An area with no crime, tax or alcohol

The Middle East is one of the most common destinations for expatriate employees - but just how different is life there from the life you are used to, and how much has it changed in recent years? We take a brief look and provide you with links to resources where you can gather more information.

THE Middle East can be many things to many people, but the one thing that first-time visitors can rely on it being is something of a culture shock. Within the broad area called the "Middle East" there are many regional differences in both the people and there attitudes to Westerners. The Middle East has changed dramatically in the past 10 years and nowhere more so than the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is now fairly tolerant of Westerners however Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are far less tolerant and there is a lack of Western entertainment, and restrictions on movement, - particularly for women in Saudi - alcohol and certain foodstuffs.

The big plus for Westerners, apart from the weather and no tax, is safety. The UAE, for example, has been voted the safest place in world for holidays by the IATA [International Association of Travel Agents]. Crime rates are very low. Conversely, there are many things that you take for granted in your home country that are proscribed in some Arab states, such as drinking alcohol. If you are going to the Gulf, you should learn about the local mores, particularly if the company you are going to join does not offer an orientation programme before you go.A useful rule of thumb is to remember that any behaviour which is considered offensive in the Western world will be seen similarly in the Middle East. Having said this, the most important consideration involved is to appreciate the importance of Islam in the Middle East. Islam should be seen very much as a way of life and code of behaviour which underwrites all aspects of a Muslim's life, and as such must be treated with respect at all times by all. In terms of practical day-to-day living, this respect demands restraint in exercising rude behaviour and the wearing of revealing clothing in public places. Some Arab countries are less strict than others when it comes to following the rules. The United Arab Emirates, for example, will be more tolerant of Westerners' faux pas than is Saudi Arabia. Regional differences do apply in that tight, revealing clothing in Saudi Arabia will be regarded as totally unacceptable, whereas in the UAE, for example, such dress would be considered as a failure on the part of the expatriate to understand local customs. A similar restraint should be shown in kissing a member of the opposite sex in public and, in certain countries, even escorting a person of the opposite sex to whom one is not related. Behaviour such as showing the soles of one's feet, crossing legs and beckoning with a single finger are also extremely rude.

Alcohol is practically forbidden in the primarily Muslim region of the Middle East, although some areas, including Egypt, the Levant and Dubai, adopt a more lenient attitude towards drinking, according to Mr Price. But irrespective of the country you are living and working in, you must restrain your alcohol consumption, especially in terms of offering a drink to a Muslim, and driving after drinking.

More information about the various countries in the Middle East, together with maps, can be obtained by clicking here.

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