Dining with the big cheese

How to make a good impression on a first business meeting


First impressions
Status is important and must be recognised by using the correct title. It is customary to use sheikh (chief) for a man and sheikha for a woman, while sayed means Mr and sayeda Mrs. Arabs address people by their first names, so Matthew Smith would be addressed as Mr Matthew

Greet and acknowledge the most senior person in the room first (after the host); stand when older people enter and expect them to be served first at a meal Handshakes can last a long time; if you’re in doubt over when to stop, wait for your business acquaintance to withdraw their hand first

Always use your right hand for handing over business cards as Muslims consider the left hand to be unclean. Too bad, lefties

Punctuality is expected of Westerners – even if it is not practised by locals

Business is personal
Personal relationships, family ties, trust and honour is crucial to business in the Middle East, so get networking – friends in the right places may open doors for you

Initial meetings should focus on building trust

Business is more closely linked to age, money and family connections than to overseas success, so you may find that several members of the same family work for the same company

When making small talk, ask about the general health of your business partner’s family and you can’t go wrong

Gender differences
Don’t panic if your hand is held as you’re led to a meeting room as holding hands, even among men, is common and does not carry the same connotations as it does in the West

Men should avoid touching and engaging in prolonged eye contact with Muslim women, and should not enquire about a man’s wife or daughter

To avoid causing offence, men and women should cover shoulders, arms and legs, and wear closed-toe shoes

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