Basic etiquette tips for teachers in the Middle East:

It’s that time of year! So many of our teachers are off to the Middle East. From the bustling cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE, to beautiful Oman and Saudi, our teachers are prepped and ready for their teaching adventures to begin!

Along with the excitement and possibility, is the very real issue of culture shock. The Middle East is different from South Africa in so many ways. Weather, media, hegemony, traditions – all of these things impact the experience. But different need not mean bad.

Here are some useful etiquette tips for surviving culture shock in the Middle East:

  • It’s polite to be seen to wash your hands before a meal.
  • Always remove your shoes before sitting down on a rug to eat or drink tea.
  • Use only your right hand for eating or accepting food.
  • It’s good manners to leave a little food on your plate at the end of the meal: traditionally, a clean plate was thought to invite famine. It can also suggest to your host that they haven’t fed you sufficiently.
  • Try to give people a balanced perspective of life in the West. Try also to point out the strong points of the local culture, such as strong family ties and comparatively low crime.
  • Make yourself aware of the human-rights situation, history and current affairs in the countries you travel through.
  • If you’re in a frustrating situation, be patient, friendly and considerate. Never lose your temper as a confrontational attitude won’t go down well. For many Arabs, a loss of face is a serious and sensitive issue.
  • Try to learn some of the standard greetings – it will make a very good first impression.
  • Always ask before taking photos of people. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language – a smile and gesture will be appreciated.
  • Be respectful of Islamic traditions and don’t wear revealing clothing; loose lightweight clothing is preferable.
  • Men should shake hands when formally meeting other men, but not women, unless the woman extends her hand first. If you are a woman and uncomfortable with men extending their hand to you (they don’t do this with local women), just put your hand over your heart and say hello.
  • Public displays of physical affection are almost always likely to be misunderstood. Be discreet.

Most importantly, be open to opportunities and be willing to learn, not just teach.


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