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.
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 and since starting the discussion, we keep coming up with more and more ideas where travel differs for each gender.
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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
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.
It is important to follow traditional dress code when traveling to the Middle East. We're not saying go out and buy everything the locals are wearing, but we do suggest dressing modestly.
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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.
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
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.
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.
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For more on Middle Eastern Culture and Etiquette check out our Video from Marrackech below
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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.
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
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.
Public affection is frowned upon in the Middle East and should be saved for your private moments. 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.