If you have never been to a country in the Middle East before, then it can seem like a place that is foreign, confusing, and even a little chaotic. Nonetheless, there are many reasons why a trip to one of the countries, from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain or Egypt is worth it.
You might be someone that is compelled to visit, with family connections taking you there, heritage or religion, and even work commitments, with many large companies being based in a number of these countries. Or, you might be someone who just wants to travel to new places, especially ones that are quite different to what you are used to, and simply want to experience an amazing part of the world.
Planning a trip to somewhere new can feel pretty daunting, right? In fact, planning a trip to the Middle East can feel like one of the most daunting because of things like political turmoil, extreme weather conditions, religious differences, and cultural differences. But a lot of that is just what we hear on the news, and not the everyday normal things that are going on. There are a whole host of great destinations to choose from, warm and friendly people, and they are always willing to help show off their homeland to you and help you to learn and enjoy your visit. Which is why booking the best Egypt tours, and tours in other countries, can be a really good idea. The locals do know the best things to see and do, and they can make sure that you get the most out of your time there.
Of course, the learning can start before you head off to the airport, as there are some differences and knowing a few things to be prepared for can really make things easier. So whether you are planning to go now or in the future, having some basic tips and a little know-how before you head off is always a good idea. You never know where your travels might take you next, so read on and you’ll be ready for anywhere.
Each Country is Unique
If you are familiar with the Middle East, then you are likely to already know that the words ‘Middle East’ mean a region, or group of countries, rather than one place. And each country within that region has a unique history, culture, and different languages or religious practices. It can be quite easily to naively talk about ‘the Middle East’ as one big, generic place, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. There are different languages, ethnicities, and histories, so recognizing that all of the countries are unique and different is a really good idea to get you started. It would be like saying that all European countries are the same, and that is obviously something that is very far from the truth. So make sure that you do your research on the norms and customs of the particular country that you are planning to visit.
There are some things that might not vary a whole lot, if you are in predominately Muslim countries, for example. But there are plenty of things that do vary, and you need to check what is or isn’t required. For example, in countries like Saudi Arabia, women, whether Muslim or not, need to be covered up. But in other Muslim countries, like the United Arab Emirates and in cities like Dubai, women don’t need to be covered up, unless they are doing so as part of their faith.
Having said that, places like Dubai, especially in public areas such as shopping malls, still request that you dress respectfully and modestly, without excessive cleavage showing or thighs, for example. This will be even more so when visiting during the holy month of Ramadan, when the expectations are more respected. So a good general ‘rule of thumb’ with the Middle East is that you should dress respectfully. If you were on the beach then they expect you to be wearing beachwear, of course. But on your way back, putting something over is more appropriate, rather than having your midriff on show. Both men and women should all engage in conservative dress; it isn’t just something that women should observe. It’s more likely that no one is going to tell you to cover up, but it will show your ignorance and make you look disrespectful if you don’t.
No Bacon or Alcohol
If you are planning to eat out, which let’s face it, is more than likely to happen as you’ll be on vacation, then you need to remember that you are unlikely to see many pork dishes on the menu. The tenets of Islam forbid the preparation and eating of pork, so for most places, it is something that definitely won’t be found on the menu. Even in chain restaurants, because the majority of the Middle East is Muslim, they are unlikely to serve it either.
Another thing to note, especially if you were planning the trip for a special birthday or anniversary, is that there is likely to be a notable lack of alcohol for sale too. Again, Islam has a similar rule against drinking alcohol. There may be some places that serve it, depending on the country that you are in. But you shouldn’t expect a Muslim host to have any for you, even at a business event, for instance. An alternative to try when you’re out there, when in Rome, and all of that, is hookah. This is a Middle Eastern custom, where flavoured tobacco, or shisha is smoked. This isn’t something that everyone does, but it may be something that you come across on your travels.
Haggling is Usually Expected
There are different rules for different places, but a lot of the East do haggle and have some different customs around money and selling. It can be a little baffling if you’re not used to it and are visiting for the very first time. It can even happen in Middle Eastern stores, not just markets, so it is something to think about when you’re over there. Coming from the West you are likely to think that the price is set, but more often than not, they are expecting you to haggle a little. Prices can even be stated a little higher than they actually are, so that you can barter for a better price. It is all part of getting to know one another, and ‘doing business’ but it is just so different from what westerners are used to, that it can feel a little odd. Just make sure you’re keeping track of the exchange rate to see if what you are haggling for is actually a good price and a good deal.
If you don’t know what Baksheesh is, then it is another custom in many parts of the Middle East, that can seem quite familiar to you. But when you learn more about it, you’ll quickly learn that it is a little strange, especially if you’re new to it all. Baksheesh is what is translated or known as ‘tips’ to those that speak English. The thing is, you might normally just expect to tip in a restaurant or if someone brings your bags to your hotel door or bags your groceries. But this is all about asking for a tip for just about anything, whether it is necessary or not. They aren’t shy about it either! You might think that someone is being kind to offer to take a photo, for example. But really, they want a tip for doing so. It is also pretty much expected that those that work in hotels, valets, restaurants, and general hospitality services, should be tipped. Just be careful with everything else, and don’t feel the need to tip if the service hasn’t been good enough.
Check the Calendar
It is important to check the calendar for when you plan to visit, as you will want to make sure that you are visiting at a time that will work for you. For example, if you wanted to visit with young children, such as toddlers, then visiting during the fasting month of Ramadan can be tricky, as food can’t be eaten in public. There are ways to do this, and you can eat in your room and at some restaurants, but snacks on the beach, for example, wouldn’t be allowed. There may be some other religious or cultural festivals going on too, so that is another thing to think about, to make sure that it works for you.
The list really could go on, as the countries that make up the Middle East are quite varied, but there is a lot to experience, see and do when visiting these places. Where would you plan to head to first? It would be great to hear what you have planned or the experiences you’ve had in these countries.