tenets. Otherwise, these can be damaging to your enterprise.


Arabs are conservative. Their cultures are linked inherently to Islam. Religion has absolutely leaked into Arabic business systems. For instance, conservative attire is a must and profane language is certainly prohibited. Likewise, it is improper to argue or bicker in front of other people. The same applies for jokes and laughter which should be restrained. Even old-fashioned values influence advertising strategies in Arabic cultures.


Westerners also observe strict and formal customs such as the handshake that puts a stamp on the consummated business deal. On the other hand, flipping your middle finger causes resentment especially in the United States. Western world advertisements are flashy and quite ostentatious. Models can even wear skimpy clothes provided the message is conveyed correctly to the target audience and the ad is approved by regulatory authorities. 


Invites and Introductions

There are a number of rules to observe if you have been invited to a business lunch or dinner. Unlike Western culture, you should not bring any food or beverages for this event. Always follow the example of your host. Remove your shoes if this is the practice. It may help by going through the customary greetings in Arab before focusing on your meeting with the host or client. The proper salutation when you enter a room is “Alsalamo Alikom.” It simply means, “Peace be with you.” The usual answer is, “Wa'alikom Alsalam.” Handshakes are considered exchanges in greetings. Use your right hand and start with individual who is at the right of your group. It can also be the person who came nearer to you.


Another major concern is avoiding disgrace. One of the primary disparities between Western and Arab business deals is the matter of staying away from embarrassment. Western corporate transactions are frequently interspersed with audacity. On the contrary, dealings in the Middle East are more toned down. All interactions are carried out to reduce uneasiness and avoid hurting the self-esteem of other people by enabling graceful departures and various interpretations of circumstances. It is essential to observe this practice. For one, it is one way of avoiding to make your Arab business partners uneasy.


Etiquette in Business Meetings

The following are general business etiquette guidelines among Arab business proprietors and company executives:

µ     It is advisable to formulate a distinct plan for your business conference. Try to create a program that you can disseminate to your business associate.  Stick to that agenda. This will manifest that you respect business customs of Arabs.

µ     You can arrange for the presence of interpreters to translate documents and conversations during the meeting. Precise translations will make easy communications with business peers.

µ     Avoid ordering food that will insult your Arabian hosts.  See to it that the restaurant has multiple selections of dishes such as vegetables, chicken or beef but not pork. Abstain from drinking liquor and coffee or smoking cigarettes.


Doing Business in Arab Countries

If you plan to conduct business in Middle East countries, be sure to understand the influences of Arabic norms. It is absolutely a big challenge for Westerners. There is a unique culture which simply means that things are done in different ways. Strive to discover and understand these variations if you want to succeed in any business venture in the Arab world.


Everything is quite slow in countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates. Meetings are quite stress-free and appear to go on perpetually. This mode is part of their culture. At the same time, religious beliefs play a crucial role in business more than other nations and civilizations. However, there are differences among Muslim factions so expect differences and surprises.


Keep in mind that Arabs are not inclined to disagree with you overtly. They may have some concerns in body language but Arabs express more using non-oral communications compared to people from the West. As a matter of fact, Arabs will stand closer to people whom they talk with compare to the countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and European nations. Doing business will be less difficult if you are aware of all these issues.


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