Dos and Donts for female expat professionals in Saudi Arabia.

Published:  19 Dec at 6 PM
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Tagged: Australia
Saudi Arabia is still a hotspot for expats from Western societies, but female expats will find it harder to settle in than will their male colleagues.

Saudi Arabia is a land of diversity as well as opportunity for expats able to cross the cultural divide between Western society and the Arab world. Rules of behaviour for men aren’t as strict as they are for women, nor as plentiful. Professional expat women are expected to follow all the norms their Saudi sisters take for granted, with getting it right the most important task when in a business environment.

The do’s and don’t when meeting with Saudi nationals are more complicated for females, as physical contact with males including an initial handshake is against Saudi culture. Expat women may hug, kiss on the cheek or share a handshake with their female counterparts, but must avoid even the briefest physical contact with male colleagues and friends.

All women in Saudi Arabia are expected to dress conservatively or even to wear the traditional womens’ robes. Dresses covering almost all of the body are essential, as female flesh should not be seen by men. Buying an abaya, the garment which covers almost from head to toe is required, and Saudis will appreciate your covering your hair or even wearing a hijab which covers your face.

If you’ve been asked to hold either a formal or informal meeting, you should allow some time for regular conversation before raising the matter under discussion. Greet everyone on arrival with the Islamic phrase ‘Assalam o Alaikum’, and remember meetings should never be rushed or held late in the evening. If lunch is included, the right hand should be used for eating as using the left had is considered offensive, and women should be seated separately from men. Alcohol should not be served.

Above all, expat professionals are expected to respect the religion of Islam. It’s wrong to attempt to discuss the religion with Saudis, or to persuade them to divert from its rules and traditions. Arguments about religion are considered highly improper, and if a Saudi ends a meeting due to its overrunning prayer time, don’t make a negative comment. Following these basics will get you respect and make your new job far easier.
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