How to be respectful to the Arab Culture

Body language  

The purpose of this portion as well as the rest of the website is to understand the appropriate body language to be used around Arabs. Examples of bad body language are given so that you can aviod offensive gustures in the same way that I hope an Arab would learn enough about our culture so as to not accidentally show me his middle finger. So remember these important body gestures and tips.

A touchy subject.

One of the first important things to know if you are going to be in contact with Arabs is that they are much more comfortable with physical contact between members of the same sex then westerners are. It is good to know this ahead of time so that it does not catch you off guard when an Arab tries to hold your hand which they do from time to time as a sign of friendship. This is normal to them so be accepting and keep that fact in mind. Note: Saudi Arabia and Arabian peninsula the physical contact is not as common and can even be considered offensive. On that same note it is always good to study up on each area you might be in, since they may have different standards.    

 Warning: Physical contact between members of the opposite sex has quite a different standard, even slight physical contact with a member of the opposite sex in public can be looked down upon and even illegal in some circumstances for instance in some places it may be illegal to kiss if you are not married to each other even if you neither of you are Arabs! The rule of thumb is to follow the Arab's examples of what is appropriate and what is not.

(Nydell 2006, Understanding Arabs, pg. 37)

(sited for pg.58)

Specific Gestures

X's and O's

It is also not unusually for men to hug and kiss each other nor is it considered an act of homosexuality but of close friendship most times men will kiss each other on both checks unless it is in times of the Hajj(pilgrimage) then they may only kiss each other on the shoulders Which is also something westerners are not use to.

(sited from pg.58)

Eye contact.

Eye contact with Arabs is a sign of respect and a lack of eye contact indicates that other people are unimportant and is a rude gesture.

(sited from pg. 23)

Put 'er there pal (handshakes and greetings)

Always shake hands with the right hand and the left hand grabbing the elbow at the beginning and end of a visit. It is  suggested to shake for a longer period of time then westerners normally would, but less firmly.

Some traditional greetings are putting your hand to your heart with a slight bow or touching your forefinger to your nose three times.

(sited for pg 58)

Normal Gestures

It’s my Obligation” - The gesture of placing the right hand or its
forefinger on the tip of the nose, on the right lower eyelid, on top of the
head, on the mustache or beard has the meaning of "it’s in front of
me, I see it or it’s on my head to accomplish."


“Slow down” - By holding the fingers in a pear shaped configuration
with the tips pointing up at about waist level and moving the hand
slightly up and down signals "wait a little bit" or "be careful. " This
gesture can be observed extensively when driving in the crowded
streets of the Arab cities. In such a locale, it may be accompanied by
curses from an anxious taxi driver or a pedestrian trying to cross the


”Thank You” - Placing the palm of the right hand on the chest,
bowing the head a little and closing one’s eyes connotates "Thank
You" (in the name of Allah).

”I’m thinking” - Grasping the chin with the thumb side of the right fist
is a sign of wisdom or maturity.

– A quick snap of the head upwards with an accompanying click
of the tongue connotates: "No", "Unlikely", or "What you say is false.“

( sited from pg.20)
(sited from pg. 59)

offensive guestures 

These are provided solely for the purpose of being able to avoid the use of motions or actions that may appear offensive 

“I wish evil upon you” - Biting the right forefinger,
which has been placed sideways in the mouth, may
be a threat or an expression of regret. In Western
culture the "A-OK" sign is a positive gesture.
However in the Arab world, if the gesture is shaken
at another person it symbolizes the sign of the evil
eye. An Arab may use the sign in conjunction with
verbal curses.

”I wish you harm” -Hitting the right fist into the open
palm of the left hand indicates obscenity or

”You’re lying” - Placing a half closed hand in front of
the stomach, and then turning it slightly connotes
that the person to whom the gesture is made is a liar.

”I insult you” - Placing the tips of the left fingers and
thumb together so that the hand faces right, then
placing the tip of the right forefinger directly on the
left fingertips indicates an obscenity or insult directed
at one’s birth or parentage.

”You are unimportant” - Showing soles while sitting is
considered rude. and symbolic of “you being
beneath my feet”. Sit instead with soles toward or on
ground to be polite. Also maintain eye contact; lack
of eye contact strongly conveys “you are
unimportant” as well.

( pg. 22)