Traditional Greetings in Some Arabic Speaking Countries

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Traditional Greetings in Some Arabic Speaking Countries



The Middle East consists of many shared Arab traditions within their own diverse cultures. These include religious and national holidays that have existed for centuries. Apart from the accent, however, there are also a few differences you’ll notice starting with Arabic culture communication and the greeting rituals of each country or region. To prevent you from making a social faux pas while traveling throughout the Arab world, we’ve created this handy list on the Middle Eastern customs and traditions of greeting in select countries of the region:


Saudi Arabia

  • In Saudi Arabia, the most common form of greeting is a handshake and the phrase salaam aleikum (“May peace be with you.”), to which the reply is walaikum assalam (“May peace be with you, too.”).
  • Handshakes are most common in business settings and always use the right hand.
  • Muslims generally do not make physical contact with members of the opposite gender. Therefore, when greeting a Saudi of the opposite gender, it is best practice to simply greet them verbally with a nod of the head and wait to see if they feel comfortable extending their hand.
  • It may also be appropriate to greet someone of the same gender verbally with a respectful nod and smile if you perceive they are unaccustomed to being touched.
  • Greetings among friends of the same gender often involve kisses on the cheek. The left hand is extended to the other person’s right shoulder whilst leaning in to give three kisses on the cheek (either right-left-right, or all on the same cheek). This is very common between close friends and at social events.
  • Greetings between Saudi women tend to be very affectionate, involving hugs and two or three kisses on each cheek. However, women tend to be less physically affectionate if they are greeting in public.
  • A high degree of respect is paid to elders in Saudi Arabian society.
  • People expect to be referred to by their titles – especially if they are your senior; therefore, use titles (i.e., Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.) along with their first name (e.g. “It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Abdul-Aziz.”).
  • It is polite to address colleagues or superiors with the title abu which means “the father of…” followed by the name of the father’s eldest son (e.g. abu Ahmad or abu Mazen). This indicates familiarity and respect.


Lebanon

  • A smile and handshake is generally an appropriate greeting.
  • To show sincerity when greeting, some men may grasp the other person’s elbow or arm.
  • It is common for close friends to kiss one another three times on alternating cheeks.
  • When meeting members of the opposite sex, it is best to greet him or her verbally and let them choose to extend their hand first.
  • The Lebanese appreciate questions about family and the exchange of jokes upon meeting someone for the first time.
  • You might receive an invitation to be someone’s guest during your first encounter with them. You may politely decline with an excuse, unless they strongly insist.
  • Lebanese people often address one another as habibi, meaning “my love” in Arabic. This is an affectionate way to address friends and family and is used very often and casually.



Egypt

  • If you’re entering into any group scenario, greet those already present with a handshake, especially if you’re familiar with anyone in the group.
  • Handshakes are often light, but may be held a longer time and usually accompanied by a big smile and direct eye contact.
  • First names tend not to be used in formal settings unless one has been invited to do so. Until then, use titles (i.e., Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.) along with their first name (e.g. “It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Muhammad.”).
  • A common greeting is salaam aleikum (“May peace be with you.”), to which the reply is walaikum assalam (“May peace be with you, too.”). However, in some areas it is more common to say sabah al khair (“Good morning.”) and masa al khair (“Good evening”).
  • Greeting other people in Egypt is often based on the class, religion and gender of the person. If you’re unsure about most appropriate greeting to use, it is best to follow the lead of the Egyptian you are meeting.
  • Greetings among Egyptians can be quite lengthy, with people inquiring into their counterpart’s health, well-being of their family, etc.
  • When men meet men for the first time, a light handshake with the right hand is common. Friends and relatives tend to kiss on both cheeks.
  • When women meet women for the first time, a simple nod of acknowledgement or a light handshake with the right hand is common. Friends and relatives tend to kiss on both cheeks while shaking hands.
  • When there are greetings between men and women a handshake may be acceptable in certain circumstances. The woman must extend her hand first. If she does not, a man should bow his head as a sign of acknowledgement. Kissing on the cheek is acceptable if they are very closely related.

Morocco

  • Like most cultures of Arabic speaking countries, when Moroccans greet each other, they take their time and converse about their families, friends, and other general topics.
  • Handshakes are the customary greeting between individuals of the same sex and usually are not as firm as westerner’s shake hands.
  • Once you’ve become friends, it’s common to kiss on both cheeks for men with men and women with women, starting with the left cheek while shaking hands.
  • In any greeting that does take place between men and women, the woman must extend her hand first. Otherwise, a man should bow his head in greeting.
  • When entering a social gathering, shake hands with the person on your right and then continue around the room going from right to left.
  • Say goodbye to each person individually when leaving.


Iraq

  • Greet an Iraqi formally and respectfully when meeting them for the first time.
  • If you’re a man, stand to greet women when she enters the room.
  • Everybody stands when an elderly person both arrives and departs.
  • When greeting Muslims of the opposite sex, it’s to simply greet them verbally with a nod of the head and wait to see if they’re comfortable enough to extend their hand as well. 
  • Greetings between men usually involve a handshake with the right hand for a prolonged time. This hand holding may feel uncomfortable to Westerners; however, avoid retracting your hand before an Iraqi is finished greeting you.
  • Iraqi men may also kiss one another on the cheek when they meet. This is very common between close friends, but can also occur when first introduced to someone.
  • Greetings between women tend to be very affectionate, involving hugs and two or three kisses on each cheek. However, women may be far less physically affectionate if they are greeting in public or are in the view of men who are not family members.
  • One may indicate sincerity by placing their right hand over their heart after greeting another person. Iraqis may kiss one’s forehead or right hand in a greeting to demonstrate deep respect. This would usually be done to someone of a high status (e.g. an elder) rather than someone of the same status (e.g. a neighbor).
  • A common greeting is salaam aleikum (“May peace be with you.”), to which the reply is walaikum assalam (“May peace be with you, too.”).
  • First names tend not to be used unless one has been invited to do so. Until then, use titles (i.e., Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.) along with their first name (e.g. “It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Ali.”).


Syria

  • Like most other Arab countries, Syrian greetings are usually prolonged and include questions about each others’ well-being.
  • In formal settings, greetings involve a handshake with the right hand only. Syrian men may shake hands very gently, as is customary among many Arab nations.
  • If a Syrian does not touch someone he or she greets, it is usually because he perceives the person is unaccustomed to being touched.
  • Shaking a female’s hand is not appropriate unless she outstretches her hand first. Many Syrian men greet women by placing their hand on their chest and saying hello.
  • Informal greetings between people of the same gender may involve a hug or two kisses on each cheek between males.
  • To kiss one’s forehead or right hand denotes extreme respect, but it is not acceptable for a male to kiss a female in this manner if they are not related.


In conclusion

As you can see, most Arabic speaking countries share the same customs and traditions when it comes to greeting each other. Most of these guidelines apply to the other Middle Eastern countries not mentioned here as well, but if you’re unsure, it’s always best to do a little “people watching” first, and see how others around are greeting one another. And don’t worry if you make a mistake. Arabs are very hospitable people who realize that you may not be used to their customs and traditions just yet, thus tend to overlook any small mistakes you may make. In the meantime, don’t be shy. Get out there and meet some Arab friends. You might just find you’ve found a friend for life.


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