GUIDELINES TO COMMUNICATE WITH SAUDIS
By Suzan Zawawi
These are only guidelines to follow and are not strict rules:
1. Be patient when you want anything to get done.
2. Expect to be interrupted by others while conversing. Or the person you were talking to suddenly stops to talk to another person and then never finishes your discussion. Don’t take it personal.
3. Try to be on time for a social gathering, but don’t worry if you are 45 minutes late. Probably no one would have noticed and if they do it’s because they expected you on time because you are a foreigner. The other guests might be late up to an hour and a half. When it comes to work related appointments, always be on time but expect to wait.
4. Most social gatherings are not scheduled on a specific time. Saudis tend to invite guests to their homes or invite themselves to friend’s homes without specifying time rather referring to afternoon or evening or even prayer times.
5. Most social gatherings are usually after sunset (Maghrib) or night (Isha) prayers.
6. During a social gathering not much is discussed. It’s mostly full of small talk and pleasantries. Although they might seem trivial to some, such small talks are used to strengthen relations, create new ones and cement old ones. Human bonding is vital to the success of any relationship in the Middle East, whether it is social or business.
Small talk and pleasantries include:
– Asking about your health and wellbeing.
– Asking about the wellbeing of your children and parents, in-laws, and nearly every relative.
– Talking about family, except female members of the family if the discussion is among men.
– Sports and especially soccer and the stock market for men. The weather is not a popular topic since it is consistently hot. The exception might be if it hails or if it rains so much so that the streets are flooded or a bad sand storm hits the city such as the one that covered the Eastern and Central region this weekend.
7. If you speak Arabic, don’t be surprised if a Saudi asks ‘How are you?’ in five different ways. This is especially true in social gatherings of women folks. You could answer once then if asked again try to ask them how they are. But it’s tricky because Saudis are so fast greeters that it becomes hard to say anything in the middle of a Saudi asking you how you are a half a dozen times all at once.
8. Be prepared to be asked very personal questions, especially among women. However, you don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to, but try not to offend the Saudi since, he/she is just trying to get to know you better and he/she didn’t mean harm.
9. If you ask a Saudi a question and you do not get a reply, ask a second time. If still no straight answer is given, this could indicate a negative response but the Saudi doesn’t want to embarrass him/herself or you, or it could indicate that he/she has to think about it first before responding. Don’t persist, they heard your question.
10. Don’t blame or directly confront Saudis
11. Listen to the body language. It speaks louder than words.
12. The word ‘Inshallah’ might mean any of the following; I hope so, I will try my best, please give me time to think about it, No, but I don’t want to offend you, and maybe.
13. Also look out for hidden meanings such as ‘It is difficult’ or ‘I’ll do my best’ these probably mean ‘no, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.’
14. If you wait for your turn in a discussion or meeting you might never get it. Speak loud and firm when you want to be heard.
15. Try to learn basic Arabic; it will be your survival kit.
16. Silence is not seen negatively; do not feel awkward when silence occurs when with Saudis. Since Saudi culture is a collective culture, being together is emotionally sufficient.
17. Beware of not offending, but never do anything which conflicts with your core values.
18. Don’t stand too close or look directly at the opposite sex.
19. Don’t get frustrated and waste your energy by getting mad when plans change. Go with the flow.
20. Sometimes you need to follow up, double check and remind Saudis for things to be done.
21. Don’t misinterpret small talk as genuine friendship; it is a social warm-up mode.
22. Watch what Saudis do in social gatherings and follow their lead. For example, notice if they take off their shoes before walking into a house or room, if they greet every individual with a kiss on the check, a single handshake or a general ‘Salam’ to everyone in the room. If you can take a Saudi friend with you to a social gathering, he/she can lead you on what is expected of you and inform you of who is who in the gathering.
23. Do not expect Saudis to act or react the same way you would. They were raised differently and are from a different culture.
* Suzan Zawawi is a Cross Cultural Consultant with an MA specialized in Cross Cultural Communication. Share your cross cultural experience or send in your cultural questions to email@example.com