MGID – Article

5 Biggest Culture Shocks for First Time Workers in Middle East

Many Filipinos are looking forward to new opportunities in the Middle East mainly because of the higher salaries offered compared to working in the Philippines. However, before you decide to move abroad, you will need to prepare for the unique and conservative culture and practices that may be a lot different from what you are used to.

Some of the customs and prohibitions in Middle Eastern countries have been exercised for hundreds of years — and these are set in stone. You have to be sensitive and knowledgeable about the do’s and don’ts to stay safe, keep your job and, ultimately, live comfortably and happily.

1. Family time

Many Middle Eastern citizens put a lot of emphasis on close family ties. Compared to Americans, people in the Middle East, particularly Jordan, spend a lot of time with their families. Friday is generally spent for the family as members drink, eat, sleep and talk together. They also like to pray together and smoke shisha in the afternoon.

2. Frequent prayer times

Be prepared to see Muslims pray at least five times each day. Every time, they also face Mecca, the Holy Land, and spend a good five to ten minutes praying. Some even pray more frequently or visit the mosque several times each week. Mosques are considered as sacred places so first time workers should learn that they need to take their shoes off and ask permission before entering. The bells of the mosques will begin to ring many times throughout the day, inviting people to prayer.

3. Congested streets and establishments

middle eastMany overseas workers in the Middle East might be surprised at how congested malls, shopping places, streets and markets can be. The streets can be crammed with people, animals, carts, stalls and whatnot. Buses, movie theatres and restaurants are equally congested especially during the weekends. Foreigners should learn how to protect their belongings in big crowds.

4. Separation by gender

Men and women are generally separated from each other in various places, like Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Some cafes and restaurants even have separate rooms for male and female customers. Many Middle Eastern women will also wear their shawls to cover their hair, face and shoulders “so as not to arouse the men.” The laws are very strict when it comes to mingling with women in some countries in the Middle East.

5. Alcohol ban

In places like Abu Dhabi, alcohol is illegal and people can get imprisoned for being caught drinking even a bottle of beer. Foreigners will need to secure a license first from the police department before being allowed to do so — and this can get quite tedious. The tax on alcohol is also quite high. Public drunkenness is prohibited and foreigners should never carry alcohol in public. Bars are also generally hidden from the view of the public. Many overseas workers go to Dubai and other places instead to enjoy a weekend drinking alcohol before going back to work.

There are also certain groups that patronize their Middle Eastern country so much that they might scoff at foreigners, particularly those from Southeast Asia or the United States. Foreign workers should be prepared for these individuals. Foreigners generally need to state their nationality or citizenship whenever they conduct business or purchase in an establishment. People also need to become familiar with the food and the mix of smells and aromas in the Middle East, to be careful not to offend anybody.

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