Etiquette in the Middle East- Travel for Men and Women

Written By: The Planet D

When traveling to the Middle East there are a lot of traditions and customs that both men and women need to take into consideration.

When it comes to travel, men need to be just as informed and knowledgeable of etiquette in the Middle East as women do.

etiquette in the middle east
Etiquette in the Middle East

One would think that most of the pressure is on women, but men have to be just as diligent in their research so that they do not offend or embarrass.

Dave and I recently sat down to discuss the differences between general men and women travel for TripIt and since starting the discussion, we keep coming up with more and more ideas where travel differs for each gender.

With TripIt highlighting women’s travel and safety this summer, we thought that this would be a great time to talk about travel etiquette in the Middle East for both men and women.

It’s one of the most confusing places to travel when it comes to customs and traditions, but when you follow a few simple rules, it is one of the most rewarding destinations on the planet.

Etiquette in the Middle East

meeting people at Wadi Rum Jordan

When it comes to travel etiquette, there are places where you have to do a little more research before your flight.

The Middle East is one of those places. It has many traditions, rules, and customs that can sometimes be confusing.

Even though women have to think a lot about things like dress and behaviour, men must comply with many rules as well.

Here are a few travel etiquette tips we learned from our travels to countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, and the Sudan.

Read: Is it Safe to Visit Iran?

Proper Dress

head scarves etiquette tips middle east
Respect the local culture by following their dress code

It is important to follow the traditional dress code when travelling to the Middle East. We’re not saying go out and buy everything the locals are wearing, but we do suggest dressing modestly.

Check out 10 Amazing Things to do in Jordan

Men:

Men should dress in long trousers and a shirt that covers your shoulders. A T-shirt will do, but a button-down shirt is even better. Men can wear shorts, but make sure they are knee length.

middle east etiquette local
A typical outfit for local men

Women:

Women should wear long pants or skirts and long sleeve shirts covering the chest area and nape of the neck. One would think that this would feel very hot in places like the Middle East, but the loose, light clothing is actually very comfortable and often feels better than wearing shorts.

This is very important if you want to follow the etiquette in the Middle East.

A headscarf is optional for foreign visitors, but I often wear a scarf to blend in and respect the culture around me, and to avoid unwanted attention.

Learn more about the Middle East at our Marrakech Travel Guide

Holy Sites

middle east etiquette temple
Women must wear a head scarf at temples.

When visiting mosques or other religious sites, women must wear a head scarf. And at some sites, men are often required to wear some sort of head covering as well.

Shoes must be removed and you must remain quiet and respectful of worshippers.

Greetings

middle east etiquette ATV
A local greeting

When greeting someone it is customary to say hello using the phrase “Asalamu Alaykum.” Men will shake each other’s hands and often hold that shake for a very long time. Men do not shake a woman’s hand unless she extends her hand first. If she does not, a simple nod and Asalamu Alaykum will do.

As you get to know people, you may find that they will offer a kiss on the cheek and a hug. But this is only once you are very familiar with them and only if they offer first. Follow their lead, and you will do just fine.

Enjoy: Walking Amman

For more on Middle Eastern Culture and Etiquette check out our Video from Marrakech below

Marrakech Traditions and Customs

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Hospitality Etiquette in the Middle East

The Middle Eastern people are very generous and giving. You will find that you are often invited for tea.

If you are invited for dinner, be sure to bring a token of your appreciation. Figs or pastries are appreciated.

middle east etiquette dinner
Bring something to show your appreciation at dinner

Shoes: Also, be sure to remove your shoes before entering a house (sometimes slippers will be provided) and never show the bottom of your feet when sitting.

Use Right Hand: When eating, always use your right hand for taking food and eating food. And always wash your hands before your meal.

Praise: Be careful when complimenting decor. Many people will feel obliged to give you the item that you have just praised.

Call to Prayer

blue mosque
The call to prayer happens five times a day.

During your travels to the Middle East you will hear a male voice singing from loudspeakers throughout the city. This is the call to prayer. It is performed 5 times per day where the people are called to prayer. During this time, some shops may close and you may not be served, but it doesn’t last long and soon the day will continue with business as usual.

Affection

Public affection is frowned upon in the Middle East and should be saved for your private moments.

Deb and Dave Rome-1

Even holding hands can cause a few looks as it is not common for men and women to hold hands in public. If you look around, you will actually notice that most people of the same sex will be holding hands. Men often walk hand in hand or arm in arm and women very often go down the street connected.

If you are with a group of friends, why not give it a try. We always love immersing in culture and experiencing their customs, it makes the travel experience that much more enjoyable.

Travel to the Middle East sometimes requires a little more research and you must follow a few more rules than other destinations, but when you embrace their customs and traditions, it can be one of the most rewarding travel experiences, you’ll ever have.

Read More:

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

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  • World Nomads - Digital Nomads or Frequent Travelers.
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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

33 thoughts on “Etiquette in the Middle East- Travel for Men and Women”

  1. Its really one of most informative knowledge to me for the middle east countries. I have plan to go Cairo this year and it may be help to me.

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  2. If someone wants to visit in Middle East then this post is best for him or her. Middle east has such a collection of countries to visit. Next Year I am planning for a trip with my family in Abu Dhabi:)

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  3. Hey Guys, I really appreciate your blog. It is really helpful for those who want to visit the middle east countries. You have mentioned so much about there culture like how they welcome by shaking hands for long and their hospitalities. Though I thoroughly enjoyed knowing about their way of living and culture. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. It is very important for you If you travel to the new country you should respect their religion and culture. Specially in Middle East Countries where old monuments are there like in Istanbul. Istanbul in Turkey is a city of fantastic history, culture, and beauty. Thanks for sharing great information

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  5. That’s a great article about customs and traditions. When traveling to the Middle East, many things appear so much different from what I’m used to (as a Westerner). Your etiquette tips really give some insights about cultural differences, which after all are to be respected wherever one travels. Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  6. The middle is one of the best places that i have visited mainly because of the places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and other. Yes, i too have noticed some things which are very important to know and a new traveller should g through this article because this really helps everyone to find out what are the limitations and the does and don’t we have while travelling to the Middle East.

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  7. Great!
    We should know the basic customs and traditions before travelling to a country. Yes, Middle East is conservative and we need to adapt this etiquette.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  8. That’s a great article about custom. Absolutely, It is always necessary to know the basic culture & customs before making trip to a country.

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  9. No doubt the Middle East is one of the most conservative cultures, customs deles.Ainda that speaking more than there customs enquandram not only in women but rather for men too.

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  10. Absolutely. It is always necessary to know the basic culture & customs before making trip to a country. Very Insightful Article!

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  11. Good article – spot on. My personal trick is to just keep my mouth shut, we forget as westerners how foreign some of our beliefs can be in more religious or closed countries. My patience and fortitude was put to the test in my trip to Iran – were I had several conversations that I whole heartedly wanted to cry out my grievances and disagreements!

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    • You are so right. We often disagree with certain beliefs, but we feel it isn’t our place to vocalize what we think when we are visitors to their country. People will make change in their own time and on their own terms. Thanks for sharing and great tip.

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  12. No doubt the Middle East is one of the most conservative cultures, customs deles.Ainda that speaking more than there customs enquandram not only in women but rather for men too.

    Reply
  13. Yes.. It is very important to respect the tradtions and cultural norms if we visit a country, In Most of the countries in Middle east, It is a law to cover the arms and Legs, for men and for women.. Law is for both…
    We really need to adapt this Etiquette

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  14. These are really good tips guys. I particularly like the fact that they are aimed at both men an women rather than just women…! It can of course, be difficult trying to adjust to another culture but the fact remains, if we want to travel there and expect respectful treatment then we have to do likewise.

    It really hurts when I see other Westerns running around in clothing that would be considered disrespectful even at home not to talk of abroad, thinking of Asia and Southern Europe here. All the more important, where in the Middle East it won’t be tolerated and people get severly punished as a result.

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  15. Eastern countries are very particular about following their social etiquettes and culture.
    The country is unique in every possible way that means the place is enriched with colorful culture, vast and elaborate history,
    When someone is planning to visit this place then there are few things one must know of.
    Ever visit an incredible site in some exotic land and wonder how it was built.

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  16. This is a very informative article. I always research the customs of places, that I am going to travel to, before making the trip. Even before the internet was available, I would go to a bookstore and purchase books about the customs of the areas that I would be visiting. I believe that it is a good practice to know the customs of the people so as not to offend anyone. I had no idea that a compliment of their decor would cause them to offer the item to you. I will certainly be careful if I visit the Middle East.

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  17. Great tips and all this is very true i remember the time i visit egyp , i understand everything is different in that part of the world , the woman dont have freedom like every girl in other countries

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  18. Information like this is so important – I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve looked on in disgust / horror / embarrassment as I’ve seen tourists totally disrespect local cultures and traditions. Being well informed about these issues is vital before visiting any country.

    I’ve loved the time I have spent in the Middle East so far – and I feel that having a good understanding of local etiquette has allowed me to enjoy the culture even more! We are already planning on going back somewhere in the Middle East (too many choices!!) some time soon!

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  19. Yeah this is very right because unless unlike any other western countries Middle Eastern countries are very particular about following their social etiquettes and culture. The country is unique in every possible way that means the place is enriched with colorful culture, vast and elaborate history, archival buildings which were build in a very exclusive manner. When someone is planning to visit this place then there are few things one must know of. And this post is giving the information of such kinds, try to follow them because of the fact that they tends to welcome and entertain you in their own customized way so try not to disrespect then in any possible manner.

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  20. Keeping the traditions of this land in mind is vital, as they treat their visitors so well. It’s only right to try and respect their culture to the utmost extent possible…!

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  21. A few times I compliment my host. First, I told her how beautiful is her hijab. And before leaving the house, she gave me that hijab. The other time, I compliment someone about the unique spoon straw for juice and again, the host gave me that unique spoon. I was embarrassed and I learn about it after the second compliment.

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    • It’s true. You think you are being nice since it is such a part of Western culture to compliment people on their decor, but the people of the Middle East are so giving you end up taking something from them without realizing. I’ve thought about some things I’ve done in the past. I was shopping in a market with my guide looking at sheeshas and he ended up buying me one at the end of our trip. I’m not sure if he felt obligated because he kept seeing me looking at them or if somehow I inadvertently did something to make him feel compelled to buy me one. Or if he was simply being nice. Either way, I felt guilty that he ended up getting me such a beautiful gift at the end of our trip.

      Reply
  22. That’s a great article about customs and traditions. When traveling to the Middle East, many things appear so much different from what I’m used to (as a Westerner). Your etiquette tips really give some insights about cultural differences, which after all are to be respected wherever one travels. Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply