Expatriates have been part of the Middle East for hundreds of years. Trading routes have led to the cities of the Arabian Gulf creating long standing communities of peoples of Indian and mixed Arab/Persian descent.
The Western expatriate is a more recent phenomenon tied to the exploration and production of oil & gas and to the need for technical and professional expertise required of a developing society and with an ultimate aim of preparing the individual countries for self sufficiency in professional, managerial and technical personnel. For many expatriates the countries of the Middle East will provide a contrast to their home nation.
On a general level the culture of each country is very similar and based on a common heritage of tribal existence in a desert region. Each has populous coastal cities and interiors that are sparsely populated and inhospitable. The climate across the region is similar with intensely hot summers and mild winters. Water is a scarce resource and Saudi Arabia has no rivers. Tradition is strong in the region, many people are very aware and proud of their tribal ancestry.
The countries in the Middle East have seen remarkable technological growth and lives have changed unrecognisably particularly in the last 30 years however culturally 30 years is a short time and social etiquette and expected behaviour is little changed.
The common religious bond also crosses all borders and like the climate, the expatriate needs to become familiar with religious and cultural differences within the Middle East.
Many handbooks preparing for the expatriate going to work in the Middle East state that they are only visitors to the country and this is certainly the case. At the time of writing non nationals have limited rights to own property nor can companies be owned solely by a non national and expatriates have no rights to apply for citizenship. This is not to say their contribution will not be appreciated or that they will not be made welcome.
Arabic hospitality is renowned and they are a warm and friendly people for whom politeness and courtesy are second nature. Business meetings are often prefaced by general conversation and small talk and refreshments offered (and accepted). To ignore the hospitality of the preamble and refreshments and to move straight to the business at hand may well cause offence
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