The Conservative Ways of The Middle East

Jul 6, 2016

Moving to the Middle East as a teacher has many perks; be it the exciting new culture, the bazars, the tax free advantage, and nice lifestyle. Doing research about your new home away from home is nevertheless necessary to make sure you understand all the “do’s” and “don’t” before you arrive. To help preapre you for a new adventure, we’ve listed some of the more conservative customs of the region. These are likely very different from your home country and very important to the local people.

(Updated December 2018)



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As a foreign women moving to a Middle Eastern country like Oman, UAE or Qatar, you may think that you will need to where a headscarf at all times. However, in many cases it is only necessary at holy sites. In Saudi Arabia however, you will have to wear the head scarf at all times when outside in public. 



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Display of public affection (even married couples) in public are highly frowned upon, and such actions can lead to severe consequences. Please take note that even minor affectionate actions such as giving a hug, or holding hands is seen badly among the locals in public and can potentially lead to jail time.


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While it’s common to shake hands with men, muslim women likely will not want to shake your hand. When meeting a muslim women, wait to see if they initiate the handshake. If they do initiate, go for it but if they don’t, it’s best to keep your hands to yourself. This small gesture will be greatly appreciated and will show that you’ve taken some to research local culture!



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Though it can get hot, and when we say hot we mean extremely hot, expats are expected to dress modestly in public, not showing a lot of skin. Women should cover their shoulders by wearing t-shirts or wearing a cardigan over a strapless top. If you wear a skirt in public then it should be up to your knee and short shorts/miniskirts are a big “No No”. Especially when in family type environments including malls or in the souq (market) you need to be extra careful because if you do not respect the etiquette, then the locals can give you some very unfriendly stares and you may be kicked out.



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Alcohol laws vary from country to country as well as within the different states/emirates of that country. In Saudi Arabia, the only place you’ll find alcohol served is at embassy parties. In UAE, the rules vary from emirate to emirate with Dubai and Abu Dhabi being the most leniant. In those emirates you can buy alcohol from a store if you have a liquor license that would need to be sponsored by your employer. Important to keep in mind that you need to make sure to only consume it at your home and not in public areas. In addition, alcohol is served at 4 star/5 star hotels and at restaurants which have gotten a liquor license (generally attached to hotels). Generally speaking, alcohol is not difficult to find in Dubai or Abu Dhabi while in other emirates like Sharjah, there is no alcohol available whatsoever. If this is important to you, best to research the area you plan to teach in.



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During the Muslim festival of Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise & sunset is forbidden for Muslims. Non-Muslims are expected to refrain from this behavior in public. Non-Muslims should seek out hotels or other establishments catering to non-Muslims during this time.



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It’s important to remember these things while in communication with your future employer. This could be during the interview process or even after you’ve signed the contract. They’ll be taking cues from your behavior to determine whether or not the Middle East will be a good fit for you.

This list is meant to help you prepare for the unexpected. It’s also important to keep in mind the living in the Middle East is a lot of fun! Even in the restrictive city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the embassy parties are a great way “step back on your home soil” and enjoy a drink with friends.

Throughout the Middle East, many expats live in compounds (gated apartments) with other expats where the rules of the regular local streets don’t apply. Inside the grounds life is often times exactly how you remember it back home. We hope you find this post helpful and we look forward to helping you land your dream job in the Middle East!

Banner: www.ius.org.uk

By Ila, Senior Personal Placement Consultant

About our company: Teaching Nomad is an American owned and operated education recruitment company based in Shanghai, China. Our goal and purpose is to help great teachers find great teaching jobs. Year round, we have hundreds of teaching job vacancies. Whether your goal is to be an ESL teacher or teach in an international school, we have a teaching job for you. You can browse jobs online at www.teachingnomad.com/job-search for the latest job openings. Teaching Nomad is here to make teaching in China easier, so please feel free to reach out and contact us with any questions or inquiries!


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