5 tips to understand the Saudi culture
1. Respect the culture and traditions
Saudi Arabia is a conservative country with a strong Islamic culture. It is important to be respectful of local customs and traditions, both in your personal and business interactions. This includes dressing modestly, avoiding public displays of affection, and being mindful of your language.
2. Build relationships
Saudis place a high value on personal relationships, so it is important to take the time to build rapport with your business partners. This can be done through informal meetings, social gatherings, and even gift-giving. While virtual meetings became a norm after COVID-19, in-person interaction is irreplaceable in building the right relationship and can be 100x more effective. When traveling to Saudi for business meetings, reserve time before and after meetings for social chat and especially your evenings for (late) dinners.
3. Be patient and flexible
Things may not always move as quickly in Saudi Arabia as they do in other countries. It is important to be patient and flexible in your dealings with your business partners and the government. It is important to follow up with your business partners after meetings and negotiations. This shows that you are serious about the relationship and that you are committed to the deal.
4. Be prepared to negotiate
Saudis enjoy the process of negotiation, so be prepared to spend some time bargaining over price and terms. It is also important to be respectful of the other party's negotiating and communication style, which may be more indirect than you are used to.
5. Learn a few basic Arabic phrases
Learning a few basic Arabic phrases shows that you are making an effort to respect the local culture. It is also appreciated by your business partners and can help you to build rapport. Learning what “inshallah” really means can be a transformative moment for foreigners.
5 practical tips for conducting business in Saudi
1. National holidays
Saudi Arabia observes several important national holidays, such as National Day and Eid al-Fitr. During these times, business activities may slow down or even come to a halt. It's crucial to plan your business operations accordingly and show respect for these celebrations, as they hold deep significance for the local population. The business also typically slows down during the summer months.
2. Ramadan timings
Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and reflection, is a significant cultural event in Saudi Arabia. During this time, business hours may be adjusted, with shorter workdays and changes in meal and socializing patterns. It's crucial to be aware of these adjustments and show understanding and flexibility to accommodate the needs of your partners and colleagues.
In Saudi Arabia, the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday, with Friday being a day of rest and communal prayer. Most businesses close on Friday, so it's essential to adapt your schedules to this unique weekend structure. Saturday is a workday, but it's still important to respect the cultural significance of Friday.
4. Prayer timings
Prayer is a cornerstone of daily life in Saudi Arabia, with five daily prayers for devout Muslims. Businesses should avoid scheduling meetings, calls, or any form of work during these prayer times. Friday, in particular, is a day of congregational prayer and rest, so it's best to plan your activities accordingly.
5. Dress code
Business attire in Saudi Arabia is conventional. Men should wear suits or at least shirts, and women should wear long skirts or dresses covering their shoulders and knees.
By acknowledging and accommodating cultural practices, you'll not only ensure a smoother business experience but also foster trust and goodwill with your Saudi counterparts.
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