International Gift Etiquette - Yemen



  • Gifts should only be given to the most intimate of friends. To receive a present from a lesser acquaintance is so embarrassing as to be offensive. 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. Never, however, buy gold jewellery or silk garments for men, as both are deemed effeminate in Islam. Platinum is acceptable but, as it can be confused with white gold, silver is safer. Extravagant gifts, such as motorcars, are construed as bribes. Bribery is more common in the Yemen than elsewhere in Arabia.

  • Owing to the extremely personal nature of giving gifts other than as bribes, 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.

  • As Aden is the traditional centre of Arab perfumery and incense, a visitor to the Yemen is well placed to acquire the finest available anywhere. Conveniently for the westerner, the British influence in Aden makes it the one place in the Yemen where English is widely spoken enough not to require a knowledge of Arabic for day-to-day purposes [English speakers elsewhere in the Yemen are almost always of Adeni origin]. Much of the Adeni merchant class consists of ethnic Indians. South Yemen [albeit the Hadhramaut instead of Aden itself] also produces the world's best of two other commodities; raw tobacco [for smoking in a sheesha] and honey. A word of caution to true lovers of honey, however; Hadramaut honey is expensive [up to £100 per kg] but, once tasted, it will spoil you for any of lesser quality.

*Parker, Nicholas Fitzraymond.  Yemen Business Etiquette - Gift Giving.  Executive Planet.  16 Aug. 2004                           <>.

Above:  The flag of Yemen