Body Language in the Arab World

Body language in the UAE and amongst Arabs is completely different to that in the West. And because there a many Arabs here from different countries, it would make sense to understand a little about what certain body language might mean. We have touched on the importance of not showing the sole of your foot, but there are many more which we will briefly sum up here. Remember that in the Middle East, the concept of personal space is a lot smaller that in the West, and though you may feel that your space is being invaded, this is a normal part of society. Be careful when dealing with females making sure that you do not stare or initiate physical contact.

Hand on Heart – While this is usually just used as a phrase in the West, the Arabs actually place their hands on their heart to show genuine respect and humility. Sometimes, this is used in combination with a small bow, meaning thank you.

The Chin Scratch – Scratching or holding of a chin or beard is an indication that someone is thinking. It might be wise to wait until the person has finished thinking this before continuing talking, if it takes place during a moment of silence.

Kissing – Friends kissing each other on the cheek is considered normal and not linked to homosexuality. It is a sign of friendship, and it is common amongst male friends.

Kissing the shoulder – This is another greeting and usually one of respect. It is often used when Muslims go on the Hajj to Mecca.

The hand hold – Holding hands even for a long period after shaking hands is common place and a sign of friendship

The hug – If a hug is initiated by an Arab, then it is a sign that you are considered a trustworthy friend.

The refusal to touch – If an Arab refuses to touch you, it may be an indication that he considers you untrustworthy or unclean

Conversational staring – If an Arab stares you in the eye as you speak, it means that he is giving you his full attention. If he doesn’t, it means that he may not care what you are saying. Bear this in mind and reciprocate giving eye contact.

The sideways finger bite – If an Arab bites their right finger, it is a sign of contempt and that you are not liked, and this will usually be accompanied by a muttering of some sort of curse!

The hungry sign – If a semi clenched hand is placed in front of the stomach, it means that you are thought to be a liar.

The finger on the Nose – This means that it is the intention of the person to undertake what you are talking about. Sometimes, this takes the form of the finger on beard, nose or head also, all meaning the same.

The cup – The hand signal of putting all your fingers and thumb together, sort of cup like, means ‘Wait just one minute’ or ‘Slow down’. This sometimes may be used to indicate that the person is getting impatient at your speed.

The Head Snap – Snapping of the head upwards while tutting means No or an indication that you are wrong or that what you are saying is untrue.

The Nose Touch – You will often see Arab Nationals touch noses three times as they shake hands. This is a traditional Bedouin greeting.

The left finger clasp – If the fingers of the left hand are clasped together and touched with the right forefinger, this is the equivalent of giving someone the finger in the West. It is a very rude gesture.

The Scratching Claw – A clawing action with the right hand is usually indicative of a beckoning to move closer or to come into a room. This is probably equivalent to a beckoning with the one finger, used in the West, but this would be considered rude, if used in the Middle East.

Of course many Western gestures are used, in this multi cultural society, and you may find yourself learning all sorts of hand movements from all over the world. We hope that this gives you a general overview of what some of the Arab gestures actually mean.

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