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Business etiquette and building relationships

Almost every Qatari you meet will be friendly and welcoming.

There will be plenty of colleagues who are happy to engage you in conversation and work with you, and a supportive recent newcomer will usually help explain the organisation and its politics where needed. Try to learn some Arabic like the basic greetings, numbers, items in the office as it will come in handy, and will show engagement on your part.

Arab colleagues may decline to shake hands with someone of the opposite sex, but men will rarely decline the handshake of another man. A smile as an acknowledgement when you’re introduced to a Qatari woman is sufficiently polite interaction — do not offer to shake hands unless she presents her hand first.

If you’re there to do business, do not rush things — it is a typical Arabic preference to do business with someone they know. Relationships take time to build and rushing through a deal, or attempting to speed up negotiations will have a detrimental effect on your goals. Beware the nods of agreement that happen at meetings — they are not indicative of a commitment because higher levels of management or authority may need to be involved in the negotiations before a final decision is made. You will be invited to meet executive level staff, sometimes just so that they take the measure of you as a person — although this will often feel more like a social moment rather than a business one.

Always get your business cards printed in Arabic as well as English. Try to get several Arabic speakers to tell you what the text translates as in English and find out what the equivalent role is in an Arabic organisation. The Arabic translation of your name will be phonetic and will assist your host if he has not come across your particular moniker before.


As an expat, exercise some humility around money, and any references to it, with local colleagues as you may be paid more than your Qatari counterparts. Better to remind colleagues occasionally that you have an extended family at home, and have made certain sacrifices to be in this nicely paid job. They can appreciate and sympathise with that. Qataris will warm to you more if you talk about parents, children, and siblings. Pets are not as easy a topic; Arabs are for the most part not fond of dogs, especially black ones.


When arriving at a business meeting, you should talk a little about yourself, your family, and why you’re there, but not about the end goal. This occasion is not your only chance to talk, and you will need several meetings to establish a relationship with the person.

It is critical that you avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings in the Middle East — it is considered ill-mannered and badly-judged to rush from one appointment to another. Leave at least a couple of hours between very important meetings so that if you are called upon to wait for someone else to join you, or the agenda is extended, you do not appear impatient or concerned to leave. If you get to choose a venue, it may be useful to schedule it in a hotel lobby if that is possible – most of them are set out with waiter service and you never know who will stop by and be introduced to you.

Being interrupted in meetings with Arabs is not a matter for concern and you should not feel offended. Your host may take telephone calls during a meeting or allow others to interrupt. Again, show no annoyance — you never know when such things may benefit you.

Room etiquette is important. If entering a majlis (a large room with seating/cushions around the edges), greet the most obviously senior person first — more often than not it will be someone’s task to introduce you properly and in the right order. Be especially courteous to elderly people. They have earned their presence and their opinion of you will matter.

If people are seated on the floor they will have removed their shoes. Alternatively, you may notice lots of shoes outside the majlis’ doors. Take yours off and then enter the room and remember that you never take them off when seated. If you sit down before you notice the lack of shoes, stand up, leave the room, remove them, and return. Everyone will politely overlook your movements.

At certain occasions, bringing the host a gift is a lovely touch to show your appreciation and help build good connections but exercise some care over the kind of gift you choose. Be considerate of the religious and cultural climate and avoid causing offence by not offering alcohol, pig or pork products (including pig leather). It is also bad taste to give knives or anything dog-related, and bear in mind modesty and decency with art and sculpture, as nudity (and depictions of it) is not acceptable in public.

In meetings, you may be offered very sweet herbal or cardamom tea or coffee and it is polite to accept and drink it. While you may feel very comfortable with your host, do not cross your leg and show your heels to the person — it is considered aggressive and rude. As are hand gestures, including thumbs up.

Women should ensure their knees are covered when standing or seated, wherever possible.  See our Culture and Customs section for more guidance on dressing for different situations.

When you spend much of your time flying between meetings in and around the Gulf, you need to consider a travel insurance firm that reacts quickly in the face of change or challenge.  If something serious were to happen to you or your family while away from home, health insurance is one of the simplest, stress-free ways to get you back to your home country.  Aetna’s advisors are available to talk you through not only holiday travel insurance, but also cover that will deal with business and other overseas emergencies as well.  Let our experts guide you on the best options for your particular situation.

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