We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Oman
The Omanis are generally very humble and down-to-earth people. The usual rules of respect when traveling in a Muslim country should be followed in Oman, even when locals appear to be a little less uptight than their neighbors. Stay quiet about the sultan, who has done more to develop the nation in recent history. He is expected to be held in extreme respect. Staring is quite common in Oman. Children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places.
This is not meant as an insult but shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave the kids giggling and showing off and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases. Outside of Muscat and Salalah, do not smile to the opposite gender, as nearly any interaction with the opposite gender can be considered flirting. The highly segregated society makes any chance people have to speak to the opposite gender to be viewed as having at least semi-sexual overtones.
It must be understood that under Omani law, an Omani can take or be taken to court for insulting another person, like calling them an insulting name (“donkey”, “dog”, “pig”, “sheep” etc.). Omanis, though “humble” are extremely sensitive to anything they perceive as criticism, whether personal, national, or anything they perceive as being directed at the Gulf. Though Saudi Arabia is usually a fair target for jokes in the Arab world (especially in the Levant), Omanis don’t take well to it.
What Westerners would usually consider “ridiculous” levels of sensitivity, are fairly normal in Oman and are due largely to the fact that Omanis have grown up in an environment in which criticism and name calling is more or less outlawed. This is especially important to know for those who come here to teach Omanis – unlike those from the Levant and parts of north Africa, where teasing and intellectual “jousting” can be used as a form of building relationships or a sign of friendship, it is not here and Omanis do not interpret it positively, save for those who have lived in the West or have worked with Westerners for extended periods of time. It might be said that teasing in general here, whether about accents, dress, food, etc. is just a bad idea.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Oman, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Oman food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Oman? Please comment below.