8 Fascinating Facts About Arab Culture

The Arab world stretches across over 20 countries and is made up by more than 200 million people. While it’s important to not use a broad brush to describe those who make up the Arab world, there are many nuances which can be seen whether you’re visiting Egypt, doing business in Qatar, or on holiday in Lebanon. If you’re interested in the Arab world because you travel there frequently or are learning Arabic, you’ll love these 8 fascinating facts about Arab culture!

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1. Arab is not a race

Too often you’ll hear people broadly use the word ‘Arab’ as a term to describe the race of those who hail from certain parts of the world. Not only is it cringe-worthy, it’s just plain ignorant! If you’re planning on spending time in the Arab world this is the first thing you’ve got to get straight so you don’t end up offending anyone. In fact, ‘Arab’ is a cultural term which describes people who speak Arabic as their mother tongue.

2. Honour is important

Arabs take honour and respect very seriously and you should never insult one, not even in jest. It’s disrespectful to mock or shout at an Arab and especially a big taboo when it comes to your elders. Family values and respect for elders are held in high regard in the Arab world and they are key aspects of the culture that should never, ever be trifled with.

3. Not all Arabs are Muslims

Since most of the Arab figures we are familiar with in the West tend to be Muslim, it’s easy to assume that all Arabs must, to some extent, practise Islam. On some level, we’ve come to associate ‘Muslim’ and ‘Arab’ as interchangeable terms, which shouldn’t be the case. While the majority of Arabs are Muslims, you’ll find Christian, Jewish, and a whole other range of religious beliefs in Arabic culture.

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4. Relationships first, business second

If you are travelling to any part of the Arab world for business, it’s important for you to know that there is no such thing as getting right down to business in Arab culture. The first meetings are used in order to determine if a relationship can be developed between the different parties and only then will further negotiations be planned out. Take your time to get to know your business counterparts and don’t feel the need to rush straight to the point.

5. Arabs love bling

It is very rare to find an Arab walking around without at least a little jewellery on. This is because Arabs love their bling and enjoy investing in beautiful jewellery. Arab women, in particular, are known for donning decorative clothing and stunning jewellery for almost any occasion!

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6. Body language has meaning

Body language, no matter which culture or country we’re talking about, has meaning. In Arab culture, it tends to have a little extra significance, making greetings just a tad tricky. If you are shaking hands, extend your right hand and hold the other person’s hand loosely, but for longer. Greet close friends and colleagues with a hug and kiss on both cheeks, but only if they’re the same sex! If you greet the opposite sex this way you risk offending.

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7. Tea and coffee are key

Food and drink are centre points around which almost every culture in the world revolves. Arab culture is no different and Arabs take their love for tea and coffee in particular to a whole new level. In the Arab world, tea plays a huge role in society as it can be served when a host wishes to show hospitality to a guest, or as an integral part of business meetings. Coffee, too, is extremely important and is drunk after almost every meal.

8. Time is not of the essence

Western culture is, in general, much more fast-paced than Arab. In the U.S. or U.K., you might be accustomed to checking your watch and rushing from one place to the next, but if you try to do this in an Arab country your counterpart will find it hugely insulting! Checking your watch tells your host or guest that you are too busy for them or don’t consider them worthy of your time. Better to just put that watch away and avoid the habit or temptation altogether. Yikes!

If you are planning to do business in Arab countries or would like to visit, join our Online Open Group Arabic Classes! Your native-speaking teacher will introduce you to their culture and give you an insiders point of view so you can make the most out of your time there.

Do you know any fascinating aspects about Arab culture? Share them below!