Traditional Fishing Boats Kuwait, photo by Charles Buchanan
Respect: When working and living in the Middle East the number one aspect is respect. Remember you are in their country. Learn the local laws before traveling, working or moving to the Middle East. Respect must be given to local customs, laws and traditions. You should learn at a minimum some basic Arabic. Learning proper titles and the names of people you are working with is very important. Courtesy is a must. Insulting individuals and the religion of Islam is taken very seriously in most Arab countries and can result in arrest and / or deportation. Many countries have strict rules on dress, public actions and restrictions on non Muslim religious activities. Learn about these rules before you travel there and ask questions once you are a there.
Patience: Most people in the Middle East do not work on the pace that Americans and Europeans work at. Being patient when visiting individuals for business. The offering and taking time for chia (tea) is polite and as a social activity is a sign of respect to the visitor and the host. Do not expect work to be done at the same pace as in America. Business people in the Middle East expect to take time in meetings to know who you are. Relax and learn the pace of the country you are in. The Middle East is a generally a very hot and harsh environment; the population has learned to pace itself to this environment.
Face to Face Communications and Trust: Business in the Middle East is very much based on personal relationships over positions. This is why hospitality often involves sharing Chia (tea) and / or food. Arabs like to judge your trust from what you say and what you do. Never promise what you cannot deliver and be careful not to offend by being too blunt. Politeness is a virtue not to be overlooked in dealings in the Middle East.
Developing Working Relationships: Recommendations are better than demands. The American way is not the only way. Be open to alternate ways to get the job done, do business or negotiate a deal, even if you feel it is less efficient than you would wish. If it does not affect the end result it is not important. Be open to new ideas and different way of getting to that goal.
Be specific in your business dealings. If you do not speak Arabic, find a good translator and make it clear what you want translated. Have contracts and agreements made in both English and Arabic for clarity. Ensure that you research all requirements for visas, import and export duties, fees and licenses.
Develope personal relationships with the people you do business with. It is expected that you be honest and forthcoming with business partners to gain trust. Many business people will not do business with you if you do not take the time to know them and if you do not trust them.
Family connections are very important in Middle Eastern dealings. Business people want to know that you are committed to your family, spouse, children and are a balance family person. This is to show them that you share their values. Most Middle Eastern businesses are tied to networks of businesses through family, tribal relations and long term friendships.
Personal Attitude: Be positive, stay open to new things. Always accept tea (Chia), sample food and be complimentary and courtious. Find out the customs of the country you are in and adapt to these customs, always keep in mind you are the guest. This is your hosts country and the history, traditions, food and friendships you develop can be very enriching.
Do not be ethnocentric (means that the world revolves around your culture) expect things to be different in the Middle East.
Travel Tips: Countries like Kuwait, Dubai, the Emerits have good water. When in doubt drink bottled water or boiled tea.
Toilet paper is provided in most airports but not all restrooms at all international airports (it is a good idea to travel with some toilet paper unless you know for certain).
Power in most of the Middle East (think all) is 220vlts, US is 110vlt (which means you will burn up any 110vlt appliances like your hair dryer or TV) buy local electrical products or buy a transformer to convert 220vlt to 110 vlts.
Buy an Arabic dictionary and if you can afford it the Arabic Rosetta Stone if you are going to be in the Middle East for an extended time.
Do not travel in the Middle East wearing religious items like crosses, carry a Christian Bible openly or discuss religious topics in public. Find out the rules for the country you are travelling to. Many Middle Eastern countries are legally Muslim. Some are under religious law, this is not a problem as long as you learn the rules and follow them.
Women traveling in the Middle East should find out the dress code. Most countries are pretty tollerant of Americans and Europeans but others are strickter requiring the wearing of an Abaya (the black dress women wear). Find out the rules about socializing, driving and gender restriction before you go.
Alcahol, Drugs and Pornography possession are severly punished in most Arab / Middle Eastern countries. If it is prohibited don't do it, and don't bring it to the country.