The late American chef, world traveler, raconteur and foodie Anthony Bourdain once said, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together”. No words could ring more true if you are studying Arabic and want to learn more about the culture. Arabs are known for their hospitality, that’s for sure. In fact, they will invite you for a meal, either at a restaurant or at their home. Eating is part of their bonding process.
Many of you who regularly read our articles know how much we love to talk about Arabic cuisine. Those delicious snacks and meals made according to centuries-old recipes will leave you craving for more. Moreover, the spices reflect the historic Arab culture of trading spices and herbs. Whether it’s mansaf or maqlooba, we could go on and on about what delicious meals Arabs make. However, this article is not about what foods to eat. It’s about how you should act when you’re invited to eat. After all, you want to make a good first impression, don’t you? With that in mind, here are some tips on proper etiquette when you’re invited to eat with an Arab:
Arabs are restricted by Islamic conventions from eating pork, most carnivorous animals, and unscaled fish. Islam forbids alcohol as well. So you can forget about bringing that bottle of wine as a gift when invited to an Arab home.
Let’s say you wanted to invite your Arabic neighbors over for a weekend barbecue. According to Quranic tradition, meat must be butchered in a halal or permitted way. The good news is that you don’t have to quickly search the internet and find out how to do that. Most butchers in Europe and America are now required to label their meat as halal . If you don’t see a label, just ask! By the way, the most common meat eaten in Arab countries is lamb. So, if you want to be neighborly, throw some lamb on the barbeque. You’ll both be glad you did!.
When an Arab offers you a snack as their guest, politely refuse the first offer and accept the second offer. However, in Arab tradition, it is naturally assumed that that guests will accept at least a small cup of tea (or sometimes Arabic coffee) which is offered as an expression of friendship or esteem. It’s considered rude to decline the offer of drink.
When served something to drink, accept with your right hand only! When eating, drinking, offering, or passing food and drink, use your right hand only! The left hand is considered unclean, so when eating with Arabs, especially when taking food from shared plates, use your right hand only! In case you didn’t get it, when eating or drinking, accepting food or drink, shaking hands, and pretty much everything else you would do as a guest in an Arab home, use your RIGHT HAND ONLY!
Any foreigner that has ever been invited to an Arab house to eat will tell you the same thing: “If you leave the house hungry, it’s your fault!” Be prepared to have food piled on your plate in copious amounts and not just once, either. Once you’re down to that third plate and simply can’t eat anymore, your hosts will continue to insist on you having more. Politely refuse the fourth helping and don’t worry about eating everything on your plate as this is considered a compliment with everyone being satisfied that you ate so much.
The dinner is the climax of conversation and entertainment but keep in mind avoiding discussions on political issues (both national and international), religion, alcohol, and male-female relations over dinner or tea, as you may not only offend your guests, but in some countries, it could land you in even bigger trouble with the government. And learning to speak Arabic in jail is probably not on your list of best ways to practice when you want to learn Arabic language skills.
So, there you have it! Now get out there and enjoy some delicious food and even greater Arabic conversation. Until next time, sahtayn!
If you enjoyed this article and are interested in learning Arabic so you, too, can enjoy delicious Arab food and hospitality.
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