Etiquette 101: The Do's and Don'ts of Visiting an Arab Home

Set for dinner
Set for dinner | © Dave Dugdale/flickr
Jessica Harn

Every culture and ethnicity has its do’s and don’ts when it comes to house etiquette, and the Arabs are no different. From what to do with your shoes to how to show you are full during a meal, here is what to do and what to avoid the next time you stop by the home of an Arab friend.

Take off your shoes before entering the home

It’s common courtesy to take off your shoes before entering an Arab home, both to keep the inside of the house clean and also to not show disrespect by walking over nice carpets or floors with your dirty shoes. Just be sure you’re wearing clean socks.

Don’t forget to take off your shoes!

Make sure to greet everyone in the house

Don’t immediately sit down unless offered a specific seat

More likely than not your Arab hosts will have a special living room or seating area specifically for guests, with the best sofas or decorations. Make sure you let them lead you to where the best place to sit is, instead of just plopping down in the closest available seat.

If they offer you tea or coffee, try to refuse a few times to show respect

Instead of quickly asking for or accepting tea or coffee, its better in Arab culture (to at least pretend) to refuse an offering of refreshments from your Arab host to be polite. Don’t worry, even if you refuse a thousand times they’ll still give you lots of drinks and food!

Don’t worry, refusing tea is just a formality and you’ll eventually get your delicious cup of Arabic tea

Don’t finish your tea in one gulp, it’s better to take your time

Once you do have your tea or coffee, it’s always better to slowly drink it and take your time with your host. When an Arab invites you to their home, they’ll want to enjoy your company and expect you to take your time as well; so drinking your tea slowly assures them that you also are enjoying their company!

Try to use the word “mashallah” if complimenting their home

Arabs believe that if complementing something too much, you might end up feeling jealous (either consciously or unconsciously), and therefore think it’s better to say “mashallah” after a compliment. This word simply means that God has willed the thing to be as perfect as it is, and therefore we should enjoy its beauty without any feelings of resentment.

If you compliment or focus too much on one specific item in their home, they may feel obliged to give it to you

Be careful not to compliment an object in your Arab friend’s home too much – in Arabic culture, if someone looks like they have gotten attached to an object then the Arab host will feel obliged to give it to them. This is just another example of how generous and giving Arabs can be, so remember to be careful when complimenting too much.

It’s best to compliment the general home than any specific item in the house

When eating a meal, leave a small amount on your plate to show you are full

If you’re starting to feel full after all the amazing Arabic food you’ve been fed at their home, the only way to convince them that you are indeed full is to leave a small bit of food on your plate. If you keep cleaning your plate, more likely than not they’ll keep giving you more helpings of food.

Don’t face the soles of your feet towards your host if sitting on the floor

Many Arabs sit on the floor on richly decorated rugs and soft carpets, and you may find yourself in a more traditional Arab house where this will be common. Be sure however not to face the soles of your feet towards anyone, as this is considered extremely rude in Arab culture.

When leaving their home, make sure to engage in the goodbyes until you are clearly out of earshot or sight

The final goodbyes when leaving an Arab person’s home will usually take longer than anything you’ll do in their home. They’ll usually accompany you out the door to your car or the front gate of their house to make sure you leave safely, so try to engage in the goodbyes with them to show how thankful you are.

Goodbyes are always just another chance to meet again!
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