The Middle East is a part of the Earth that most of us dream about exploring, but travelling there is nothing like spending a couple of weeks in Europe or the United States.
Dubai, in particular, is famous for its strict laws, while other countries and states are steeped in tradition that tourists would do well to respect. Islamic countries have come out of celebrating Ramadan, which is when Muslim followers fast during the daylight hours. This means no food, water, swearing or inappropriate thoughts as the sun shines.
While Ramadan is one of the more well-known traditions of Middle-Eastern culture, there are other traditions that are not as widely known in the western world.
Respect for Elders
We have all been told that we must respect our elders and, in the Middle East, this is taken very seriously. It is common for those younger to stand when an elderly person enters the room, and to greet someone older before anyone else, even those you know best.
If you go out for a meal anywhere in the Middle East, it will be common for the waiting staff to serve elderly members of the party first.
Public Displays of Affection
In many countries in the Middle East, it is widely frowned upon for a man and a woman to show any type of affection towards one and other. This includes holding hands and kissing of any sort. However, it would not be unusual for people of the same sex to be seen holding hands.
Holding the hand of someone of the same sex is considered to be a sign of friendship, as opposed to having any kind of romantic connotation. In Western culture, two men holding hands would be seen in much the same way as a man and a woman, but this is simply not the case in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and other areas.
Female travellers especially should do their research on the culture of where they are heading to, as depending on where you are headed can have differing stances on how women dress. In cities such as Istanbul, Marrakech and Damascus, the stance on headwear is somewhat relaxed compared to more rural areas.
It is still recommended to pack a light headscarf, as places of worship, such as mosques, demand women wear headscarves. You will also do well to dress conservatively, with most Middle East cities requiring the public to wear shirts that cover the shoulders and shorts or dresses/skirts at least knee length.
To stay on the safe side, seek advice from anyone you know that has travelled to anywhere in the Middle East, and observe what others are wearing around the town. As the saying goes, when in Rome…
In Muslim countries, giving to charity is a major part of the culture, so much so that this makes up one of the five pillars of Islam (Zakat). Causes can include giving to charity to help the poor, Syrian refugees and other prominent causes in the area. Traditionally, Muslims will donate 2.5% of their earnings to charity for Zakat, which forms part of Ramadan.
When travelling to exotic locations you, of course, want to take as many pictures as possible to take back and show your friends and family. This, however, should be approached with the utmost caution, as some hold very strict views on taking pictures without permission.
Most of the time you should be okay, however, always ask for permission before taking pictures in case of insulting any locals. You should also refrain from taking pictures of military personnel and guarded buildings.
The differences in culture can be daunting to travellers coming from the west, but with a little research and respect given to local traditions, there is no reason why you will not enjoy your experience of the Middle East.