Hosting Saudi Guests | Essential Business Etiquette and Hospitality Tips for Valued Clients

Mayumi Folio
Mayumi Folio

Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country in the Middle East where various reforms are underway.

With the announcement of the Saudi Vision 2030, the outlook for global business is advancing year by year, and there are more and more scenes of welcoming important guests from Saudi Arabia to Japan.

In this issue, we will discuss how to understand Saudi culture and customs and apply them to business communication as you welcome important guests from Saudi Arabia.

Please refer to the following information on hands-on Japanese cultural entertainment recommended for Saudi Arabian visitors.


Basic Knowledge about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Here is some basic knowledge about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that you should know when doing business with Saudis.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located in the Middle East region and is the 13th largest country in the world with an area of roughly 2,149,690 square kilometers and a population of approximately 34 million.

It occupies 80% of the Arabian Peninsula and is bordered by the Persian Gulf in the east and the Red Sea in the west.

The capital is Riyadh, home to Mecca and Medina, the most important holy sites of Islam, and every year Muslims from all over the world visit Saudi Arabia for the Hajj (pilgrimage).

Economically, Saudi Arabia is known as an oil-rich country, and the oil industry is the country’s main source of income.

The oil industry has led to the development of many domestic and international companies, and Saudi Arabia has become one of the leading economic powers in the Middle East.

More recently, investments in non-oil industries and economic reforms have been undertaken to promote diversification both domestically and internationally.

Politically, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, with the king as the supreme authority.

The throne of Saudi Arabia is hereditary by the Abdullah family, and the King has full political, religious, and military authority and makes important domestic and international decisions

It is also a strict and strictly Islamic state, with very severe penalties for violating Islamic teachings and disturbing public morals.

Foreigners staying in the country should also be aware of this.

See also; wikipedia, ” Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi social class

In Saudi society, there are factions like university cliques.

Clan ties are strong; members of the same class know each other well, and many families are related by marriage.

Therefore, it is important to always be respectful to all ranks, as one acquaintance can quickly become a bridge to a family member or a connected person.

However, it is important to note that some families are rapidly successful, and in some cases the families are dog-eat-dog as in factional warfare, and at the same time, it is an economic class society like the United States.

Thus, Saudi family relations become very important.

What is Saudi Vision 2030?

In 2016, the Saudi Arabian government, led by Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, released Saudi Vision 2030, a set of goals to be achieved over the next 15 years through 2030 and a policy agenda to achieve them.

The business environment in Saudi Arabia has changed considerably and global communication is increasing.

Japan also agreed to the “Japan-Saudi Vision 2030. Many Japanese companies are still deepening their interaction with Saudi Arabia.

Today, Saudi Arabia is making greater strides in modernizing and moving away from dependence on oil through the “Saudi Vision 2030”.

See also: Saudi Arabia, ” Vision 2030.”

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, ” Trends in the Middle East Economy and Outline of Japanese Companies’ Expansion into the Middle East

Business Etiquette in Saudi Arabia

Here are some particularly important points about business etiquette in Saudi Arabia.

Greetings from Saudi Arabia

The Saudi greeting is “As-salamu alaykum” (al-salām ‘alaykum).

It is a greeting, meaning “May the peace of God be upon your head.”

To which the reply is “Wa alaikum as-salam” (may peace be upon you).

Shake hands in order of seniority, always with the right hand.

The left hand is an unclean hand and should not be offered by mistake.

Business cards should always be in Arabic as well.

It is recommended that brochures and presentation materials be prepared in Arabic.

If there are many people in the meeting, it is okay to shake hands only with the host and wave hello to the rest.

When sitting down, it is okay to cross your legs, but be careful how you cross them, as sitting with the soles of your feet showing is a gesture to the other person to “go over there.

Also, do not go up on the carpet with your feet on the ground during prayer time, as prayers are said even during the meeting.

Saudi sense of time

Saudis are generally known to be laid-back, but there are many situations where they are at extremes when it comes to business.

After many meetings and meetings, when it seems that no progress has been made, suddenly there is a sudden development, such as “I want it ready by the day after tomorrow.

It is said to be completely unreadable.

Therefore, negotiations tend to proceed cautiously until a decision is made, although they are decided in a matter of seconds.

And Saudi Arabia is not closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but on Fridays and Saturdays.

Weekends are different from those in Japan, so be careful when making plans.

See also: Global Biz ” Introducing manners, common sense, and culture for business, tourism, and studying in Saudi Arabia.”

Be careful with gifts to Saudis.

In Saudi Arabia, it is customary to give gifts only to those who are truly close to you.

It is important to note that receiving a gift from someone who does not know much about the subject is perceived as an embarrassment.

Gifts as vacation or souvenirs, or gifts to bosses or business partners are quite rude, so basically no gifts are given.

Also, be aware that flattery of a person’s possessions can be taken as a request for a gift of that very thing.

On the contrary, if you are to give a gift, make sure it is of the highest quality.

Gifts to Saudis must be given with great care.

What to watch out for when entertaining Saudis

Here are four important points to keep in mind when entertaining Saudi Arabian guests to ensure polite hospitality.

I don’t use my left hand.

During Saudi Arabian entertainment, the left hand should always be the hand that touches only impure objects, in accordance with the custom of the recipient.

In Islam, the left hand is considered the impure hand and should never be used for eating or greeting.

This is a very important habit, so left-handed people should pay special attention to it.

Always shake hands with the right hand and respect the other person.

When handing or receiving a business card, it is always received with the right hand, not both hands, although this does not feel right from a Japanese point of view.

Thus, it is important to have an attitude of respect for Islamic customs, even from the first impression.

Food and Beverage Considerations

Saudis are strict Muslims.

Therefore, Halal food is the basic diet, and an increasing number of restaurants are offering Kaiseki cuisine with Halal food, which is recommended for business dinners in Japan.

Of course, consideration should be given not only to dinner receptions but also to business lunches.

It is also important to set up the buffet so that people can freely choose from the Halal menu, and to make sure that the “Halal Meal” label is displayed to avoid any mistakes.

There will also be vegetarian and vegan Muslims, so it is important to prepare a vegetarian/vegan meal just in case.

Either way, if we can get confirmation in advance, we will accommodate your height, especially when it comes to food.

Alcoholic beverages are also strictly prohibited, so it is important to check with the restaurant to ensure that alcoholic beverages will not be served at a reception dinner.

Always look them in the eye and have a good conversation.

It is said that Saudi Arabian business is always about “people.

It is said that no project can proceed if only a phone call or e-mail is exchanged, so you must always meet the person and have an eye-to-eye conversation with that person before a business meeting is decided.

So, entertainment is a very important part of doing business with Saudis.

In Saudi Arabia, the common style of entertaining guests is to invite them to your home, but many people tend to accept a Western-style dinner at a restaurant.

Tendency to be cold to those they like and amiable to those they don’t like

Saudis have a habit of communicating more amiably and cheerfully with people they dislike or have difficulty with.

On the contrary, there is an unspoken understanding that it is acceptable to be cold to those with whom one has a favorable impression or with whom one has a good rapport, so it is common for people to say that their attitude suddenly becomes cold after a friendship.

So it is okay to be very cold in front of a large group of people even though you have become close to them.

Take it as evidence that they like you.

Religious and cultural considerations

Saudi Arabia is a strictly Islamic country, and it is important to have respect for their religion and culture when doing business.

In Saudi Arabia, where strict Islamic precepts are followed and practiced throughout the country, the entire population is what Buddhists call a monk, and respect for their faith and daily practice is very important.

Here are some points to consider when doing business with Muslims.

Consideration for the time of Ramadan

During the month of Ramadan (fasting month), you should respect the practice of fasting with respect and understand that your business schedule may be affected.

Ramadan, respected as a period of fasting, prayer, charity, and spiritual purification, is one of the most important religious months for Muslims.

The time of Ramadan is different every year.

The dates of Ramadan each year last for about 29 or 30 days in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

The main characteristic of Ramadan is that Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food and drink.

Be considerate and respectful of the fact that Muslims observe fasting during Ramadan, and never plan a dinner reception during this time, even if you have a meeting.

During the period of fasting, it is a time when Muslims suppress their physical desires and focus on spiritual meditation and increased self-sacrifice.

In Ramadan, a special prayer, Taraweeh, is performed at night.

This is a special service where Muslims gather to recite the Qur’an (Koran) and pray.

And it is also a time of strong philanthropy and community cohesion.

Through fasting, Muslims provide aid and donations to the poor, orphans, and the lonely, emphasizing the spirit of sharing and caring for others.

And at the end of Ramadan, there is a holiday called Eid al-Fitr, a time of gatherings and festivities with family and friends, usually involving the exchange of special foods and gifts.

Thus, Ramadan is a very important element in the Muslim faith and affects the daily lives and business activities of Muslims.

Muslim dietary considerations

Muslims eat foods called Halal.

Halal refers to food that conforms to Islamic food regulations according to the Qur’an (Koran).

Halal diets must avoid pork, by-products derived from pigs, alcohol, and poultry that do not comply with Halal regulations.

For business lunches and dinners, it is advisable to choose a restaurant that serves Halal food or suggest a suitable meal option for the recipient.

Because Muslims avoid pork and alcohol, Halal and non-Halal foods must be strictly separated when preparing and serving food.

During business events and dinners, take care to ensure that the recipient chooses Halal meals and segregate foods.

Some Muslims also choose to eat vegetarian or vegan meals in addition to Halal meals.

When offering meal choices, be sure to consider these options and accommodate their dietary restrictions and preferences.

Alcohol is strictly prohibited

And alcoholic beverages are prohibited for Muslims.

Care should be taken when serving beverages in a business setting, and it is advisable to offer non-alcoholic and halal beverage options.

It is important to be respectful and considerate of Muslim dietary restrictions and preferences.

Respect the other person’s culture and beliefs, and show consideration when dining in a business setting.

With these points in mind, it is important to try to respect the needs and restrictions of others when dining with Muslims and, in some cases, to check directly with them.

Japanese cultural experiences for guests from Saudi Arabia

The goal of the “Saudi Vision 2030” is to create a “vibrant society – promoting cultural and recreational activities.”

Global cultural experiences, previously taboo, are now gradually becoming available within Saudi Arabia.

Here we introduce Japanese cultural experiences that will be appreciated by Saudis.

flower arrangement

Saudi Arabia is a desert country.

Therefore, it is not a seasonal change like in Japan.

Just as natural plants in Saudi Arabia cannot be seen in Japan, Japanese plants cannot be found in Saudi Arabia.

Ikebana flower arrangement is a great way to experience Japanese culture for Saudis.

In the flower arrangement experience, students learn from a flower arranger how to make the most of flowers.

Ikebana is a perfect Japanese cultural experience for business people.

It would be nice if we could prepare it especially with plants unique to Japan.

Ikebana has the element of cultivating decisiveness, finding the right person for the right job immediately, as warlords also enjoyed ikebana, and it is also recommended for team building.

Recommended related article: Why I recommend flower arrangement for foreign team building training

Halal Food Kaiseki Cuisine

If you are planning a dinner reception with guests from Saudi Arabia, we still recommend Halal food kaiseki cuisine.

For Muslims who can only eat Halal food, it is a very relaxing environment to take time to eat a meal with safe Halal food while staying in a foreign country.

And many people want to try kaiseki ryori in Japan because kaiseki ryori is a Japanese haute cuisine filled with Japanese culture.

Kaiseki cuisine is the envy of foreigners because each ingredient and presentation is thoroughly considered, and it is so beautiful to the eye.

For dinners with Saudis who do not drink alcohol, a kaiseki course that allows you to savor one dish at a time may be a good way to slowly deepen your friendship.

Recommended related article: [Now You Know] Entertaining Foreigners with Kaiseki Cuisine

Calligraphy Experience

The Quran, the holy book of Islam, is the Islamic scripture that contains the words of God to the prophet Muhammad.

In Arabic, “Koran (Qur’an)” means “that which is read.

In Saudi Arabia, a strictly Muslim country, “letters” are very sacred and important. In the Islamic world, there is a culture called “Arabic calligraphy,” which is very similar to Japanese calligraphy.

Arabic calligraphy developed through the process of copying sacred prayers to God in a more beautiful manner.

Japanese calligraphy is a “way” to master the art of expressing characters.

There is a commonality between Japanese culture and Arabic culture, both of which hold sacred feelings toward the written word.

Japanese culture experienced through calligraphy, which respects language and characters, is very acceptable to Muslims.

Recommended related article: Experience Japanese culture through calligraphy! Which kanji performance is popular among foreigners?

See also: Koichi Honda talks about ” Fascinated by Arabic Calligraphy: The Ultimate Art of Lettering Taught Me the Arabic Mind “.

tea ceremony

The hospitality of Middle Eastern countries and Saudi Arabia, where “guests are served Arabic coffee,” was inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2015.

Arabs in the Middle East, who were nomads in the desert, have a traditional hospitality in which the host graciously serves guests Arabic coffee called kahwa, which is made by boiling deeply roasted Arabica beans with cardamom and other spices.

It is just like a Japanese tea ceremony.

With this background, the tea ceremony is a perfect way to entertain important guests from Saudi Arabia.

The hospitality in the tea ceremony is similar to their special hospitality, so that what is a polite welcome can be delivered to the recipient beyond words.

It could be said that these are people from countries that naturally receive the profound “hospitality” of the tea ceremony.

Recommended reference article: Tea Ceremony Experience! Reasons why it is popular among foreigners and performance in English

See also, ” Qahwa 101: How to Brew Arabic Coffee.”


In this issue, we introduced some basic knowledge about Saudi Arabia that you should know when inviting important guests from the Middle Eastern country of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is known as a strictly Islamic country, but with the Saudi Vision 2030 announced in 2016, various reforms are underway.

Many Japanese companies are also participating, so the interaction with the Saudis is much deeper than before.

There are many spirits in Saudi culture that can be found in Japan, such as calligraphy and tea ceremonies, and many people who experience Japanese culture are able to understand it more closely to its essence.

By understanding and respecting Islamic culture and customs, we can provide a more comfortable hospitality.

We hope you will be successful in entertaining your valued Saudi Arabian guests.

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