Ask Ali: On conducting business in Saudi Arabia

Ali Al Saloom offers advice on the deeply family-oriented and religious methods of doing business in Saudi Arabia, as well as how to use the global Arab greeting.

Dear Ali: Even though I know the UAE is a GCC country, I've learnt from your previous columns that all Arab countries have their differences. I'm relocating to Saudia Arabia from the UAE this coming year and I will be involved in a Saudi family business. I need some tips. Can you help? JB, UK

Dear JB: As in any relocation process, let your brain and heart meet to determine your behaviour. If we think about each situation based on how we would like to be treated, then relocation becomes easy to handle because at the end we all want the same thing from each other - respect.

In Saudia Arabia, an absolute belief in the teachings of Islam and an adherence to its tenets govern all aspects of life. Almost all business deals will be discussed with reference to the Almighty and the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Thus, being aware of how Saudis appreciate God and showing respect to the Islamic faith is a key to conducting business.

As all things emanate from the will of Allah, a degree of fatalism and acceptance are inherent in the Saudi character. Things will or will not happen according to the will of God and not because of the actions of man. The meeting will take place tomorrow at 9 o'clock - inshallah. (Some will say this also is valid in the UAE.)

Businesses are usually family-based with all senior positions filled by family members. This leads naturally to the development of strong hierarchies, with the oldest male relative being at the head of the organisation. You should do your homework in terms of who is the head of the family and who is in that person's trust circle.

As also is common in the UAE, meetings may mean sitting in a room with people you don't know and who don't know you. Several meetings may take place at the same time, so being relaxed is crucial.

You will be surprised by the number of expats who live and work in Saudi Arabia. It's a great place, especially if you embrace different ways of living and doing business.


Dear Ali: Why is the greeting "Assalamu alaykum" the most common greeting phrase in the Arab world? KD, Philippines

Dear KD: "Assalamu alaykum" is the universal Arabic greeting used by all Muslims around the world. This phrase is the most common form of etiquette. It is also used at the end of Muslim daily prayers.

"Assalamu alaykum" means "Peace be upon you". It is always said in a plural form regardless of whom and how many people you greet. The religious explanation is because Muslims greet both body and soul.

The response to "Assalamu alaykum" is "Wa alaykum as-aalam". It means "And on you be peace". "Salam" means"peace'" in Arabic, which is also what the name of our religion Islam means.

To whom and when should we say "Assalamu alaykum"? Just as you are required to be the first to be greeted when entering a house, the same applies when you pass a group of people on the street. When it comes to families, the young must always greet the elderly first as a sign of respect.

Apart from the Middle East or the Arab world, the "Salam" greeting is common in non-Muslim communities that are thousands of miles away. In the Philippines, "Salamat" means "Thanks", and in Indonesia expressions such as "Good morning" ("Selamat pagi") and "Welcome" ("Selamat dating") come from Arabic roots.


Language lesson

Arabic: Sallem

English: Greet

Whenever my dad entered the house, my mum would always tell me to greet him. "Sallem ala obook" means "Greet your father". Also, when you're abroad and a friend is travelling back home, you may ask him to carry your greetings to his family and yours, so you would say "Sallem ala elahal", meaning "Send my greeting to our family".

Published: November 9, 2011 04:00 AM


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