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Qatar Customs & Etiquettes

Terms of Address

Arabs generally value civility highly, and it’s important that you greet (and part from) local people in the correct way. The use of Arab names can be confusing for newcomers to the region. For example, a man might be called Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Jishi. Abdullah is his given name and he’s the son or grandson of (bin) Abdul Aziz; Al-Jishi is the family or tribal name. To make matters even more complicated, given names are often abbreviated: for example, Mohammed can be shortened to Mohd, Hamad or Hamed. It’s important to use the full name, however, particularly on formal occasions and in correspondence. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Jishi should never be called Abdullah (let alone the diminutive Abdul), although the patronymic may be omitted and he can be addressed as Abdullah Al-Jishi.

The general formal address is ‘Sayyed’ (‘Sir’) for a man or ‘Sayeeda’ (or ‘Sayedity’) for a woman, followed by the person’s full name. Arab women can be addressed as ‘Madame’.

Rulers are usually addressed as ‘Your Highness’ (‘Your Majesty’ in the case of the King of Saudi Arabia). Senior members of ruling families are called ‘Your Excellency’ followed by ‘Sheikh’ (pronounced ‘shake’ and not ‘sheek’) and their full name. Government ministers of the ruling line are ‘Your Excellency, Minister of . . .’ and other ministers simply ‘Your Excellency’ followed by the full name. Lesser members of ruling families and those in religious authority are addressed as ‘Sheikh’ followed by their full name.


The most common greeting in the Gulf is Salam alaykum (‘Peace be upon you’), to which the correct reply is Wa alaykum as-salam (‘And upon you be peace’). Note that tisbah ala-khayr, meaning ‘good night’, is said on parting, as in English, and the reply is wa inta min ahlu. You should always shake hands when greeting and parting from Arab men. In the case of Arab women, you should be guided by the woman’s behaviour: many Arab women won’t shake hands with non-Arab men, although educated women might. This is normal even with close friends whom you meet frequently. If the handshake you receive when leaving somebody is longer than the one you received when meeting him, it indicates that you’ve made a good impression. Incidentally, newcomers should note that refusals or protracted reluctance to meet people are frowned upon. Note also that you shouldn’t approach Arab women, look at them or talk to them unless you’ve been properly introduced.

After handshaking, it’s customary to enquire after the other person’s health and other matters, and you should expect similar enquiries to be directed at you. (Don’t enquire after the health of the female members of an Arab’s family, however, but restrict your questions to those regarding the family in general or the sons.) This can take a long time, as neither party wishes to be the one to draw matters to a close. Foreigners aren’t expected to know or use all the subtleties this ritual involves, but you will make a good impression if you learn at least some of the standard expressions and use them in the correct way. Whether in face-to-face conversation or speaking to people on the telephone, don’t talk business straight away; if you do so, Arabs will assume that you’re impatient or not interested in them personally.

Hands & Feet

You should accept refreshment whenever it’s offered, but note that you should always use your right hand for drinking and eating, as the left hand is regarded as unclean (as it’s used for ‘toilet purposes’). Similarly, you should avoid showing the soles of your shoes or feet, which implies that you think the other person is ‘dirt’, which is obviously highly offensive. You should therefore keep your feet flat on the ground and not cross your legs.

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