Traveling offers the exciting opportunity to explore new landscapes, immerse oneself in diverse cultures, and forge connections with people worldwide. One culturally rich destination is Saudi Arabia, a country known for its deep-rooted traditions, stunning architecture, and historical significance.
Getting there involves preparing yourself in several aspects, including getting a Saudi visa: Do you need one? Can you apply online for it? An e-visa is generally more accessible, as the application is completed online, and you can upload the required documents as digital files rather than physical copies, including photo.
Getting the visa is just part of the preparation; the real fun starts here. As you embark on a journey to this enchanting land, you must familiarize yourself with the cultural etiquette and customs that shape social interactions. Respecting these norms enhances your travel experience and demonstrates your appreciation for the local way of life.
Dressing modestly in Saudi Arabia is a fundamental aspect of respecting the country’s cultural values and religious beliefs. For men, this entails wearing long-sleeved shirts that cover the arms and opting for pants that extend to the ankles. Traditional Saudi clothing, such as the thobe—an ankle-length robe—is also an option.
Women are expected to choose loose-fitting, full-length dresses or skirts paired with long-sleeved tops, and they should cover their hair with a headscarf or hijab. In more formal settings, such as religious sites or business meetings, women may opt for an abaya: a flowing black cloak that drapes over their clothing. The abaya not only adheres to cultural norms but also reflects an appreciation for the local way of life.
Both men and women should also avoid clothing that is excessively tight, transparent, or revealing, as it is considered disrespectful and contrary to the modest standards upheld in Saudi Arabian society.
Greetings in Saudi Arabia are significant gestures that reflect respect and courtesy. A handshake is often appropriate among men, especially in business settings, but in general, physical greetings with a person of the opposite gender are not expected. Direct eye contact, especially between individuals of the opposite gender, should be brief to avoid misunderstanding or discomfort.
A traditional greeting in Arabic is “As-salamu alaykum,” which means “Peace be upon you.” Respond with “Wa alaykum as-salam,” which means “And upon you be peace.”
Maintaining a respectful and friendly demeanor during your interactions is key, as Saudi Arabians value warmth and politeness. Additionally, it’s essential to respect gender segregation norms in public spaces and adapt your greetings accordingly, ensuring they are always appropriate and considerate of local customs.
It’s important to be aware of the gender segregation that exists in some public places, especially religious ones. Respect these norms and follow the guidelines provided by locals or establishments.
Sharing a meal is a cherished tradition in Saudi Arabia. If you’re invited to someone’s home for a dinner, consider it an honor and express gratitude for their hospitality. When dining, it’s customary to eat with your right hand, as the left hand is traditionally used for personal hygiene.
Moreover, during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, it’s respectful to abstain from eating, drinking, or smoking in public during daylight hours, even if you’re not fasting yourself.
Public displays of affection (PDA) are considered inappropriate in Saudi Arabia. This includes hugging, kissing, and holding hands in public. Maintain a respectful distance between yourself and others, particularly those of the opposite gender, to avoid inadvertently offending.
While capturing memories through photography is a natural part of traveling, exercise caution when taking pictures, especially of people. Always seek permission before photographing individuals, and be aware that some locations, such as government buildings and military sites, are off-limits for photography.
Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering these cities. When visiting other religious sites, such as mosques, dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering. It’s also respectful to refrain from taking photographs within these sacred spaces.
As you embark on your journey to Saudi Arabia, embracing the local customs and cultural etiquette will help you navigate the social landscape gracefully and respectfully. By demonstrating an understanding of and appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s traditions, you enrich your travel experience and foster positive interactions and lasting memories with the people you meet. Remember, every interaction is an opportunity to learn, share, and connect across cultures.