International Gift Giving Etiquette - Saudi Arabia



  • Gifts should only be given to the most intimate of friends. For a Saudi to receive a present from a lesser acquaintance is so embarrassing as to be offensive. It is not unheard-of for an employee returning from leave to get the sack for the impertinence of bringing his boss a present from home. Even worse is expressing admiration for something belonging to another because it makes him feel obliged to make a gift of it.

  • If one is confident enough and determined to give a gift, it must be the best affordable. A carpet must, for example, be handmade even though most Saudis buy machine made carpets for themselves. Never, however, buy gold jewellery or silk garments for men, as both are deemed effeminate in Islam. Platinum is most acceptable but, as it can be confused with white gold, silver is safer, provided it is properly hallmarked by a government authority [as opposed to merely bearing a maker's mark]. As a gesture of respect, the recipient is likely to open and minutely examine the gift in the presence of the giver as well as any others who happen to be present. Nothing is worse than having him search in vain for a hallmark or, worse yet, turn a carpet over to find a loose weave or indistinct design on the reverse.

  • Owing to the extremely personal nature of giving gifts, traditional perfume is usually the most appreciated. Just as in Europe a man displays his status by his tailoring, so in Arabia he does so by his scent. The most generally preferred male scent [perfume should be given to women only by other women or close relatives] is oud, which is a distillation of aloes wood, but be careful. The best quality costs well over £1,000 an ounce and the naïve buyer can easily be deceived by synthetics which cheat him of his money and cause him to forfeit the esteem of the one to whom the scent is given. The same is true of incense, costing per kilogram roughly the same as an ounce of its extract. Before giving any scent, use it first and consider giving it only to those who express admiration for your taste.

*Parker, Nicholas Fitzraymond.  Saudi Arabia Business Etiquette - Gift Giving.  Executive Planet.  10 Aug. 2004  <>.

Above:  The flag of Saudi Arabia









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