Saudi Arabia is based on a social system marked by a sense of community and tradition. In the centre stands the family. All values that play an important role in social life are decisive in the business world as well. Generosity, reciprocal caretaking, and respect are therefore characteristics that you definitely should display in business collaboration with Saudis.
New business contacts
Also, status and age are what decides anyone’s position. People will get things because of their personal connections or seniority. Hence, at the first setting up of a business deal, it is recommended that you are introduced by a senior, experienced go-between so that his status is carried over to you. Recognition for yourself you may gain in later cooperation.
Foreigners are not expected to wear the Saudi uniformity of dress. Therefore, a business suit with long-sleeved shirt and necktie – despite the high temperatures – are accepted for men. For women, the rule of thumb is: cover up more than you show. Choose a long skirt or a pantsuit with a long jacket.
Take into consideration, that status is also shown by your demeanour and style of clothing. Expensive labels emphasize your social standing.
In Saudi Arabia, workdays are Sunday to Thursday, while working hours are often seen as flexible.
It is advisable not to schedule any important meetings or tasks during Ramadan or near one of the three public holidays Eid-Al-Fitr, Eid-Al-Adha and Saudi National Day on September 23rd. During Hadsch, long pilgrimage, and Amra, short pilgrimage, there are thousands of Muslims travelling to Saudi Arabia which puts a strain on the local infrastructure.
Don’t rely on being informed about these religious events that slow business down, but better check on a calendar for yourself. Make use of the weeks just before, this is when things are sped up since everyone wants to finish their work in time.
At a first business meeting, greetings occur strictly according to hierarchy: always offer your hand to the person at the top of the Saudi Arab firm first. And don’t play the strong man by pressing the other person’s hand as hard as possible. The rule here is rather that a gentle placing together of hands is a showing of respect. Often that can be a drawn-out procedure. As a guest, you should on no account be the first to pull your hand away. It is better to simply wait until your Saudi Arab host puts an end to that type of handshake.
All in all, you should always be somewhat reticent when greeting somebody and not shove yourself too much into the centre of attention. Once you’ve got to know each other better, however, Saudis may greet you even with a kiss on the cheek.
If women are in the Saudi Arab delegation, you as a man should not offer your hand as a greeting. In the Islamic culture, it is not appropriate for men and women to touch each other in public. Leave it to the Saudi Arab businesswoman as to whether she extends her hand to you or not during a few words of greeting. As a foreign businesswoman, you should similarly be prepared that your Saudi Arab business partner might not offer you his hand on religious grounds.
Businesswomen In The Arab Gulf States
Business cards are exchanged with a certain degree of respect. When handing over a business card you should be careful to use only the right hand – the same is true when you accept a business card.
Your business cards should be written in English and/or Arabic. It is important that going by the description of your function your standing in the firm can be recognized and your decision-making rights can be derived from that.
Take good note of the names and titles of your new contacts when you accept business cards! Pay attention to the status and rank of each person, because later there ought to be representatives at the same hierarchical level who deal with each other.
Names and forms of address
It is common in the Gulf Arab area to address people by their personal names e.g. Mr Mohammed. However, titles are also used.