Business Etiquette and Cultural Sensitivity in Saudi Arabia
Conducting business in a foreign country can at times present itself as a daunting task. If an individual is not attuned and sensitive to the cultural differences and nuances that exist within a given country, they risk complicating their business activities at best and at worst completely offending the parties they intend to conduct business with. Sensitivity to cultural norms and context are critical to understanding the processes and patterns of intercultural communication in a foreign country, and an awareness of these differences can assist and facilitate smoother and more efficient business transactions. Nowhere is this truer than in the Gulf state of Saudi Arabia, located in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula.
Doing business in the Middle East entails that one be respectful and sensitive to the dominant Arab culture that transcends borders in this region of the world. This means that one must be cognizant of the fact that “when it comes to business etiquette... in the Arab world... you have to respect that you are in a Muslim country” (LyLDL 1). Islam is the dominant religion in the Middle East and North Africa and Saudi Arabians adhere to a very strict interpretation of Islam known as “Wahhabism” so it is critical that one understand that Islam is very much a part of the lives of Saudi Arabians (LyLDL 1). This affects dietary habits such as one should not offer “people alcohol or [serve] pork for a meal” (LyLDL 1). Secondly, Muslims pray five times a day, and one must “respect the fact that work stops for prayer several times during the day” (LyLDL 1).
While there are those elements of cultural communication in Saudi Arabia that are influenced by Islam, there are certain cultural contextual issues that are specifically Arab in nature. For example physical contact is far more pronounced in the Arab world – irrespective of religion – than in the West (LyLDL 3). While Westerners wish to have...
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