Greeting. There are two forms of greetings in the Middle East: you will either shake hands or kiss on each cheek. Wait for your host to initiate, you will most likely receive a hand-shake, but be prepared to be kissed on each cheek. While you shake the right hand of your host, you will place your left on his shoulder, exchanging kisses on the cheek. Never shake hands with a woman unless she offers her hand first.
Time. Punctuality is not a virtue in the Middle East. You may be waiting for your business associate to show up, but make sure you are always prompt. Friday is a day of rest in Middle Eastern countries.
Dress. Men and women should dress conservatively while doing business in the Middle East, wear modest western style suits and cover limbs. Women should avoid wearing pants or pantsuits, and the hemline of skirts should be below the knee, preferably to the ankle. Cover all limbs, wear high necklines and carry a scarf to cover your head, if necessary. Limit jewelry, although a watch is acceptable. Never wear native clothing, it is considered extremely offensive.
Dining. Alcohol and pork are illegal in many Middle Eastern countries. In Dubai, however, alcohol can be consumed in many upscale hotel restaurants. If you are having a business dinner, it is best that you do not drink. Expect to see forks and knives in westernized homes and restaurants only; it is tradition to eat with your hands. If you are left-handed, eat with your right hand only. The left hand is considered unclean.
Gifts. Gifts are not exchanged at a business meeting. If it is a special occasion and you would like to give a gift, do so privately. Never give alcohol, pork or perfume containing alcohol.
Greeting. You will be greeted with a handshake or a kiss, depending on the country. Greetings also vary according to tribe. If you’re on the West Coast, especially in Francophone countries like Senegal, you may exchange as many as three kisses, alternating cheeks. Countries like Egypt, may have a Middle Eastern style of greeting. It is best to follow the lead of the host.
Time. Punctuality is not a virtue in countries like Egypt, which is notorious for its traffic jams; however, you should try to be on time.
Dress. Men and women should always dress conservatively. Africa can be extremely hot during the summer months, but make sure to cover limbs in Muslim countries. Never adopt the native dress. Most African countries that do business with the West have adapted to the western style of dress. Suits and ties for men; dresses, skirts and blouses are acceptable for women.
Dining. In Muslim countries such as Egypt, you will find utensils in most modern, westernized homes and restaurants. If going to a traditional Muslim home, you may be required to eat without utensils. Remember to only use the right hand. Africa is a modern place that has many western-style restaurants and international hotels. Follow your host; and if your business meeting is held over lunch or dinner, put your best manners forward.
Gifts. It is not customary to exchange gifts at business meetings. If you are bringing a gift to a client present it privately with your right hand only. Receive a gift with your right hand, as well. Baked goods, chocolates, small gadgets and electronics make good gifts.
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Stephanie Hunt is the founder and director of Swan Noir L.L.C. (www.swannoir.net ), and a specialist in communications and etiquette.