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Business negotiations with Middle Easterners Business negotiations with Middle Easterners
by Jay Gutman
2019-07-22 07:49:32
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Each country, each individual have their own specificities. Sweeping generalizations on doing business in the Middle East, in no particular order.

-Language: in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Lebanon, French will be helpful. Note that the Maghrebis and Lebanese tend to joke around a lot when they use French and use lots of word play, and are nothing like the serious, austere French. Jordan, Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula will tend to use English, but with a more serious and structured tone than the English used in the UK or the US.

middle01_400-First note, Arab Muslim Middle Easterners tend to be a little uncomfortable with non-Arabs and non-Muslims. They could behave very awkwardly in your presence. For example, some will blast loud American pop music as they drive you from the airport. Others will ask you something like “can my son marry your daughter?” while others might ramble for hours about European facts. The awkwardness will tend to wear off after a few days.

-Because many Arab nations have some kind of “inferiority complex” when it comes to other nations, be very careful what you ask them. I once got told off simply for asking if they had a photocopier. Keep in mind that the restaurant scene in not great in most Middle Eastern countries, that the bar scene is very modest, that most Middle Eastern countries are not a shoppers' paradise, and that very, very few places have Wi-Fi. A lot of things are hard to find in the Middle East. And if you ask for something that's not available, they will tell you off.

-Greetings. Shake hands with everyone present, starting from your right, all the way to your left. Extend your hand to women and see if they will shake it, but they could refuse to shake it. If you're a woman, extend your hand to men, some men could refuse to shake it. Don't draw all the attention to you, and let them decide whether they should draw the attention on you or on someone else.

-If you're a man, smiling at a woman or looking at a woman can be interpreted as a sign of flirtatiousness. Focus your eyes on men, and don't smile at women. If you're a woman, focus on the women, and don't smile at men.

-Middle Easterners tend to communicate with a lot of innuendos. So be very careful what stories you tell. To give you an example, I once started telling the story of how bad I thought Chinese drivers were. The Arabs thought I was using “Chinese drivers” as a euphemism for “Arab drivers.” Problem is, by Chinese drivers, I really meant Chinese drivers.

-When it boils down to business deals, Middle Easterners like to play it safe, and tend to focus on the short-term. They won't invest in any project that they don't understand, and will tend to only invest in projects that are tested and proven. Also, they will tend not to invest in projects that they believe “corrupt morality”. Many Arab nations were hesitant about the Internet and smartphones, and to this day, getting an internet line in a lot of Arab countries is an incredibly bureaucratic feat. Main reason: the internet has pornography in it.

-In the Middle East, most CEOs won't talk to anyone who's not a CEO. When meeting CEOs, rent an expensive car and wear your best suit, but don't overdo it. Volkswagen and Audi tend to be considered good cars, but don't rent a Rolls Royce. Avoid Mercedes if possible. Wear your best suit, but a suit that looks a little modest in appearance. And get a conservative haircut. For women, wear skirts below your knees, or conservative pants. Your shirt should be buttoned all the way to your neck, and cover as much of your arms as you can.

-Your business partner will say something like “if you need anything, call me.” They're just being polite. A lot of times you'll need something and they won't help you out with it. Only ask them for help if it's business related. If you're stuck in the city and you call them, or call them for unrelated favors, they will be very angry.

-Finally, business meals happen in the Middle East, but they are few and far between. Restaurants are considered a public place, so your partners might avoid discussing business at the restaurant. Or they will use the fact that the “walls have ears” to their advantage, and might take you to a restaurant to discuss sensitive elements of the business deal.


      
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