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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

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