Business and Social Expectations
Saudi Arabia, like any other country, has a mixture of people whose social and business norms may differ greatly from each other. It’s important to be sensitive to each and every person’s way of doing things.
Upon meeting, men generally shake hands with men. They may not necessarily shake hands with a woman but don’t be offended: it’s a personal religious choice on their part. However, some men do shake hands with women, so don’t be surprised if a hand is offered!
When in a private setting, a handshake and a kiss on each cheek are the norm among good friends. In professional settings, Saudis care about setting up rapport between them and their colleagues, so extended personal exchanges are common.
In Saudi Arabia, business is usually a family affair. Many members of the same family may be employed to do various jobs and across various levels. This may be called nepotism in other countries, but in Saudi Arabia, it’s just common sense to employ people you can trust.
Businesses are managed in a hierarchical style, and deference is always shown to the boss. Often, it’s simply a case of managers instructing and subordinates implementing without question, and without room for initiative. Consensus and consultation are not always absent, however.
Business meetings can sometime be very casual affairs, with interruptions and off-the-topic conversations. That doesn’t mean a lack of interest; the social, personal and the professional often intermingle in business meetings. It just means it might take longer to reach the discussion points the meeting was originally set up for...
Business Dress Code
Most Saudis wear long white robes called ‘thobe’. Expatriates should wear suits and ties, and dressing smart is always a good thing. Business women can also wear suits but it’s best to keep necklines, arms and knees covered.
Saudis don’t expect gifts if they invite you over for dinner or lunch. But it’s not offensive to bring something small as a thank you. Gifts may not necessarily be opened upon receipt.
With expatriates and people they are not very familiar with, Saudis are more likely to entertain in restaurants or international hotels. They may choose to invite you over to their home after they get to know you better. Men and women may not mix inside homes; they may be entertained in different rooms. In many cases, shoes have to be removed before entering a house. Conservative dress is required at all times.
Saudis often like to eat their meals cross-legged on a cloth laid out on the floor. If the food is to be eaten by hand, try and eat using your right hand as is customary. Saudi hospitality often means that guests will have to over-eat to please their hosts.