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Business Culture

Saudi Arabia - Business Culture

Saudi Arabia is a strictly Islamic country, and you should be observant of Muslim practices and laws when conducting business there.

Be prepared to make frequent visits, as business is based on personal relationships in Arabic culture, and face-to-face meetings are preferred. Friendship and business are interlinked, and relationships are based on mutual benefit and reciprocity of favours.

Appointments should be made in advance, with scheduled times regarded as approximate rather than fixed, due to the relaxed approach to time in Saudi Arabia.

There is a five-day working week starting on Saturday. Normal working hours are 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. When scheduling appointments, it is important to take into account the five daily prayer times, as well as the Islamic religious holidays.

Both men and women should dress very modestly for meetings, ensuring that most of the body is covered. Westerners should not wear native clothing as this may be seen as offensive.

First names are only used between close friends in Saudi Arabian business. Arabic titles such as Haji or Sheikh, or professional titles (e.g. doctor, engineer, professor) should be used if known.

Saudi Arabians usually shake hands as a greeting with foreign visitors, and may kiss close friends on both cheeks. You should shake hands with everyone present, starting with the most senior, and proceeding anti-clockwise around the room. Good eye contact is crucial as this will indicate sincerity. Saudi Arabians have a different sense of personal space to westerners and are likely to stand close when talking to you.

Business cards are commonly exchanged, but are not essential. If used, they should be translated into Arabic on one side.

Although meetings may appear disorganized, this is because they follow Arabic customs, in which personal and business lives are closely related. Business discussions are interspersed with small talk, and may be interrupted by personal visitors or colleagues.

Business is hierarchical, with decision-making concentrated at the senior level of an organisation. The decision-maker is often the person who talks the least in a meeting, but will closely observe everything that is going on.

Communication styles are courteous and often indirect, with great importance placed on preserving someone's dignity by avoiding disagreement or refusals. Modesty is highly valued, so you should avoid making exaggerated claims.

Meetings are often lengthy, and negotiations may be tough, since Saudi Arabians are experts at bargaining. Stay firm and courteous at all times, but be prepared to compromise a little in the long-term interests of the relationship.

The decision-making process is often very slow, due to the complex business bureaucracy and the Islamic custom of waiting for guidance from God. Avoid impatience, which will be regarded as a weakness.

Gift-giving is not common in Saudi Arabian business culture, as gifts are seen as personal and are only usually exchanged between close friends.

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