Middle East Travel Tips
The Middle East is a very large open space of land that has an assortment of customs and etiquette to be aware of when visiting. By following these few basic rules of etiquette you can rest easy in The Middle East and enjoy everything this unique country has to offer.
Make sure you get fully dressed.
In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, visitors to this country are expected – and required – to be fully dressed, including the face being covered. Whilst some countries like Oman and Turkey do not expect travellers to conform to their standards, ensure that you research the dress code of the country which you’re visiting.
It can be considered rude to eat in public.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is a time of fasting for Muslims all over the world. So travellers eating in public during this time may be seen as disrespecting their religion as well as cruel to be eating in front of people who can’t do so!
Travellers should eat indoors privately during Ramadan. The fasting occurs from sunrise to sunset, so consider participating in the fast and then enjoy the feasting with the locals in the evening. It’s a great way to experience the culture.
Be careful of where you are taking photographs.
Many Eastern Governments (Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia) are suspicious of people taking pictures of military compounds. If you are busted doing such a thing you may be asked to delete the pictures from your digital camera, or even have your camera confiscated. It also has occurred that travellers have been taken to jail for further questioning. So it’s best not to provoke suspicion and watch what you’re taking photographs of.
Save the public displays of affection for when you’re in private.
When a man and a woman kiss or touch in public, it is considered taboo and is frowned upon. This includes holding hands.
Greet everyone when you enter a room.
It is considered rude if you don’t greet and acknowledge everyone in the room, in particular if you visit a home or sit at a table with group of people at a restaurant.
Feel free to haggle with the merchant.
Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is this your best price?” and drive a bargain with the merchant. They may also have fun with it and it certainly breaks up the monotony of their day. Like most markets around the world the prices are usually hiked up for tourist.
Carry a Scarf.
Scarfs aren’t just a fashion accessory. In the instance of encountering a situation you may need to ensure that your hair is tucked away out of sight (ie: visiting a mosque), a scarf comes in handy.
Respect your elders.
In Middle Eastern culture it is important to respect the elderly and ensure they are the first to be greeted, first to be seated and served when dining and always made feel special.
Traditional Middle Eastern Foods are eaten by hand.
Do not use your left hand as this is considered dirty. Feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body. So avoid putting them on furniture and never point to anything with your foot.
Make sure your gifts are well wrapped.
The gifts you should avoid giving are; perfumes/fragrances, alcohol and underwear – or in some parts of the Middle East you should avoid giving gifts until you know the hosts better. The hosts may also be embarrassed about receiving gifts for their hospitality, so if they have children it is best to buy the kids small toys or stationery as a token of appreciation.
Do not enter a Mosque or church when a service is in order.
If you are not Muslim, you should ask for permission before entering a mosque – and upon entering ensure you have taken your shoes off. If you are not Muslim you should not visit a mosque during Ramadan.
To all the single ladies – put a ring on it.
To save yourself from the unwanted attentions of men, wear a fake wedding band on your ring finger.
With these general etiquette tips remember it is always best to gather advice from the locals as the Middle East is such a diverse land with different rules for different locations. By researching your destination and with a little common sense you will enjoy a country that places a considerable priority on mutual trust, respect and friendship.