Middle East Good Impression

How to make a good first impression in the Middle East


How to make a good first impression in the Middle East

Posted-on July 2019

“…The siesto, or afternoon’s nap of Italy, my most dear and reverend Father, would not have alarmed you so much, if you had recollected, that when we are at Rome, we should do as the Romans do.” - Interesting Letters of Pope Clement XIV, 1777.

In the UAE, like any other region, there is an expectation of etiquette within business and if you are new to the region and these expectations are not met, it can lead to missed opportunities and sometimes even have fatal consequences to your career.

Thus, I’ve created this list of tips that you can bear in mind in your next meeting with a Middle Eastern client or potential employer

1. Research

Doing research (such as reading this article) is not only a sure way to impress your audience, with your knowledge and confidence in the manner you present yourself, it is also a great show of respect.

Before your meeting, you need to have a clear understanding of who you are meeting, so research done on the company, the projects the company is involved in, articles been written about the company and employee reviews of the company is essential. In terms of the person, it is good to have reviewed the participants LinkedIn pages and articles that have been written about them or interviews that they have participated in. DO NOT Stalk Social Media pages like Facebook OR Instagram, or at least do not bring up data that has been posted here as this is regarded as personal.

2. Dress Code

Modesty in the UAE is extremely important for women AND men.

You need to dress to impress:

Men should wear a fitted shirt, with tie, smart shoes and dress pants. Wearing a dark suit and tie is always best, especially when meeting with senior executives or officials. Women will be expected to wear a suit or skirt with a hem below the knee. Non-Islamic women will not be expected to wear the Hijab.

3. Greetings:

Men: If you’re a man greeting a man, a strong firm handshake is always used. Handshakes also last much longer than in the Western world, some individuals even hold your hand whilst leading you into a meeting room. This is a Middle Eastern custom that is a show of respect and hospitality. It is in your best interest to not approach a female Muslim colleague with a handshake or any other form of a physical greeting. There is no touching between men and women during greetings in public.

Women: If you are a woman greeting a man, it is best to wait for the man to extend his hand for a handshake, otherwise avoid all physical contact. If you are greeting a woman, a kiss on the cheek is acceptable.

4. Conversation:

Relationship building with new clients is extremely important. Thus, discussing things like country of origin, family (No direct questions regarding daughter or wife), and the most appropriate questions to ask is “Where did you study?” OR “How many children do you have?".

Remember that Islam is well ingrained into the culture of the UAE and that titles are extremely important when applicable. If you are speaking to a potential employer, then always refer to him as Mr. (First Name) unless advised differently. For women the title mam is often used, as asking if a woman is married or not, is considered poor etiquette.

Do not be afraid to use religious expressions, such as In’shallah (God willing), and it would be good to learn key words and Arabic expressions prior to your trip as this will help make a good impression.

See here for a basic overview of keywords.

5. Meetings:

Middle Easterners often have a relaxed attitude when it comes to business meetings and may arrive late. It’s important not to follow suit as punctuality is expected of Westerners. Decision-making can be slow and bureaucratic formalities tend to add to delay – keep this in mind throughout your business transactions. Meetings are usually always interrupted by phone calls and messages. Do not decline any refreshments that is offered.