In order to understand Omani business etiquette, it is necessary to first understand the religion, politics and social structure of the Arabic world.
Islam is the primary religion practiced throughout the Arab world. Islamic beliefs heavily influence day-to-day Arab social customs, as well as proper Arabian business etiquette. Drinking alcohol and eating pork, shellfish, and poultry are forbidden by Islamic custom. While not absolutely forbidden, consuming caffeine and nicotine are also discouraged.
Islamic Rule of Law is a system of government that dictates the political, social and economic atmospheres of Arab countries. A wide range of cultural principles – from the way women dress, the rules for marriage, to punishment for crimes - is outlined according to the Islamic rule of law (also referred to as Sharia).
Specific aspects of Islamic Commercial Law may affect your business transactions, particularly if you are marketing products in the Arab world. There are several general themes that define Islamic Commercial Law. These include:
Customarily, to gain respect in the Arab world – both in business and beyond – one should respect, and follow, their rules and guidelines. Traditionally, Arab punishments for lawbreakers are strict and unyielding. These values translate to the rules and laws of the Arab business world.
The Arab world follows a caste system that traditionally prevents mobility between classes. It is generally very difficult to progress from the lower class to the wealthy upper class. The strict social structure of this caste system translates directly into the world of business; power and authority are highly valued in Arab business transactions.
Other values respected in Arab countries include:
• respect for authority.
In Oman, English is usually spoken in business circles, but a few words or phrases of Arabic will be useful and welcome. The traditional Islamic greeting exchanged in Arab countries is "Assalamu Alaikum," which translates to "May peace be upon you and may God's blessings be with you." You could use this translation in place of the English "Hello" or "Good morning."
Appointments are essential and punctuality is gradually becoming more important in business circles. Business meetings are formal affairs, and business attire should reflect this formality. Suits and ties are the generally accepted attire at meetings in Oman. Business cards are widely used, but do remember to get them translated into Arabic.
Islamic culture values structure and order. Therefore, you may want to make sure that you have a well-defined plan for your business meeting. You may also want to write up an agenda for your meeting. Properly communicating your plan will demonstrate not only your organisation and business savvy, but also your knowledge of Arabic culture and values. You will also want to translate this agenda into Arabic.
Showing the sole of one’s shoe to another person is considered to be extremely offensive in Arab countries, as shoes are considered unclean. Therefore, you should refrain from putting your ankle on your knee during a business meeting, or sitting in such a way that reveals the soles of your shoes to your Arab business partners.