While the customs in most Arabic-speaking countries may be different from what you’re used to, but there’s one universal cultural element you can expect to see almost anywhere you go: the people take hospitality and generosity very seriously.
This can affect visitors to the countries in different ways.
Some people really enjoy it and use every opportunity as a chance to practice speaking Arabic.
Others can become overly concerned about getting the etiquette exactly right and let their fear of offending someone get in the way of practicing their Arabic.
Don’t worry! If you’re from another country, the people around you understand that you come from a different culture, and they’ll go out of their way to make you feel right at home. That’s just all part of the hospitality you’re likely to find in this culture.
So, rest assured, you’ll be given plenty of leeway when it comes to matters of etiquette and language.
Having said that, though, you’ll certainly be able to impress the hosts when they see that you’re trying to speak the language and follow their customs. It won’t even take that much. Just a few words in the right place can go a long way.
Let’s start with a quick look at some of the words and phrases that are good to know that will help you share in the hospitality of the culture.
Salam alaykum – “Peace be upon you”
This is the most common greeting between two people.
Wa alaykum as-salam – “And upon you”
This, then, is the most common response to the that greeting. (Much the same way that “not much” is the standard
Marh’aba – “I openly welcome you”
You’ll here this when you are invited into someone else’s home.
Ahlan wa sahlan – “Make yourself at home”
You host will probably go out of their way to make you feel at home anyway, but this is what they’ll say let you know that you’re going to feel at home one way or another.
Some Other Hospitality Tips
There are some simple, cultural things that might be a little different from what you’re used to, so keep a few of these things in mind and you can nail the etiquette when you are experiencing some of the local hospitality.
Using names – When you’re in a formal meeting, it’s usually best to use a person’s full name and attach “Sayyed” before men’s names and “Sayeeda” before women’s names.
Shaking hands – When you greet Arab men, you can shake hands. If you are a man greeting a woman, though, let the woman guide that situation (most Arab women probably won’t shake hands with non-Arab men).
Pointing fingers – This is usually considered very rude, so don’t point at things with your finger or pen or whatever while speaking.
Looking in the eye – Extended eye contact is common. Staring isn’t considered to be rude, unless you’re staring inappropriately at a woman.
Making small talk – Socializing and making small talk before the meal is very common and may go on longer than you expect. This is usually because the actual meal time is meant for eating, not talking.
The Best Way to Learn Arabic
The very best way to learn Arabic (or any language) is to use it – and to use it in conversations with native speakers.
If you have the opportunity to visit an Arabic-speaking country, one of the first things you will experience is the dedication to hospitality and generosity. And that means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to test your language skills with many warm, friendly, and inviting people.