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Last updated : Nov 2009
Saudi Arabia Social Profile
Saudi Arabia Culture and Social Profile -
Food & Drink

Local food is often powerfully flavoured and spicy. The staple diet is pitta bread (flat, unleavened bread) which complements every dish. Rice, lentils, chick peas (hummus) and cracked wheat (burghul) are also popular and common. The most common meats are lamb and chicken. Beef is rare and pork is forbidden under Islamic law.

The main meat meal of the day is lunch, either kultra (meat on skewers) or kebabs served with vegetables and soup. Arabic cakes, cream desserts and rice pudding (muhalabia) also attribute to the diet.

Mezzeh, the equivalent of hôrs d’oeuvres, can include up to 40 dishes. Foreign cooking is on offer in larger towns and the whole range of international cuisine, including fast food, is available in the oil producing Eastern Province and in Jeddah. Restaurants have table service.

There are no bars in Saudi Arabia as alcohol is forbidden by law, and there are severe penalties for infringement, it is important to note that this applies to all nationals regardless of religion. Arabic coffee and fruit drinks are popular alternatives and alcohol free beers and cocktails are served in hotel bars.


Apart from hotels and restaurants there is no nightlife in the Western sense.


Souks (markets) sell jewellery, incense and incense burners, bronze and brassware, richly decorated daggers and swords, and in the Eastern Province, huge brass bonded chests.

Bargaining is often expected, even for modern goods such as cameras and electrical equipment (which can be bought at very good value).

The Shopping hours are from Saturday to Thursday from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm and 4.30 pm to 8.00 pm (Ramadan 8.00 pm to 1.00 am).

These hours can differ in various parts of the country.

Social Conventions

The Saudi culture is based on Islam and the perfection of the Arabic language. The Saudi form of Islam is conservative and fundamentalist, based on the 18th century revivalist movement of the Najdi leader Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdel-Wahhab.

This still has a great effect on Saudi society, particularly on the position of women, who are required by law only to leave the home totally covered in black robes (abaya) and masks, although there are regional variations of dress.

The Najd and other remote areas remain true to Wahhabi tradition, but throughout Saudi Arabia this way of life is being altered by modernisation and rapid development.

Shaking hands is the traditional form of greeting. Invitations to private homes are unusual, so entertaining is usually in hotels or restaurants and although the custom of eating with the right hand persists, it is more likely that knives and forks will be used.

A small gift either promoting the company or representing your country will usually be well received.


Women are expected to dress modestly and it is best to do so to avoid offence. Men are advised to not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt. The norms for public behavior are extremely conservative and religious police, known as Mutawwa’in, are charged with inflicting these standards.

Customs regarding smoking are the same as in Europe and non smoking areas are indicated. During Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to eat, smoke or drink during the day and it is illegal for a foreign visitor or traveller to do so in public.


The practice of tipping is becoming much more common and waiters, hotel porters and taxi drivers should be given 10 %.