7 Things You Shouldn’t Do in the Middle East (According to my Arabic Professor)

So I’ve got some big news. 

This summer, I have big plans.  TRAVEL plans.  From May to August, I will be leaving the US to study abroad in another country for 8 weeks.  My question for you is…where do you think I’m going?  Don’t worry, I’ll give you a few hints.

First of all, I’m going to this country specifically so that I may study Arabic, in a place where it spoken, so that should narrow it down for you.  And in the spirit of that, I’ve come up with an amusing post based on my hilarious Arabic professor’s cultural sayings and advice about things we should not do if our class ever travels to the region, which I will now share with you.

And second of all, each of the photos is from the country I will be traveling to are shown throughout.  So without further ado, according to my Arabic professor:

**All photo credits go to Creative Commons

1. Don’t talk to a random person without first greeting them properly.  “Assalamu alaykum!”

“You walk up to a random person on the street and try to say “Koom al-San’a?” (What time is it?) and they will look at you like you’re crazy rude because you did not greet them with “Assalamu Alaykum” first… like what kind of person are you?”Nehad, my Arabic professor

“Assalamu Alaykum!” (Peace be with you!) How cool is that?! In what other language does the standard greeting mean that? It’s just one of the many things I love about the Arabic language.  And although it may not be as dramatic as my professor funnily put it, she speaks the truth.  It is very customary and shows respect to first greet anyone whom you may meet, or even just a stranger you want to talk to, with this greeting, and according to my professor, it is considered rude if you don’t.


2.  Don’t go without wearing a ring, even if you are a single woman.


“Anne, when you go to _______ this summer, you better put a ring on that finger! If you don’t then you can bet your life on it that you will have 25 marriage proposals by the end of the first week.”

Exactly that.  This isn’t some kind of rule nor something you have to do, but when traveling as a solo female it does help, in any part of the world.  Men are more likely to leave you alone, and in the case of the Middle East, you won’t be getting marriage proposals here and there as my professor thinks will happen.  Even if I do bring a ring with me this summer, I’m tempted to test her theory and see if that would actually happen to me.

3.  Don’t say that you’re feeling lonely.

“A man says he’s feeling lonely  and then next thing you know people wonder where he has gone off to, but he’s been shipped off to Siberia.”

They’re not going to ship you off to Siberia, don’t worry.  But to say in public that you are feeling lonely in relation to sex or love or anything of the matter is considered very rude, almost taboo.  So it’s probably not the best idea to shout this feeling you may or not have, out to the world.


4.  Don’t say you don’t have any money.

“A man will come here and be cheap when he has all the money in the world, but then the poorest man in the country will not even admit it.”

This is another thing with manners.  But basically, hospitality is a big factor in many Middle Eastern cultures, and don’t forget to return the favor and not be so stingy with people who are kind to you.


5.  Don’t invite someone to dinner when you don’t have money.

“Whatever you do, don’t invite someone to dinner unless you’re prepared.  Because that one person will bring all their cousins, and their uncles, and their grandmother, and their sister, and you will have the whole family all together and it will cost a fortune.”

Building on the whole hospitality theme, it is custom that when someone is invited to dinner that they WILL bring family guests, and that the host will pay for it all.  So if you’re not prepared, don’t do it.  Although keep in mind that if this ever were to happen, it is also custom to repay you by then inviting you to dinner, and you could very well bring friends, and it would be alright.


6.   Don’t go out in public with your hair wet.

“Anne, I know you usually come to class with your hair damp because you just showered or you want to feel fresh or whatever, but whatever you do, don’t go out in public with you hair wet when you are in ____.”

The meaning behind this still escapes me, so don’t ask me the reasoning.  All I know is that she was very adamant about me not doing this when I’m away this summer, so I’ll just take her word for it.

red village

7.  Don’t try to bring 50 Shades of Grey with you.

“It is banned, but I guess you could cover it up with newspaper or hide it behind one and get away with it.  But oh, they still might just catch you, I don’t know.”

I just added this in because I thought it was hilarious.  On one of my professor’s off-topic cultural rants as per usual, she somehow got into talking about how she wanted to read 50 Shades of Grey, and also how back in her home country and most Muslim countries, it was banned.  So don’t try to bring it with you! But if you really wanted, you could always take her advice about using a newspaper.  Pretty good disguise for it, I’d think. Police don’t exactly run up to everyone with a newspaper to check what’s behind it.


So what do you think?  Have you figured out which country I’ll be heading to this summer?  WITHOUT the help of the internet, to an extent of course?

Take a guess and leave your answer in the comments! I’ll reveal it in one of my next posts within the next two weeks, so stay updated!

3 thoughts on “7 Things You Shouldn’t Do in the Middle East (According to my Arabic Professor)

  1. The point about 50 Shades of Grey made me laugh! I guess it depends on which country in the Middle East you will be travelling to as some are more “cool” about these things than others. And the whole ring on your finger thing is true to some extent! Although I must add that some men have the nerve to say things such as “I will give your husband 10 (and sometimes a rather crazy number such as 100) camels for you.” You just have to laugh it off 🙂

  2. My guess is Saudi Arabia. It’s the most Arab of Arab countries. My wife and I went to Lebanon for ten days in 2011. It was very different from here but probably not as different as Saudi Arabia. Lebanon is about 40% Christian (mostly Catholic) but the neighborhoods are segregated by religion. We stayed with my wife’s aunt in a Christian section of Beirut. There were three languages commonly spoken, French, Arabic and English. We didn’t have any language problems because most people spoke at least some English.

  3. Pingback: Madness in March | Memoirs of an Adventurer

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