What is considered polite in one culture can be quite offensive in another. Navigating cultural differences can be tricky—especially when you’re not aware of them to begin with! Of course you want to be respectful and polite while exploring everything Oman has to offer.
Read on for some tips on how to respond appropriately in common situations.
At A Meal
Omanis are gracious and hospitable people; it is likely that at some point during your tour, you will be offered more food than you can eat. Don’t make yourself uncomfortably full by trying to eat everything that is put in front of you. It is considered polite in Oman to leave a small portion on your plate at the end of a meal. This communicates to your host that he served you a sufficient amount of food.
“Alhamdulilah shabbat.” This simple phrase comes in handy when you are offered a second (or third, or fourth!) helping of something to eat. To politely refuse, simply say this phrase, which is the Arabic way to say, “I’m full”.
It is helpful to know that in Oman it’s considered polite to offer something several times, even if the person declines the first time. If you really do not want what is being offered, just keep declining it politely. Also be aware that when you offer an Omani something, their first response will probably be “no”, as well.
If you are approached in a souq (traditional market) by someone who is trying to sell you something, it is easy to decline. Simply hold your right hand up in a “stop” motion and say, “la shukran”, which means “no, thank you”. If they persist with their sales pitch, repeat the phrase and walk away. This is how Omanis refuse services or attempts to sell them things.
Holding doors open for others is not as common in Oman as in America. Do not be offended if someone lets a door shut on you. They are not being rude! If a door is held, it is polite to say “shukran” (thank you) as you walk through.
Omanis typically do not show strong emotion in public. Loud laughter, yelling, and other outbursts are not considered polite, and will probably draw stares. Mimic the local culture by lowering your voice in public and if you want to go the extra mile, have a shot at covering your mouth with your hand when you laugh.
Meeting Local People
Omanis are friendly people, but it is considered polite to interact primarily with those of your same gender in public. If approaching an Omani family, men speak with the men and women with the women. Typically, men and women will not shake hands, although they may greet each other when being introduced. Women visiting Oman should simply wait to see what an Omani does first. If he offers his hand, it is polite to accept the handshake, but it’s not usually appropriate to initiate it.
One should ask permission before taking an Omani’s picture. Especially avoid taking pictures of local women without consent. This is considered rude and even threatening in Oman. Omanis love taking pictures of their food and drinks to share on Snapchat, so feel free to bring your camera out to photograph the delicious meals you will enjoy here.
Even if you make a mistake and do something that is typically considered rude in Oman, don’t worry. Omanis understand that you are unfamiliar with their culture, and they will give you grace. Watch how local people are interacting to get your cues for how to act. Ask your driver how to appropriately handle a situation if you get stuck. Most importantly, smile, be teachable, and laugh at your mistakes. Even though the culture may vary from what’s normal for you, Oman is a warm and welcoming place – so have fun!
By Shanae Eddy
Shanae is a freelance writer from the USA. She has lived in Salalah, Oman since 2015. When not writing content for Experience It Oman, Shanae enjoys learning Arabic from local friends, exploring the Dhofar mountains during Khareef (monsoon season), and drinking tea.