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Gift giving Tips in the Middle East

Posted by Eve Viens - Corporate Gifts Boston on

When one thinks of the Middle East, the initial thoughts are of high sand dunes, drifting sands, desert winds, Bedouin tents, Palm trees, Arab travelers on camels,maybe Lawrence of Arabia, riding into the sunset on his camel!  Ha! The image of our dreams.

The Middle East of today, although having much sand and all of the above in places, is very much a Cosmopolitan place where traditions go hand in hand with the modern world that we know of in the West. Fifthth Avenue style shops and boutiques abound in the wonderfully cool, marble filled Malls and plazas gushing with water fountains.This being such a sign of wealth in the Arab world where, lets be honest, in the middle of a desert it would be considered gold.

Although these diverse and multi cultural countries are more and more open to the ways of the West, there are still boundaries that should not be crossed when giving gifts, to avoid offense or insult.The Arabs as a race are very proud and generous people, and are traditionally hospitable.There is still the way of the Bedouin, who would give his last piece of bread to a stranger who visited his campfire, even if it meant his family would go without. In turn we should acknowledge this and be aware of their customs, religious restrictions and family honor. But also note that giving gifts is a way of building relationships and doing business in the Middle East.

Islam is the predominate religion in the Middle East.The doctrines of the Koran forbid alcohol, and flesh of scavenger fish (shellfish, Lobster) and animals (Pork) or birds (ostrich).Be careful if there is a likelihood of these items being contained in food products like hot dogs, pate’s, sausages, or even Lard dripping in pastries. No alcohol and in turn be careful of certain perfumes that may contain alcohol. A great alternative if available is Oudh, which is made from tree oil. It is very popular in much of the Middle East and the Far East. Certain countries may be more tolerant than others, but it is worth noting these items when trying to decide on the correct gift for the right occasion.

Traditional Oudh Bottle

Another item to watch is leather goods.Be careful with the type of skin. Pigskin or ostrich although lovely would not be appropriate.Knives are not considered polite as they have a sharp edge, which could be interpreted as a severing of a relationship.Artwork could be difficult if they were sculptures, drawings or paintings of the human body and particularly women.Dogs are considered unclean so no doggy pictures either.

A compass would be perfect for the travelers of the desert lands. Used for checking the direction of Mecca, for the call to prayer each day no matter where he may be traveling to in the World. Silver, crystal, gems, cashmere or high quality leather products of the correct type would be very good choices. Caffeine and nicotine is discouraged in the Koran, but they are hugely popular in the Middle East. In fact coffee shops have a roaring trade, as the scene of much male socializing including smoking whether cigarettes or the shishah ( hookah or hubbly bubbly!)

A Platter of dates, rosewater, nuts, and dried fruit would make wonderful gifts around the time of Ramadan or Eide one of the celebration after the fasting month.Once the Iftar canon is fired at sunset, all Muslims can break their fast and eat. ( See Eide Celebration and Arabian Nights from Corporate Gifts Boston.)   

Eide Celebration

 Eide Celebration and Arabian Nights from Corporate Gifts Boston

Once you have made your perfect choice, remember; never give your gift with the left hand.The left hand is used for personal hygiene and would certainly be an insult.If it is a first business meeting, don’t make the gift too lavish, it could be considered a bribe.

And most definitely do not provide a gift for an Arab’s wife if a first meeting!  This would be a breach of honor.

The Arab people can make wonderful and lifelong business partners and friends.Taking the time to learn their ways and beliefs will aid you in this journey.

In’shallah !  

God willing