There are many expats who are currently living and working in Bahrain. In fact, almost 50 percent of the population are foreigners! The country is a major hub for business and finance in the Middle East, so it’s a very “international” and cosmopolitan country, indeed.
That being said, Bahrain is also a Muslim country, with a legal system that is based on Sharia Law. This means that the people — Muslims as well as non-Muslims — should adhere to certain customs and practices, including etiquette in the realm of business and trade.
Business Etiquette in Bahrain: An Overview
If you have just arrived in Bahrain or if you are planning to come and work here, be sure to keep the following do’s and don’t’s in mind:
1. DO… Dress formally.
In business, the dress code in Bahrain is formal and conservative. Local businessmen usually wear a long robe called a “thobe,” while foreign businessmen typically wear a suit and tie. Meanwhile, women are advised to dress modestly, with their arms and legs covered at all times. They can wear a long-sleeved blouse paired with a long skirt, or a long dress.
2. DO… Arrive on time.
Setting an appointment before a meeting is a must; you should also arrive on time. The working week in Bahrain typically starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday, while Friday and Saturday are rest days. Some companies, however, may include Saturday as a working day.
3. DO… Learn basic Arabic greetings.
Although English is widely used in Bahrain, learning basic Arabic words and phrases is a great idea. One of the most common greetings is “As-salaam alaykum” (peace be upon you). The reply to this is “Wa alaykum as-salaam” (and upon you be peace). Using greetings such as these will certainly enhance your communication with Bahraini citizens.
In addition, have one side of your business card translated into Arabic. Exchanging business cards is commonly done in Bahrain, so it would be good to have an Arabic translation.
4. DO… Greet the most senior person first.
Bahrain is a traditional and hierarchical society. During meetings, it is customary to greet the most senior first. When a senior person enters the room, it is also customary to stand up and greet them. Remember to use your right hand when shaking hands with others.
5. DO… Address people by their titles.
Addressing people by their titles, such as “Sheikh,” “Mr.,” or “Dr.” is important. Make sure that you use someone’s name and title when greeting them.
6. DON’T… Engage in business talk right away.
Unlike Western culture, which tends to be more direct, Arabic culture is based on personal relationships. This involves exchanging “small talk” and discussing general topics such as food, places, and the weather. Don’t jump into a business discussion right away; this is considered rude and therefore must be avoided. Take your time!
7. DON’T… Shake hands with a woman without her permission.
Generally speaking, Bahraini women are not comfortable shaking hands with foreign men. It is better to wait for a woman to offer her hand in greeting, before you offer yours.
8. DON’T… Refuse refreshments.
Traditional coffee is usually served in offices and Bahraini people’s homes. When you are offered refreshments, be sure to accept, as it is considered rude to say “no.” As cited earlier, use your right hand to accept food; don’t use your left hand to give or receive anything.
These are just some of the things that you should remember while living and working in this country. By knowing and following these customs — whether you’re out in public or in the workplace — you are able to show respect for the local culture and people of Bahrain.