- Business Meeting
- Public Holidays
The culture of business negotiations in Saudi Arabia has its specifics. A number of features are similar to other countries in the region, but it is still a good idea to familiarize yourself with it before your trip. In particular, we recommend referring to the document Culture of Business Negotiations prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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In the beginning, it is good to address partners by their last name, but very soon you switch to first names. It is also appropriate to use professional titles (Dr. Prof., Mr. Chairman, etc.). When exchanging business cards, it is advisable to accept the business card with the right hand and study it carefully. In principle, when handing over business cards, it is necessary to avoid the left hand, which is considered ritually impure.
The formal English greeting “How are you” is absolutely common, even necessary, when communicating in the English language. Even though the negotiations will take place in English, it is polite to greet in Arabic, i.e. Salam Alejkum (“peace be upon you”), i.e. to respond to such a greeting from your partner with Alejkum Salam. A less formal farewell is Másalama.
Language facilities are at a good level in Saudi Arabia. Especially in larger companies, most of the workers have a decent command of English for communication. In the case of high-ranking persons who have not studied abroad, it is possible to encounter lower language skills. However, the Saudi side has no problem securing a possible interpreter. The issue of providing an interpreter can be raised before the meeting, but rather if there is a suspicion that the Saudi company does not have many language-equipped employees.
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Before the very first meeting, it is essential that the partner has sufficient information about the Czech company and the business plan being discussed. This information must be sent in writing and well in advance of the proposed date of the meeting. In the absence of an answer, it is advisable to use the phone, or, if you managed to get a mobile contact, the most effective means of communication is the WhatsApp application. It is ideal if a third party that the partner trusts can recommend the Czech company to the partner.
It is appropriate to give a gift to a Saudi partner we care about. A suitable gift is mainly Czech crystal, any gifts with hints of Christian or non-Islamic religious symbolism and insufficiently dressed women are unacceptable. The Saudi partner will also welcome information about the Czech Republic, but care must be taken that any information materials or publications do not contain an excessive amount of depictions of religious Christian buildings and symbols, publications focusing on Jewish symbolism or Jewish monuments in the Czech Republic are unacceptable. It is possible to communicate with the staff of the person in question about the possible exchange of gifts.
In the case of a working lunch or dinner in a typically Saudi restaurant or home, you may encounter some specifics. A typical welcome snack is light, bitter coffee poured into a small cup, then a small cup with a pinch of sweet tea and sometimes also dates. It is most polite to have your coffee refilled, but not more than three times. The coffee is always refilled by the staff. If we don’t want to add more coffee, we briefly shake the cup in our fingers from side to side. The cup is held in the right hand.
The right hand is generally consumed with any drinks or food, the left hand is generally not used. This is important to take into account, for example, especially during a typical Arab dinner, when you feast on the ground with your hands without using cutlery. Here it is also appropriate to draw attention to sufficient foot hygiene and high-quality socks, as one often dines even in a tent while sitting on the ground on carpets and, as a rule, with closed shoes.
It is a good idea to plan the meeting for hours when there are no prayers. The Saudi partner will appreciate it if you take note of the prayer times yourself and ask to interrupt the unfinished meeting to allow the Saudi partner to go to prayer (approx. 30 minutes). It is also not advisable to extend the meeting beyond normal working hours. On the other hand, the Saudi partner is more than willing to act, for example, during dinner in the evening hours, sometimes even unusually late by European standards.
It should be taken into account that in Arab countries the distance between communicating persons is shorter than in Europe. A long handshake by the host when welcoming is an expression of hospitality. It can also happen that the Saudi partner accompanies you in company and holds your hand – this is also an expression of friendship towards you, without any other intentions being sought in it. Expressed friendship is a hug and a short touch with both cheeks. If women are participating in the meeting, it is advisable to wait to see if the woman offers her hand when introducing herself. Otherwise, it is possible to greet a woman by placing the right hand on the heart.
Saudi traders have a good instinct for the quality of the supply and a number of proven ways to push the price. Often, even after the contract has been concluded, they argue about artificially increased administrative fees or try to get another discount. Sometimes there may be unexpected periods when the Saudi partner does not pay invoices for a long time. Payment 18-24 months past due is no exception. This happens most often with companies linked to state projects, where the cause is precisely delayed payments from the state.
The personal nature of business contacts means that it does not stop at just one meeting, on the contrary, several meetings are expected in order to agree on all the details. Negotiations often return to already closed topics, often in order to negotiate better terms. A business meeting is first and foremost a social act, and secondarily a business matter. So it is not good to push the speed of negotiations.
It is most appropriate not to lose the external signs of positive emotions and certainly not to show frustration, anger or impatience. All negativity undermines the negotiating position and potentially closes the door to a successful trade. It is advisable to look for the true meanings behind spoken words and gestures, and at the same time to adopt the habit of not speaking directly, especially if what was said could sound like criticism.
It is strictly forbidden to import and sell alcohol in Saudi Arabia. We strongly recommend not to bring up the topic of alcohol. In the case of Saudi partners visiting the Czech Republic, it is possible to wait for their signal of interest in facilities where alcoholic beverages are served, but it is not advisable to start the topic if the relationship with the partners on this basis has not yet been established.
Dress etiquette for business meetings is basically no different from the European one, i.e. a suit with a tie, for important meetings or evening occasions a dark suit. Until recently, women, including foreigners, had to wear a long black flowing cloak, the so-called abaya. Foreign women no longer have to wear this or cover their hair with a scarf, but it is recommended to always have it in reserve, e.g. if it is the counterpart of a conservative foundation.
The number of members of the negotiating team depends primarily on the size of the Czech company. Ideally, it should consist of a sales director and at least one technical employee who is able to provide detailed information on the technical details of the product being offered. The age and gender composition of the team does not play a major role.
In Saudi Arabia, it is possible to be invited to a partner’s house or farm outside the city. It is part of a broad concept of hospitality, which is one of the cornerstones of Saudi culture. It is appropriate to give a gift to your partner, see above. In the case of a household visit, it can be expected that the members of the Czech team will be politely taken to the female part of the house for the purpose of socializing with the female part of the family. Segregation of men and women is still practiced in a large proportion of local households.
Language facilities are at a good level in Saudi Arabia. Especially in larger companies, most of the workers have a decent command of English for communication. In the case of high-ranking persons who have not studied abroad, it is possible to encounter lower language skills. However, the Saudi side has no problem securing a possible interpreter. The issue of providing an interpreter can be raised before the meeting, but rather if there is a suspicion that the Saudi company does not have many language-equipped employees. Visit Animalerts for more information about Saudi Arabia culture and traditions.
When dealing with a Saudi partner, it is customary to first start a conversation with general topics, e.g. about climate conditions, about sports, about important events in the country or the world, but it is advisable to refrain from any critical comments about the differences in the way of life and thinking in Saudi Arabia, Saudi partner nor will he criticize the way of life and thinking in the Czech Republic. In general, however, it can be stated that the Saudi partner will reject Islamist terrorism, or any form of politically oriented terrorism. It is also necessary to realize that the current government is intensively fighting against Islamist terrorism in the country. It is also polite to ask about the family if we already know the partner and his family circumstances.
The “Small Talk” phase is generally longer than in Europe and frames the negotiations both at the beginning and at the end. In general, it is good to approach the actions positively, refrain from direct criticism, and especially in no case get carried away by emotions, there is an immediate “loss of face” and the damage caused is very difficult to repair. It is good to avoid any criticism of the conditions and way of life in Saudi Arabia, furthermore it is not good to criticize religion in any way, it is best to avoid religious and political topics altogether.
In Saudi Arabia, personal presence is still very important when closing a deal. Regular face-to-face meetings are absolutely necessary to gain the trust of the partner and to successfully close and continue the business. A formal letter is suitable for establishing the first contact. Subsequent communication is conducted mainly on the level of social networks, Saudis mainly use WhatsApp, but also Snapchat.
Basic principles when dealing with the Saudis, the respect of which will help the promotion of the business plan:
- Establish a personal relationship with your partner (find out his hobbies, invite him to the Czech Republic, pay attention to him properly here).
- Always smile, be polite and pleasant.
- Don’t complain about the little things.
- Criticize indirectly and avoid confrontation.
- Never show anger – there is a risk of losing your partner’s respect.
- Don’t obviously try to gain an advantage over your partner – you need to be cooperative and work together. One battle won can sometimes lose the war.
- Take your time. Gradually moving from general things to specific things will help the partner to better understand the proposals.
- Allow for delays – factor them into the program.
- Prepare the project well and be specific in your argumentation. Saudis tend to have a good overview of competing projects (manufacturers) and are very pragmatic in valuing benefits.
- Always calculate with discounts, commissions and delays in payment. The price factor is decisive in the local market and is often fatal for suppliers of too high-quality (and therefore expensive) goods.
- Expect the possibility that the Saudi side will not develop the necessary activity. If possible, it is often more efficient to do the work for the other party.
The main holidays, i.e. Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha, follow the lunar calendar, the so-called Hijri, so it is a good idea to check which days they fall on each year. The exact day of the beginning of the holidays depends on the sighting of the moon (the beginning of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr), so it can be shifted by a day.
In addition to the holidays, the entire local ninth month called Ramadan also has a festive atmosphere (the months are governed by the lunar calendar, so it is always advisable to check the time of Ramadan for the given year), when Orthodox believers fast during the day (they do not eat, drink, smoke, which would even a European visitor was not supposed to do in public) and they feast lavishly in the evening, and the first half of the local twelfth month, when the annual pilgrimage to Mecca called the Hajj is organized, which a capable Muslim must participate in at least once in a lifetime. It is better not to organize any business meetings during Hajj and Ramadan. The daily rhythm of local residents is usually reversed, so if they communicate at all, it is usually late at night and early in the morning.
Public holidays in 2022
Foundation day – 2(implemented in 2022)
Eid al-Fitr – (holidays until 5/5, but they are usually a week before the holiday and a week after it. This is announced just before the holiday).
Eid al-Adha – 8.7. (Holidays until 13.7.)
National Day – 23.9.
The holy month of Ramadan (not a day off, but it must be taken into account) 1.4.-1.5.
Public holidays in 2023
Foundation day – 22.2.
Eid al-Fitr – 21.-24.4.
Eid al Adha – 27.-30.6.
National Day – 23.9.
The holy month of Ramadan 22.3.-20.4.