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Turkey: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Melissa Chang |

Cultural Sensitivity, Middle East, Turkey, Turkey


Mosque in Turkey
Photo by David Spender

little mapLocation: South Eastern Europe and Asia Minor; bordered on the Northeast by Armenia, Georgia, and the Black Sea, in the East by Iran, in the Southeast by Iraq, in the West by Syria, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean Sea, and in the Northwest by Greece and Bulgaria.

Capital: Ankara Climate: Typical Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters Population: 71,158,647 according to 2007 estimates. The economy is industry and agriculture based. A growth spurt in private sector has added to the economic strength. Unemployment stands at about 10%. Ethnic Make-up: Turkish 80%, Kurdish 20%

Turkish PortReligions: Muslims 99.8%, Christians and Jews 0.2%. The secular government guarantees freedom of worship. It grants all religious groups the right to carry out evangelistic missions, but arrests of Christian missionaries by the police are common.

Language: Turkish, Kurdish, Dimli, Azeri, Kabardian Government: Republican Parliamentary Democracy

Travel Issues: Citizens of Austria, Belgium, Brazil, British passport holders of Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, U.K., and U.S. require a visa to enter Turkey but can get them at major ports of entry at the border, with a valid passport at hand. This would be for a maximum stay of 3 months. Anything longer requires a visa application.

Health & Safety: Visitors to Turkey are advised to take immunization shots against hepatitis A, typhoid, hepatitis B, MMR, tetanus and diphtheria. Malaria might be a risk if you intend to leave the trodden path and travel in the rural areas.

Brian Snelson
Photo by Brian Snelson


2 boys in TurkeyThe People: For the Turkish people, hospitality is a way of life and goes way back in tradition. They often go out of their way to accommodate a guest and make them welcome. They are very proud about their rich history and heritage and are happy to talk about it.

The Religion: The major religion is Islam and Christians are a minority.

Role of Family: They have very close and possessive family relationships. The seniors are respected and taken good care of till the end. Children continue to live with their parents till they get married and often their financial needs are met right up to then. This care and concern is returned in the old age of the parents.

Whirling DervishRecreational Activities: Strenuous physical sports such as mountaineering, winter sports such as skiing, and water sports in the Mediterranean coast are widely popular.

Anything else important for this culture: Always acknowledge and greet the senior-most person first. Jumping queues is not considered particularly rude, so it’s best to be patient.


Meetings & Greetings: Shaking hands is the ordinary form of greeting. Traditional values and norms of Islam guide everyday manners and behavior. If interacting with traditional people and elders, the Islamic greeting of Asalaam um alaikum is more acceptable. Women are less conservative than in other Muslim nations and may shake hands with males. Close relations kiss on the cheek as greeting and leave-taking.

Turkish Coast
Photo by Kusadasi Guy

ladies in IstanbulCourtesy: It is rude to sit with your legs askew. Always cross them or keep them together, especially if someone is directly opposite you. It is not courteous to inquire about female relatives, but it is acceptable to talk about family and children.

Gift Giving: This is not a particularly Turkish custom. But if you’re invited to someone’s home, it would be a nice gesture to carry some chocolates or candies for the family, especially if there are children in the house. Alcohol should not be gifted to Muslims unless you’re sure they imbibe.

Dress Code: Being a conservative community that values tradition highly, you would be well advised to abide by the prevalent dress code. For formal occasions and business meetings, men wear business attire complete with tie. Women may wear business suits that ensure their skirts are knee length or longer. Informal wear for women should cover shoulders, arms, and legs. In rural areas, a head scarf is advised.

Turkish HousesDining Etiquette: Always leave your foot wear outside when invited to dine at someone’s house. Take along a gift that is not too ostentatious. This should be discreetly offered to the host. Wait to be shown to your seat. There is a protocol to this based on hierarchy where the senior most person is seated furthest from the entrance.

If it is a traditional affair, you will be seated on carpets on the floor and eating from a communal dish. You will have to eat with your hands, and for this you should only use the fingers of your right hand. There will be a ritualistic washing of hands before and after dining.

Vendor in TurkeyVisiting a home: When visiting a home, you need to show your appreciation for the honor by giving a suitable gift. Do not offer flowers, but chocolates, sweets, and fruits are acceptable. Leave your footwear outside. You should accept the hospitality graciously and never decline any offer of food and drink.

Communication Style: A ‘Yes’ is indicated with an upward nod, and a ‘No’ is the same gesture with raised eyebrows followed by a hissing ‘tsk’. You can address a man by his first name, followed by ‘bey’ and a woman by her first name and ‘hanim.’ If the person has a professional title, make sure you use that.

Dos and Don’ts: Being a secular state, alcohol is freely available. But you have to keep in mind that Muslims fast in the holy month of Ramadan from dawn to dusk and it would be a good move on your part to not indulge in their presence. Refrain from conversing about contentious politics or current affairs.

Spice Market Istanbul
Photo by Brian Snelson

Man smiling by cocate
Houses by Veyis Polat
2 ladies by sly06
Dancer and boats by Kivanc Nis
2 boy by Alexander De Luca

Saudi Arabia: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Melissa Chang |

Middle East, Saudi Arabia


economic city

Location: Middle East, with Jordan on its Northwest, Iraq and Kuwait to the North, Red Sea to the West, Qatar, UAE, and Oman to the East, and Yemen to the South.

saudi mapCapital: Riyadh.

Climate: Dry desert climate with extreme temperatures.

Population: 28,686,633 as per July 2009 estimates. Of this, about 5,576,076 are expatriates. No Saudi citizen lives below the poverty line, but there is an unemployment rate of 8.8%. The Saudi economy is driven by crude oil production and the petroleum and natural gas industry. Other resources include cement, plastics, fertilizer, commercial aircraft and ship repairs.

Ethnic Make-up: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%.

saudi ladyReligions: Islam 100%. All Saudi citizens are Muslims and they are governed by the Shari’a Law. Islam is the official religion, and there is not recognition of any other religion. There is a small minority of Christians and Jews who are non-nationals. The Saudi government does guarantee the right to practice other religions, but this is based on the generosity of the ruling class and not defined by law. Proselytising, public practice, and preaching of all faiths other than Islam is however, prohibited. Non-Muslims also come under the Shari’a law.

Language: Arabic

Government: Islamic Monarch 

camelTravel Issues: Saudi Arabia permits travelers to visit for religious, work, and business purposes and, to a much smaller extent, for tourism. Those visiting for religious purposes should have Pilgrim Passes and proof of Muslim faith in the form of an authenticated certificate. Passports should have a minimum validity of 6 months beyond period of stay. Other necessary documents include a valid visa, tickets or travel documents showing return or onward journey, and a Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate if arriving from an infected region within the last five days.

Health & Safety: Saudi society is governed by strict religious laws and visitors need to be cognizant of these. All people, including non-Muslims and expatriates, will be tried under the stringent Shari’a Law in a Muslim court. This makes it highly advisable to steer clear of all trouble while there. Saudi is a fairly safe destination for all who abide by the laws of the land. As for health, no vaccinations are mandatory, but Tetanus and Hepatitis A immunization may be considered. 



The People

shopping in saudiSaudi society is highly patriarchal, and women traditionally follow a subservient role in both home and society. About 80% of Saudi women have a University education, but only about 5% consider it necessary to enter the workforce. Female doctors and teachers tend only to women and not men. Social segregation goes to great lengths in public life. Women are expected to take care of children and run homes rather than be seen outside. Foreign women are allowed some leeway in this regard but are almost never taken seriously if they were to voice an opinion or make a demand. They are advised as far as possible to follow the norms for Saudi women.

The Religion

saudi boyAll Saudi citizens are Muslim. Saudi is the land of the Prophet Mohammad and hence may be considered the headquarters of the Muslim faith. The land upholds this status vigorously, and non-Muslims are denied entry into their holy cities: Jeddah, Mecca and Medina.

Role of Family

Families uphold traditional values that go back hundreds of years. The eldest male is the sole authority when it comes to decision making, and his word is law in the household. Women have no equal rights as men but have to be subservient to them in all matters. Men take care of business and all matters outside of home, while women run the household affairs and bring up children.


pepsi in saudi arabiaAncestors are accorded the greatest respect. Lineage is a matter of great pride and honor to be upheld at all costs.

Recreational Activities

Major cities such as Riyadh have enormous shopping malls and entertainment centers. The Obhir Creek in Jeddah has great water sports facilities such as snorkeling, sailing, waterskiing, and swimming. Other recreation options are desert safaris and sightseeing tours.

Anything else important for this culture

It is important to remember that the month of Ramadan is when all Muslims fast all day long. It would be frowned upon to eat or even drink water in their presence. Remember to respect their prayer schedules which occur many times during the day. Always show respect for elders and seniors and reflect this in your body language. Never make direct eye contact with the opposite gender.



Meetings & Greetings

Members of the opposite gender do not greet or even make eye contact with each other. Women are expected to keep their eyes lowered on meeting men who are not family. Men and women greet each other of the same gender effusively with embraces and alternate kisses on the cheeks depending on the level of closeness. Otherwise they may just shake hands with each other. Foreigners may limit their greeting to a handshake. When in a group, always greet the elders before others.

saudi kingCourtesy

When greeting an elder or superior, it is customary among Saudis to kiss their shoulders to show respect. An elder of the family may be kissed on the forehead. Saudis consider it rude to go straight to business without making time for pleasantries first. Elders are never interrupted or spoken to first; always wait for them to begin the conversation.

Gift Giving

Gifts are not given or expected between acquaintances but rather between old friends and between those who share a strong relationship.Therefore, do not offer anyone a gift unless you’ve established a strong bond with them first. Avoid presenting perfumes, alcohol, or flowers to your Saudi hosts or friends. Chocolates, pastries, well-packaged fruits and nuts would be better options. Gifts are not opened as soon as they are received.

Dress Code

Formal occasions demand a suit and tie for men. Business casual is also acceptable. Women need to keep their arms, shoulders, knees and preferably ankles covered in male presence. A head scarf will make a suitable impression. Avoid heavy accessorising. Jeans, tight t-shirts, and shorts are not acceptable whatever the weather.

Dining Etiquette

skyscraper in saudi arabiaWait to be seated as there is a hierarchy based on seniority and superiority. If seated on the floor, keep your legs crossed under you. Make sure you do not eat before your appointment for there will be a huge amount of food served at the meal. You are expected to try a bit of everything and refuse nothing. Eat with your right hand only and never with the left.

Visiting a home

If you are invited into a Saudi home, it is because you have their respect. Show appropriate appreciation of this fact when you accept the invitation. Bring along a token gift for the children or the home, and never for the lady of the house. So avoid flowers and perfumes if you’re male. Always take off footwear before entering a carpeted room. Dress appropriately to show respect for the host. Greet elders first. Present your gift discreetly or leave it behind unseen.

Communication Style

Social segregation ensures that men and women only mingle with those of their own gender outside family and even during family occasions. Men tend to indulge in long conversations regarding businesses and world matters. As an outsider, you’re not expected to give strong opinions or contradict the opinions of an elder. Saudis tend to gesticulate a lot when they communicate, but this is not an indication of any temper.

Dos and Don’ts

While visiting a Saudi home, do not praise or admire any object in the house, for it will be wrapped up and given to you. Your refusal to accept it would be considered rude. Do not crack vulgar jokes or put down women, for although highly patriarchal, Saudi men consider the honor of their womenfolk sacrosanct. Do not engage in merry making during the holy month of Ramadan.


Map by Image Editor
Boy by André Gustavo
Shop by Alan Light
City, skyscraper by uniquebuildings
Camel by Alan Light
Palace by desrunyan
Prayers by cmonville
King by m_bahareth
Saudi lady by retlaw snellac
Jewelry by Nouf Kinani
Pepsi by Francesco Crippa

Yemen: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |



 pool in yemen

Location: Middle East, with Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, the Gulf of Aden to the south, and the Red Sea to the west.

yemen mapCapital: Sanaa

Climate: Hot and humid climate along the west coast, temperate in the mountainous west, and harsh, hot desert climate in the east.

Population: 23,822,783 as of July 2009. About 45% of the population live below poverty line and the unemployment rate hovers at 35%. Yemen is one of the poorest nations in the Middle East and their economy is based on dwindling oil resources, agriculture, cotton and leather industries, food processing, aluminium and cement. 

yemeni girlEthnic Make-up: Arab including Afro-Arab, South Asians, Europeans.

Religions: Sunni Muslim 70%, Shi’a Muslim 30%, Others such as Christians number about 3000, Jews about 500, and Hindus about 40. Islam is the state religion, but the Yemeni constitution guarantees freedom to practice all faiths. The entire population regardless of religion is subject to the Shari’a law. Proselytising and conversion are prohibited by the Government. Christian missionaries are restricted to working in charity, medical and educational services.

Language: Arabic

Government: Republic

yemen squareTravel Issues: Travel to Yemen requires a passport that is valid for at least six months, a valid visa to enter Yemen, travel documents showing return or onward travel, and an International Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate if you’re arriving from an infected area within the previous five days. Some countries are eligible to be granted visa on arrival and you have to check with your local embassy to ascertain your status. 

Health & Safety: Most countries place Yemen on a status of high risk due to frequent terrorist activities and an unstable political situation. Foreign nationals are advised to stay within the city limits of Sanaa and not congregate in large numbers in hotels and restaurants as groups of expatriates and tourists may invite attacks. Local authorities place restrictions on visiting certain areas that may be dangerous for foreigners and this has to be adhered to at all cost. Sailing or yachting along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden poses yet another security risk in the form of pirates operating in these waters.

 spices in yemen


yemen familyThe People

Yemen used to be the site of ancient civilization but is now one of the poorest nations in the Arab world. The Yemeni people are simple unassuming folk who are entrenched in their age-old traditional way of life.

The Religion

Yemeni people are all Muslims and belong either to the Sunni or Shia faction. Their lives are governed by the Islamic Sharia law that dictates daily routine, food, clothing, and life styles. Great importance is given to the practice of religion by every man, woman and child. Religious observances such as festivals and fasting are undertaken with great zeal.

boy in yemenRole of Family

The Yemeni family is hierarchical with the oldest male member being the most important member. Extended families are the norm. Even within families there is a tangible segregation between male and female roles. Men take care of business which could be anything from agriculture, herding and trading in animals or working in some industry, while women take care of the home and children. Women are rarely seen outside their homes.


yemen swordsmanThe Yemeni people show a great deal of respect for their ancestors. Tombs are revered, even if the occupant is not a relative. In fact, unknown mausoleums are accorded the same respects as family tombs. The Yemeni people bury their dead within walls of mosques and in cemeteries with elaborate rituals and prayers for the departed. They believe in the afterlife.

Recreational Activities

The Yemeni people are extremely friendly and cheerful people who love to congregate as a community and enjoy the company. However, this will be done in segregated groups where women and men do not meet in mixed company. Men enjoy card games and watching sports on television, while women gather indoors to sing songs, apply mending designs on their hands, and catch up with each other.

Anything else important for this culture

The Yemeni are a very conservative people and it will certainly offend their sensibilities if confronted with an unabridged version of western culture. It would be advisable to dress conservatively, no matter how hot the weather. Refrain from alcohol and pork products. Women should not travel alone or even with just other women without a male chaperone.

yemen roof 


Meetings & Greetings

yemen man and daughter

Yemeni men greet each other with a soft handshake that may linger depending on the relationship shared. Women may greet each other similarly or hug and kiss each other on alternate cheeks if they share a very close bond and are seeing each other after a long time. Men and women do not touch or even make eye contact on meeting. If greeting people in a group always greet the older members first. If you shake one person by the hand, make sure you do the same with everyone in the group. If in a large group, it would be more appropriate to offer a general nod at one and all.


It is considered rude to make eye contact or stare at the members of the opposite gender. Women are expected to keep their gaze lowered when in the presence of strange men. Always show respect to older and superior people.

yemen city










Gift Giving

soldiers in yemenThere is no culture of gift-giving as such, but if invited to a home a simple gift would be a fine token of appreciation. Gift giving is only between really close friends and relatives and not acceptable between new acquaintances. So only consider giving a gift to someone with whom you’ve established a deep bond.  Do not make a direct offer of gift to someone of the opposite gender.  Do not gift alcohol or cheap souvenir items. Gift options among Yemenis include handmade carpets, silver handicrafts, and luxurious local perfumes and may just stop short of an expensive car.

Dress Code

Formal suits are acceptable for business and first meetings. Formal casual wear are also considered fine. Women need to dress conservatively and keep well-covered from shoulders to ankles. Local women wear the hijab or tunic that covers them completely. While foreigners are not expected to wear this, a head scarf would be a good idea.

Dining Etiquette

yemen supperDining may take place seated on the floor on lush carpets supported by comfortable cushions or on modern furniture depending on where you are. Food is almost always eaten off a communal bowl. Always wait to be seated. You have to wash your hands and be clean before sitting down to dine. Commence eating only after the eldest member has begun. Eat only with your right hand. Your plate will be refilled till you have tasted everything on the table; so go prepared. Your refusal will be taken as a sign of politeness on your behalf and you will be pressed to eat more. Guests are expected to have three cups of tea. Gently wobbling the cup side to side is an indication that you do not want more.  Do not smoke while at the table.

Visiting a home

If invited to a Yemeni home, it is a sign of your being accepted. It is a rare honour and you should show your appreciation. Dress neatly and conservatively to show respect for your host. Leave your footwear outside the entrance. Carry a token gift that you should offer discreetly to the children or leave behind unobtrusively. Never offer money or very expensive gifts.

Communication Style

Yemeni people will never come out with an outright negation and say No. they have the urgent need to save face—theirs as well as yours. So, it would be wise to take a hint and recognise a Yes which could in fact mean a polite No. They value respect and good manners and this will place you in their good books making future communication a piece of cake.

  yemen agriculture

Dos and Don’ts

The Islamic law or Sharia has extreme penalties for law breakers. Ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law and this will entail the same penalty as a criminal offender. Long prison sentences and heavy fines are the breaks even for what you might consider minor offences. Yemeni society is highly patriarchal and so men tend to dominate women in all fields. Even foreign women may not be spared a taste of this attitude. However, though considered inferior, women are treated with a good deal of respect and dignity. Do not take photographs of military installations, local women, and mosques without permission.

swordsman by mavilimon
pool by Arab in far east
boy by kevincure
all others by Ai@ce

Iran:Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Asia, Iran, Iran, Middle East, Regions



Location: Iran is located in the Middle East in Asia. It has the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to its north, Afghanistan to the east, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south, and Iraq to the west

Capital: Tehran.

Climate: Iran has an arid, subtropical climate.


Photo by N_Creatures

Population: As of July 2009 the population of Iran is estimated to be 66,429, 284. About 18% of the population live under the poverty line, and there is an unemployment rate of about 12%. The Iranian economy is heavily dependant on the oil and petroleum industry. High oil prices have netted Iran nearly $100 billion in foreign exchange reserves. A 2008 estimate pegs the nations GDP at $842 billion.

small bldgEthnic Make-up: Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, Others 1%.

Religions: Muslims constitute 98% of the population of which the Shia constitute 89% and the Sunni, about 9%. Other minority religions include Zoroastrian, Judaism, Christian, and Baha’i.

old manLanguage: Persian 58%, Turkic 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, Others 2%.

Government: Islamic Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Iran calls for a valid passport, Iranian visa, tickets and documents showing return or onward travel. No vaccination is mandatory. Some nationals are eligible to receive a tourist visa for 7 days on arrival at Tehran airport.

Health & Safety: No vaccinations are required as part of travel to Iran. However, it would be advisable to be immunised against Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Typhoid, Malaria, and Diphtheria. It would also be a good idea to inquire at the local consulate regarding any attacks of virulent flu that may be prevalent at the time of travel and take precautions accordingly.

Photo by Hamed Saber


The People
The Iranian people are friendly and hospitable but extremely conservative in their ways of interaction. They belong to an ancient culture and hold deep-rooted customs and attitudes that foreigners need to inform themselves about in order to understand and appreciate them better. They are a multicultural society including minorities such as Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds, and Baluchs who have their own unique traditions and customs dating back thousands of years.

Photo by N_Creatures

The Religion
girl in iranThe official religion of Iran as per the Constitution is Islam. Zoroastrian, Judaism, and Christianity are recognised as minority religions and may be practised by adherents. Religions other than those officially recognised, such as the Baha’i, are not allowed freedom of practice and may face persecution. Evangelisation is considered illegal.

carpetRole of Family
Extended family is the norm outside of the big cities of Iran. Nuclear families are still the exception even in the cities. Kinship and family ties are attributed the highest importance. The individual is dependant on the family for identity as well as power, position, and security. There is a definite hierarchy with the oldest male patriarch at the head down to the women and children.

Ancestors are looked upon with a lot of reverence in Iran. Their memory is held sacred and seen as a source of identity and belonging. Often families are able to trace their lineage to historic times.

money1Recreational Activities
Games like chess and similar board games are enjoyed by the older generation. Football is a passion among the younger crowd. Traditional games include camel racing and desert safaris.

Anything else important for this culture
Life in Iran is governed by Islamic law called the Sharia. There are strict codes to follow as far as dress, behaviour, and travel are concerned. Rules are far stricter for women than for men, especially in areas outside the cities. Women should avoid travelling alone and be very discreet when travelling with men who are not their legal husbands. Hotels may demand a marriage certificate before allocating a room for couples.

Photo by Hamed Saber


Meetings & Greetings
A handshake is an accepted form of greeting between men. Iranians greet each other by hugging three times on alternate shoulders accompanied by kisses on the cheek. Women greet each other similarly. When it comes to the opposite gender, conservative Iranians do not make eye contact or shake hands but keep a discreet distance. A slight bow to each other is then the accepted form of greeting.

Photo by Hamed Saber

smokerDo not attempt to make eye contact with people, especially of the opposite sex. During the month of Ramadan, it is common courtesy to not indulge in merry making or loud talking as the Muslims will be in a state of prayer and fasting all day long. Even chewing gum in their presence will be considered inappropriate.

Gift Giving
An ideal gift to carry if invited to an Iranian home would be a box of chocolates, or pastry, or flowers. This should be offered discreetly or left behind unobtrusively. Gifts are not opened when given and will be quietly laid aside. On Iranian New Year, Nau Roz, money in the form of new notes and gold coins are handed out by elders to those in their service.

sheepDress Code
The dress code for men in formal situations would be a jacket or coat. Full sleeved shirts and trousers are acceptable in warm temperatures. Women may wear trousers and long skirts that go below knee level and preferably reach the ankles. If visiting religious sites, women are advised to wear the traditional full length clothing known as the chador. A head scarf is advised at all times.

Dining Etiquette
Dining may either be at a table with cutlery and utensils or on a lush carpet amidst cushions with bare hands. Always wait to be seated as there is an order of seating based on a social hierarchy. Iranians are known for their hospitality and this shown by the large servings of a huge array of dishes. The guest is expected to eat a bit of everything and will be offered second and even third helpings. Your refusal will be taken for sheer good manners and so it is best to leave a little food on the plate to show you have had enough.

old manVisiting a home
If invited to an Iranian home always arrive on time. Invitations may not include spouse or partners and this must be confirmed beforehand. Take footwear off at the entrance to the house and enter barefooted unless asked not to. When invited to eat or drink, it is customary to decline politely till the host presses you to accept.

Communication Style
Communicating with Iranians can be tricky because they will not say a direct No even if they have no intention of complying with your request. A direct refusal is considered rude. Similarly they will show a lot of humility and pay compliments which should not be taken at face value as they are just being polite even if they are annoyed. This is known as the taarof and is part of treating guests with honour and kindness.

2 ladies
Photo by N_Creatures

Dos and Don’ts
Travelers who have visited Israel may be denied entry into Iran. Women applying for a visa should be photographed wearing a headscarf in their passport photos. Drug use and trafficking may be punished by execution. Alcohol and pork products are banned absolutely. Public display of affection and even holding hands is frowned upon. Homosexuality, pornography, and adultery are illegal and may entail the death sentence. The thumbs up sign is considered obscene.

Photo by N_Creatures

adobe home, family by carpet, smokers, old man by N_Creatures

iran girl, old man, sheep by babeltravel

Iraq: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by admin |

Iraq, Iraq, Middle East

Photo by Army.mil


Iraq MapLocation: Iraq is located in the Middle East and has borders with Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and the Gulf of Oman.

Capital: Baghdad 

Climate: Very hot, dry summers and cool winters that gets colder in the northern regions. The northern regions experience snow in winter that melts and causes flood in spring.

Population: As of July 2008 the population was 28,221,180.

Iraqi ManEconomy: The Iraqi economy is driven by its enormous oil reserves and petroleum based industries which accounted for about 95% of its earnings. Chemicals, textiles, agriculture, leather, construction infrastructure, fertilizer, and metal processing used to be other important contributors to the economy. War has considerably changed the economic landscape of the country. An unemployment rate of up to 30% was recorded in 2006.

Ethnic Make-up: Arab 80%, Kurds 15%, Others 5%.

Religions: Muslim 97% (Shia Muslims 65%, Sunni Muslims 35%), Christians and Others 3%.

Language: Arabic, Kurdish, Turkoman, Assyrian, Armenian.

Government: Republic.

Iraqi Children
Photo by Army.mil

Travel Issues: Presently being in a state of war and extreme conflict most countries deter their citizens from travelling to Iraq. While visas for religious visits are not being granted, that for tourism is granted under specific circumstances. Those intending to visit Iraq need to contact their embassies in order to get the latest information and travel restrictions. In normal situations travel to Iraq requires a valid passport, Iraqi visa, and a return ticket.

Iraqi WomenHealth & Safety: Travel to Iraq mandates the need for immunisation against Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Typhoid. Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, Malaria and Rabies vaccinations are sometimes recommended. Yellow fever shots are required from travellers coming from affected areas. Specific information relating to current guidelines should be had from embassies closer to date of travel.

Water and milk should be boiled before consumption. Tap water is not recommended even for daily ablutions, making ice, or any other personal use. It is safer to peel fruits and vegetables after washing thoroughly. The medical system is not as efficient as it used to be and it is safer to carry personal medication with you. Hospitals are often overcrowded and doctors stretched to the limit. Payment for medical services is expected in cash.


Baghdad Father
Photo by Army.mil

The People: The history of Iraq has been plagued with conflicts which has caused general perception to be somewhat distorted when it comes to its amazing culture. Dating back to the Mesopotamian civilization is a cultural background which still dictates terms when it comes to society, customs, and beliefs. While that being so, pre-war Iraq was a modern society enjoying the benefits of education, world-class medical and scientific fraternity, infrastructure, and telecommunications. The ongoing war has however set the country back to devastating levels that experts fear may leave lasting scars.

Iraq PalaceThe Religion: Islam is the major religion of Iraq followed by about 97% of the population. A 3% minority adhere to Christianity, Judaism, and other religions.

Role of Family: Close affiliation with extended family is a hallmark of Iraqi society. Families of up to three generations, if not more, come under one unit and live together in traditional societies. In the urban scenario nuclear families live separate from the extended unit but are never independent of them when it comes to major decision-making and celebrations.

colorful girl by klika100Older family members are always deferred to and shown a great deal of respect when it comes to opinions and status. Strong values of loyalty and obedience are inculcated in children at a very early age. Businesses and occupations are handed down and taken care of by the male members of a family. Property and wealth is owned by family rather than an individual. Male kinsmen are very protective of the honour of women.

Ancestors: Lineage in families is traced way back to ancestors dead and alive. It is a very important feature in Iraqi society to know your roots and have an identity. Values and culture are handed down as a matter of routine from ancestors and there is very little change in attitude in spite of modern lifestyles.

fish cookingRecreational Activities: Football was played with a passion in pre-war Iraq and was the most popular national pastime. Camel racing, desert safaris, and other ethnic sport forms used to enjoy a lot of popularity.

Anything else important for this culture: The Iraqi lifestyle is strictly governed by Islamic laws in all walks of life from clothing to general social etiquette. Any discrepancies may entail serious consequences. Visitors need to be fully conversant with local behaviour and norms in order to avoid any unpleasant outcomes.


Baghdad Highway
Photo by jim.greenhill

Meetings & Greetings: There is a certain element of formality involved in meetings. You are expected to stick to formal courtesies. Men exchange handshakes and business cards printed in both English and Arabic. Arabs greet each other by embracing and kissing on both cheeks. There is a lot of general conversation even in business meetings in order to judge character and personality of people involved.

Women are rarely to be found in business and any greeting would have to be initiated by them. Outside of business it is normal for women to remain out of the spotlight and you are not expected to enquire or refer to them directly.

2 boys in IraqCourtesy: You are expected to address people by their family names and show respect especially when addressing seniors. Wait till you’re introduced properly before starting a conversation. You do not go directly to the business at hand but rather make small talk about affairs in general.

Gift Giving: If invited into a home, it is customary to arrive with a token gift. Chocolates, well-packaged fruits, nuts, and snacks are recommended gifts for families. Do not offer wine or any form of alcohol as gifts. If you are presented with a gift do not open it in front of your guests.

Shop in IraqDress Code: Formal occasions and business meetings will find men suited up and well-groomed. Hot summers may allow the exclusion of suits but formality needs to be observed by keeping sleeves down and shirts buttoned up. Informal situations do not require such austerities for men, however, women need to keep their shoulders, arms, knees, and legs covered regardless of occasion. Women would also do well to wear a head scarf in keeping with the dress code for local women. Make-up should be low key or minimal in order to do away with unwanted attention.

Iraqi FamilyDining Etiquette: When invited to dinner it is customary to bring a gift. Traditionally meals are often taken seated on the floor. But these days you are more likely to be seated at a table with all modern cutlery and utensils at hand.

Visiting a home: Wait till you’re shown to your seat and invited to be seated. Even if you are on friendly terms it is better to be not over-friendly and too casual, which means you do not place feet on coffee table. Always maintain decorum and this will earn you a lot of respect.

Communication Style: Seniors initiate conversation and others are expected to wait their turn and offer precise answers. Interruptions, jocularity, and raised voices are a mark of disrespect when talking to people who outrank you in age, status, and social ranking. You do not hold direct conversations with women under ordinary circumstances. Foreign women may address men directly but it is advisable to maintain the right body language, avoid direct eye contact, loud laughter, and proper use of a head scarf.

Palm Grove
Photo by Army.mil

Dos and Don’ts: Muslims have a lot of dos and don’ts that guide their lifestyles. It is a great idea to adopt these styles when in their country. While foreigners are not expected to follow these maxims it will increase their respect for you if you do so. Once you’ve earned their trust and respect life becomes a lot easier and relaxed.

Utmost importance needs to be given to their prayer times especially on Fridays. Avoid drinking, smoking and other frivolities during these times. Muslims go on rigorous fasts during the holy month of Ramadan. It would be insensitive on the part of non-Muslims to make merry during these days in their society.

Single women travelling alone invite trouble even during more peaceful times. There are extremely fundamentalist pockets where women should take extreme care to keep out of trouble. It would be a good move to take advice from locals before venturing into these spaces.

Map by ImageEditor
Column photo by markwgallagher
Shop and Colorful Girl photos by Klika100
Fish cooking photo by basrawii
Man, family, father, women, and boys photos by Army.mil

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