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Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

The Art & Etiquette of Gift Giving in the Middle East


Gift giving is a major topic of etiquette in Middle Eastern culture. Gifts are given frequently and although no one will expect you as a foreigner to show such respect of the local culture it is an opportunity to shine.  By demonstrating respect and good good cultural manners you will stand apart tremendously.
The Art & Etiquette of Gift Giving in the Middle East

by Christen Behzadi

A year ago


What is considered polite and in good taste with local society varies across cultures. Especially in the case of the collectivist, family oriented Islamic influenced cultures of the Middle East & Africa there is a particular protocol of etiquette and good manners to be learned.

As an American woman raised in a traditional American way there were many things to learn about Iranian culture when I met my husband. One of the first things I noticed was the frequent gift giving. Gift giving is so important in Iranian (and Middle Eastern culture in general) that when we go to Iran we pack a whole luggage full of gifts to give everyone.

Gift giving is a major topic of etiquette in Middle Eastern culture. Gifts are given frequently and although no one will expect you as a foreigner to show such respect of the local culture it is an opportunity to shine. Many Western societies have a reputation for being oblivious to foreign cultural decorum when overseas. By demonstrating respect and good good cultural manners you will stand apart tremendously.

What gifts should be given? Well, it depends on the occasion. Lets start with when to give a gift.

When to Give a Gift:

As a western professional going into the Middle East for business and work I would recommend keeping these three occasions in mind for gift giving.

Home Visits: Anytime you are invited to someones home -even a stranger- bring a gift. This is a sign of gratitude and respect to your host. Thanking them in advance for their hospitality and kindness.

Foreign Client Meetings: Bring a gift on your first meeting. This will set the important tone that you are beginning a friendship and lasting relationship. In this region relationships are so valuable because people rely on each other more in the developing world than is necessary in many western nations. Bringing a gift says - I respect your culture and we are beginning a lasting relationship.

Major Holidays: Such as the ending of the holy month of Ramadan (Eid) is an appropriate time to offer a small gift. Ramadan is a month of deep spiritual introspection. At the end of the month there are days of feasting and also gifts are exchanged between family and friends. Offering a thoughtful Eid gift will leave a lasting impression.

What Gifts to Bring:
Again, no one will expect you to keep the culture so please do not have any stress about finding the perfect gift. Any gift will be taken with such great joy and surprise for you even knowing. Professional Cultural etiquette consulting is all about making these type of lasting impressions and making your time in the region a great success. Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction. Always remember it is the thought that counts in these matters.

Home Visits:
When going to someones home consider something that can be shared by all. The collectivist mentality of the region promotes togetherness and sharing at every turn.

  • A small box of chocolates
  • A dessert or pastry from a local shop (something regional and traditional) to be shared by all
  • A tray or bouquet of flowers is always thoughtful 

Foreign Clients:
For meeting with foreign clients consider something meaningful like a small gift traditional to your home country. Nothing too expensive. This is not a moment to show off but begin a lasting friendship. This region they do appreciate items with meaning. Consider the following.

  • Specialty Sweets from your country of origin
  • Small Handmade Item from your country of origin
  • Small traditional item from your home country
  • Sweets from the local bakery 

Major Holidays:
For Eid-al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) consider gifts that are Islamic themed. This is a time of joyous celebration. Feel free to send something bigger to mark the occasion. 

  • Rather than a traditional card send a card specifically for Eid with the Islamic crescent.
  • Find a specific gift box that is beautifully decorated with “Eid Mobarak” in Arabic to send even something simple like a beautiful box of fruit or sweets.
  • Find a local baker to make Eid and Crescent shaped cookies to be delivered. 



Gift giving is an important part of Middle Eastern cultural practices. It is part of a larger understanding of good manners and polished cultural etiquette for the region. Reach out if you need assistance. Our firm can assist you in choosing and sending appropriate gifts and becoming accustomed to the region.

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