Saudi Arabian Culture - Communication (2023)


Primary Author

Nina Evason,


  • Indirect Communication: Saudi Arabians generally have an communication style. It is common for people to understate their opinion in an effort to save face and remain polite. You may have to make assumptions about what is not said. For example, if you offend a Saudi person, you may not be made aware that you have done so in the moment. They may become silent or cold towards you later on (e.g. perhaps becoming hard to contact or disagreeing with more of your ideas). Other communicative cues, such as body language and eye contact, often convey meaning. As a broad generalisation, Saudi women tend to be more and reserved communicators than Saudi men.
  • Conversation Style: When conversing with one another, Saudis generally strive to maintain group by avoiding individual attention or singling out a specific person. It is common for Saudis to range from subject to subject while conversing, taking a long time before getting to the point. They may make their point in a long, roundabout way to avoid embarrassment or offence. For example, a conversation may begin at descriptions of the weather and move onto a discussion of business. To some, this may appear to indicate that the conversation is going ‘off-topic’. However, appreciate that there is a more relaxed attitude to time that allows conversation to unfold more slowly in Saudi culture. The best way of reaching an understanding is to ask open-ended questions that allow a Saudi to reach their answer in their own time whilst giving agreeable responses as they talk.
  • Hierarchy: People’s communication patterns can differ depending on the context. Generally, when speaking in a business setting or with someone who is more familiar to the person, it is common to speak in a more manner (e.g. openly disagreeing with others). However, people tend to be very and respectful to their seniors, such as elders or professionals. When the eldest person speaks, everybody is expected to listen and pay their full attention as a sign of respect.
  • Requests: If you ask a Saudi to do something for you that is within their means, they will often respond with “I’ll see what I can do”, “perhaps” or something to that effect. If the task is not a high priority or is dependent on their availability, Saudis often reply with “Inshallah”, meaning ‘if God wills it’ (i.e. perhaps, but it is the fate of God if it doesn’t happen). This could mean that they may not complete it for some time (or at all) unless prompted. It is best to follow up several times to check on their progress if the matter is urgent.
  • Criticism: Personal criticism or advice should always be approached sensitively and privately. It can quite easily be mistaken for mild personal offence unless presented in an way. Therefore, try to offer any suggestion of improvement with praise at the same time.
  • Volume: Saudi men may speak loudly with a rising tone. This is seen as a positive characteristic rather than a negative one. Indeed, ‘shouting’ can indicate sincerity and engagement in the conversation, not necessarily anger or hostility. Saudi women are expected to be quieter and more reserved.
  • Language Style:Poetry is a regular feature of Saudi communication, most commonly used for deep praise or insults. People use poetic citations for preaching, greetings and speeches. Saudi/Arabic expressions and language can be very emotive. The structure of the language encourages repetition and exaggeration.
  • Humour: Saudi Arabians tend to have quite self-deprecating humour. People are often comfortable poking fun at themselves. However, some may be sensitive about being embarrassed and laughed at. It is inadvisable to tease another person and/or poke fun at things. It is very offensive to make a joke that involves a man’s female family members, the government or sexuality. Be aware that blasphemy is punishable in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, all jokes aboutreligion are strictly prohibited.
  • Blessings:Blessings are said on a daily basis in Saudi Arabia. These are short Arabic expressions that wish for God’s intervention depending on the situation (e.g. “May God give you health”). Blessings are often said instead of a ‘Thank you’.
  • Swearing: Swearing is very uncommon in Saudi culture and thought to indicate a lack of decorum. If someone does swear, it is usually said in the form of a curse (e.g. “May God curse your family”).


  • Physical Contact: People are usually comfortable hugging and touching friends of the same gender. It is common for two men to hold hands in public when they are sitting or walking somewhere as a gesture of friendship. However, physical contact between people of the opposite gender should be avoided altogether out of respect and (unless they are family).
  • Personal Space:Saudi standards of personal space differ depending on the context. If the person is a friend of the same gender, the distance is often smaller than what Westerners are used to in public. For example, two friends may nestle together when sitting. However, it may be bigger in instances when there is a difference of authority or when the other person is from the opposite gender. It is best to keep at least a metre distance between you and a Saudi person to respect the modesty of the other person if you do not know them well.
  • Eye Contact:When talking to people of the same age, gender or status, eye contact is expected. Strong eye contact indicates sincerity and trust, especially in business. However, males and females are expected to lower their gaze and avoid sustained eye contact with each other. Some men may look at the ground to avoid observing a female altogether. This is considered respectful and observant of the partition between genders. Younger people may also lower their gaze when speaking to elders out of respect.
  • Beckoning:It is impolite to beckon with a single index finger or the left hand. Instead, place the right palm downwards and use a clawing motion with fingers to indicate a “come here” request.
  • Pointing:It is considered very rude to point with the index finger. Instead, Saudis raise their chin and look in the general direction of the object they wish to “point out”.
  • Feet: It is considered insulting to show or expose the soles of your feet to other people. Avoid pointing your feet towards other people when sitting down or crossing your legs around elders.


There is a saying that “to tie an Arab’s hands while he is speaking is tantamount to tying his tongue”. Saudi Arabians tend to use a range of motions and many gestures whilst speaking. These emphasise, exaggerate and/or demonstrate the point of their words, and also give further meaning when little is said. Some common gestures are listed below:

  • Disagreement: People may indicate “no” by shaking their head or disagreement/disapproval by quickly tilting their head back whilst clicking their tongue.
  • Patience:If a Saudi person needs someone to wait, they may touch their thumb, forefinger and middle finger together and motion to the person they wish to ask to be patient. For example, this action may be performed by someone who is speaking on the phone to another person approaching them.
  • Sincerity: Placing the palm of the right hand on one’s chest shows respect or sincerity when saying something earnest (such as an apology).
  • Agreement:To touch the other’s shoulder with one’s right hand can indicate agreement.
  • Obscenity:Hitting one’s right fist into the left hand and lightly rubbing it in the open palm indicates obscenity or contempt. The symbol for ‘Okay’ (with the forefinger and the top of the thumb meeting to form a circle, with the other fingers stretched out) has an offensive meaning, although the Western meaning is becoming more common. Holding the hand up (as if to say ‘stop’) with the middle finger down is the equivalent of giving someone ‘the finger’ in Western culture.

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Saudi Arabian Culture - Communication? ›

Indirect Communication: Saudi Arabians

Saudi Arabians
The word Saudis refer to the name of the ruling family in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today as an inclusive name for the inhabitants of the country. › wiki › Saudis
generally have an indirect communication style. It is common for people to understate their opinion in an effort to save face and remain polite. You may have to make assumptions about what is not said.

What is the communication style of Arabs? ›

The Arab-Islamic communication style is high-context in the sense that most Arabs and Muslims tend to assume that others know the background information. Hence, they don't usually elaborate on the background information when they communicate.

What is a cultural behavior in Saudi Arabia? ›

The cultural setting of Saudi Arabia is greatly influenced by the Arab and Islamic culture. The society is in general deeply religious, conservative, traditional, and family-oriented. Many attitudes and traditions are centuries-old, derived from Arab civilization and Islamic heritage.

What are the cultural practices in Saudi Arabia? ›

Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs, which Saudis learn about at an early age from their families and in schools. The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them.

How does Arabian culture show politeness? ›

In Saudi Arabia, people generally extend an offer multiple times. It is often polite to decline gestures initially and accept once the person has insisted. This exchange allows the offering person to show their sincerity in the gesture, and shows the receiver's humbleness.

What are some common gestures in Saudi Arabia? ›

In Saudi Arabia, the most common form of greeting is a handshake and the phrase “Assalaam 'alaikum” (May peace be upon you), to which the reply is “Wa 'alaikum assalaam” (And peace be upon you). Handshakes are most common in business settings and always use the right hand.

What is eye contact during conversation in Arab? ›

Eye contact during discussions is often long and direct. Long eye contact at women is considered rude. It is offensive to ask a man about his wife or female family member. Arabs don't have rigid schedules.

What is considered disrespectful in Saudi Arabia? ›

You should refrain from holding hands and public displays of affection. This is also applicable in the UAE and the GCC. Gambling is banned in KSA as well as in the UAE. Look out for the family sections of cafes and restaurants; if you are a male who is alone, don't go in.

What is the unique tradition in Saudi Arabia? ›

In Saudi Arabia, when we greet each other, we say “Salam Alaykum,” which means “peace be upon you.” It is usually followed by a handshake if it is a formal meeting, or a kiss on the cheek if it's been a while since meeting that person — especially if they are family or a close friend.

What is Arab culture known for? ›

Social loyalty is of great importance in Arab culture. Family is one of the most important aspects of the Arab society. While self-reliance, individuality, and responsibility are taught by Arabic parents to their children, family loyalty is the greatest lesson taught in Arab families.

What are 5 cultural practices? ›

  • Religious and spiritual practices.
  • Medical treatment practices.
  • Forms of artistic expression.
  • Dietary preferences and culinary practices.
  • Cultural institutions (see also Cultural Institutions Studies)
  • Natural resource management.
  • Housing and construction.
  • Childcare practices.

What are some common cultural practices of Muslims? ›

The Five Pillars are the core beliefs and practices of Islam:
  • Profession of Faith (shahada). The belief that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God" is central to Islam. ...
  • Prayer (salat). ...
  • Alms (zakat). ...
  • Fasting (sawm). ...
  • Pilgrimage (hajj).

What do Saudi Arabians like to do? ›

Many Saudis will spend much of their free time with family or friends in the evenings when the weather is cooler. They might walk along the Corniche, visit cafes or restaurants, or go on a long drive.

What is considered disrespectful in Arab culture? ›

Showing public affection is generally considered rude and disrespectful across the Middle East. Although some cultures within the Middle East might be more tolerant than others, it's generally not a good idea to kiss, hug or openly display intimacy.

How do Arabs show affection? ›

They will surprise you with your favorite home-cooked meal, usually courtesy of their mama. If you're lucky enough, you might even get a taste of their own culinary work. Another tasty way an Arab would express affection is by dropping off shawarma or falafel wraps when you mention you're hungry.

How do Arabs express their love? ›

In Arabic, habibi (masculine) and habibti (feminine) means “my love”. Arabs use this as the most common expression of love - for friends, family, and sometimes, even strangers. Rohi means “my soul mate”. So calling someone rohi means you'll love them a lot longer than your life - for eternity.

How does the Middle East communicate? ›

In general, most Arabs tend to stand closer to their communication partner of the same sex. It is not uncommon for men to set their hands on each other's shoulders, or for two females engaging in conversation to stand within close proximity and use gestures including touching the other's hand during conversation.

What is the characteristic of Arab culture? ›

Social loyalty is of great importance in Arab culture. Family is one of the most important aspects of the Arab society. While self-reliance, individuality, and responsibility are taught by Arabic parents to their children, family loyalty is the greatest lesson taught in Arab families.

How do Middle Eastern people talk? ›

The Arabic language is a Semitic language spoken by people in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Middle East. Even today, it remains one of the most spoken languages across the globe, with countless learners striving to master it.

How different is Arab language? ›

The Arabic language differs according to the areas where the language is spoken. There are main categories, but the language has more dialects that evolved overtime. In Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia, the North African Arabic is the main dialect spoken. In Mauritania, the main language is Hassaniya Arabic.


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