Ask Ali: The etiquette of business can be complex

In our culture, showing respect to guests is one of the most important aspects of social behaviour. The norms of business etiquette in the UAE are based on it.

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Dear Ali: Some time ago, I was involved in a conference where my company invited some key guests. As always, we allocated exclusive tables for them. At the entrance, we had a concierge to open the doors for everyone. However, when the conference was starting, one of our special guests entered the hall but did not go to his place and kept standing at the entrance. Later, when the concierge pointed to the table and chair where his guest should be seated, he said he would go in during the break. Did we do something wrong? ZY, Al Ain

Dear ZY: In our culture, showing respect to guests is one of the most important aspects of social behaviour. The norms of business etiquette in the UAE are based on it.

It's important to avoid making your guests angry or uncomfortable, because they may not agree to attend your events next time, if invited.

If you want to make your VIP guests feel welcome and comfortable, I would advise hosting a gathering when they arrive. Show some extra care and make them feel that they're very important to you and your event.

Most likely what happened is that your guest didn't feel comfortable just being told where his chair was and would have preferred the main host or the organiser guide him to the allocated seat. It's usually not appreciated if anyone enters an event when it has already started, so perhaps that made him feel uncomfortable as well.

I would recommend that whenever your VIP guests arrive, either you as the main organiser or the main host should be the person to welcome the guests and show them to their allocated seats. It won't hurt to have someone from your team who can follow up with your important guests when they arrive to check everything is OK. Then meet them when they're ready and offer to accompany them to their places to make your guests feel comfortable from the moment they enter the venue. I'm sure that these additional yet simple gestures of hospitality will add great value to your professional reputation, especially here in the UAE.

Dear Ali: Can you explain the meaning of the word labaaih or labeeh? I'm not sure how it's written, but I hear it from my Emirati friends when speaking to their friends and sometimes to their fathers? I personally love the sound of it and I'm wondering if an expat can use it, depending on what it means? JY, Abu Dhabi

Dear JY: I love this word – it’s one of my favourite Arabic and Gulf-dialect words. Emiratis use it a lot, since it means, sounds and delivers great values from our mother language, Arabic.

Labaaih is the correct way to write it. The pronunciation breaks down as lab-baaih.

It’s an expression that delivers an affirmation of conveying your real desire to offer assistance or help when asked by family members, friends, especially elder people and sheikhs.

There’s a reply to labaaih, which is labait haai; you can also use labeet hai or labait hai. This means “may you convey the call of God to visit Mecca during the Haj pilgrimage”.

This stems from times before travel was as easily available as it is today.

So your friends are using it mainly when one of their friends calls them. If you want to use it, then I would go with this simple example.

If your friend calls after you in or outside the office, you may simply reply with labaaih. That’s to give an indication you really want to assist them with anything they wish for.

So, yes, expats may use labaaih – believe me, I’m sure this will shock a lot of Emiratis, because it’s really a beautiful and good word.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question.

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