Saudi etiquetteBack to Forum
Anonymous20 Feb 2014
hi, not really a true travel question but more of a cultural one. I am going to Saudi to meet some very senior government officials and their colleagues refer to them as HE (His Excellency) Dr xxx xxx always His Excellency. I wonder when I meet him, do I say for example please to meet you Your Excellency. or pleased to meet you, Dr xxx xxx, or both, Your Excellency Dr XXXXXX ? any advice ?
also the guy has a really really long name about 5 different bits, do I say them all of just Dr xxx ?
and I guess hand shaking for men is ok ? wait for him to offer or launch in right away ? and for women a big no no ?
thanks20 Feb 2014
My experience is you start off with ” your excellency” then after you address him as Dr. Xxx. I suggest you have a quick word with his secretary as to which name he or others use.
You’ll likely find after a few visits he’ll address you by your first name, in which case it’s fine to reciprocate, but if referring to him to a junior colleague always say “Dr. Xxx suggests” rather than “Abdul told me”.
Never ever shorten a name. If his name is Mohammed, and you’re on first name turns, never say for example “morning Mo”. That would be very offensive.
Hand shaking is fine. Just offer your hand, he’ll do the same anyway to a westerner, and if it looks like he’s cleaning his hand after touching yours it’s not the case. He’s expressing his greetings come from his heart.
Finally, it’s very unlikely you’ll meet any women. If you do never offer your hand. Just acknowledge and bow the head slightly. If she offers her hand then it’s fine.20 Feb 2014
In my experience ‘Your Excellency’ (or ‘Your Royal Highness’ if it’s a member of the royal family) is the protocol.
Shaking hands is fine, wait until offered by the senior people. Women and men shaking hands is a complete no-no and it would be very unusual for a female to be present on your side or theirs, particularly in Riyadh, less so in Jeddah.20 Feb 2014
My Brother and his family have lived in KSA for going on 25 years now, and I have visited often, and likewise lived there when I was younger in both Jeddah and near Dhahran. If someone is introduced to you as HE, then by all means it would be correct to address him as Your Excellency, Dr. XXX. They will normally advise you which of their many names to use, but a safe bet is to use the first one or two, the use of all their names is usually when they are being introduced or announced. There are over 60,000 members of the extremely extended Saudi Royal Family so the chance of running into an `Excellency` are very high, in particular as almost all government positions of any importance are a member or related to the Saudi Royal Family. What I have found is that a huge majority of high end Saudi Business men are Western Educated, and while they appreciate the respect of their titles, many will let you know after the first Your Excellency, if they expect you to continue in such a vain. Shaking hands is of course commonplace between men, and as you say not advised with women within the Kingdom as in the Kingdom they are rarely present on such occassions, however, outside of KSA, many Saudi Female Nationals again resort to Western norms, just fly into/out of Saudi to see them putting on or taking off their coverring clothing prior to arrival in Saudi or after taking off from Saudi. Be sure when you cross your legs to not show the sole of your shoe as this is considered an insult, never expect meetings to start on time, and be very patient. If I recall correctly FDOS who frequented this blog travelled often to Saudi, as have many other posters, so I am sure they will be able to share their insights as well. The Kingdom is a fascinating place to visit, the hotels are magnificent, and I have always enjoyed my time there.20 Feb 2014
The heads of most government departments and even large businesses can quite often be reffered to as “His Excellency” although its not a permanent title, like with a Prince. If they leave / retire, they go back to normal.
The full name relates to the family line, so XXX bin YYY bin ZZZ AL-AAA means XXX son of YYY son of ZZZ. This goes back to which side of the family heritage they come from.
Any Al-Saud is royalty, but could be a very minor prince, as their are approx 5,000.
Things are changing, women are in much higher positions these days and are quite often western educated.
Its not uncommon for women to be present in meetings and they may well offer thier hand, depending who else is present at the time and how strict / religous they may be.
Basically, just follow the lead.20 Feb 2014
PS. If you get to know them very well, and they invite you to their home, they’ll likely be there with other friends. As he greets you he may kiss you. Don’t what ever you do recoil in horror 😉 It’s usually air kisses cheek to cheek sometimes with a bear hug to go with it. But then you’ll be pretty good friends for that to happen.
If being passed food, always use your right hand, even if you’re left handed. And if offered the eye of the sheep feel free to eat it if you want, but if not no-one will be offended if you say no thanks. It’s a bit of an urban myth and sometimes the Saudi’s love to joke with westerners about it, so expect silence and all eyes on you to see what you do!
Let us know how you get on.20 Feb 2014
thanks everyone for the comments, really really useful. I am there on Sunday to meet His Excellency… so will be great, the press will be there also, so I may get on a photo or TV with him !! fame at last…20 Feb 2014
The sheep’s eye has been done on me just three time Dutch. I think it was a bit of a set up but caused great merriment and really broke the ice.
As Simon says Travellwell, if a member of the RF then “Your Royal Highness” is a must, but like with our own RF after the formal presentation “sir” is fine when addressing him.
It’s extremely unlikely you’ll be alone so just follow what others are doing.
Oh, yes, be patient, but never be late yourself. From my own experience, high level meetings, especially in ministries that deal with the west, such as the Oil Ministry, will always be punctual.20 Feb 2014
If you can, see if your host can arrange somebody to meet you from the plane and assist with immigration.
It can be a nightmare. First off the plane, but find yourself behind another plane load of passengers.
Every new visa requires a digital photograph and fingerprints to be taken, so takes quite a while.
Last time I flew into Saudi I waited well over an hour, then got processed in about 30 seconds as I have a resident permit.
Luckily I`m working / living on east coast so only fly from / to Bahrain now and enter Saudi by road.20 Feb 2014
“morning Mo”: LP, you made my day! 🙂
Kissing: Have a look at this great 7 minutes talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/maz_jobrani_a_saudi_an_indian_and_an_iranian_walk_into_a_qatari_bar.html20 Feb 2014
Great video Swissdiver. Made me laugh but how true. I couldn’t remember how many times the Saudi’s kiss, it seemed to vary, but Max explained it nicely.
As a by the way, I see in today’s FT BAE just got a big Saudi contract. Well done to them and team GB who no doubt helped.20 Feb 2014