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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Yemen
 
 
 

General

There is mutual curiosity among Yemenis and expatriates to learn about each other’s culture. The quickest way is to invite friends to one’s home . An old Yemeni tradition holds that the one who has shared a meal with you will not be your enemy. Yemenis take great pride in showing generous hospitality to their friends, and in the countryside foreign travelers are often invited to eat and spend the night in Yemeni houses. Arab hospitality is expressed in terms of plentiful food and generous sprinklings of perfume on the departing guests. The family is viewed as the God-willed way of life. A foreign resident’s family therefore is treated with respect, and children in particular attract attention and warmth. Complete strangers may come up to you and kiss your baby or small child - something you can hardly prevent.

The Fasting Month

The most important religious event a foreigner is likely to encounter in Yemen is Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. During this time all muslims (except children, the sick, and the elderly) abstain from food, drinking, smoking and sexual activity during daylight hours. As the Islamic calendar is lunar rather than solar, the time of Ramadan falls eleven days earlier each successive yesar. From dawn until sunset, most Yemenis will be fasting from the activities mentuioned above. The evening brings celebrations and the breaking of the fast, known as iftar. Such feasting and merry-making often lasts until dawn. Although you are not required to observe the fast, eating, drinking, and smoking around those who are is, of course, inconsiderate. Thus, during Ramadan, such activities should be confined to the privacy of your own home. At the beginning and conclusion of Ramadan, small gifts may be given to children. It is also appropriate to bring gifts of sweets to families who have invited you to their iftar. When giving gifts, offer them with your right hand, or with both hands. Presents are not usually opened in the company of the giver.

Weddings

Weddings are tremendously joyous occasions in Yemen and you may feel honoured if you have been invited to one. Parties for men and women are almost always held separately, and generally speaking, members of the opposite sex are not invited to the other's ceremony. Both parties generally consist of an afternoon spent socialising with the bride or groom in their home. Afterwards, their friends gather to sing religious songs, songs in praise of the bride or groom and his/her family, and dance before the bride or groom go to their families. Just as Yemenis will arrive for the wedding clothed in their finest attire, so should foreign guests dress in the formal, but comfortable, clothing from their country of origin. They will be seen as having made a gesture of great respect.

Note that married couples visiting a home together may be separated soon after arrival, the male guest sitting with his male host(s) and the female guest with her female hostess(es). In these situations, married couples may be expected to understand subtle hints or suggestions by the host, which propose to separate them into two groups. Unmarried couples visiting a home should exercise discretion; indeed, considering the rarity of friendships between unmarried men and women in Yemen, the advisability of such visits under most circumstances is questionable. One should also always take off his/her shoes when entering most Yemeni homes, and definitely when entering a mafraj. Also, keep in mind that not all invitations must or should be accepted. Offering an invitation is a feature of Arab culture, but one should consider before accepting whether the host will be inconvenienced beyond politeness.

Religion

As a foreign visitor, people will naturally be curious about you and may often inquire about your religious persuasion. In Yemen this is not considered an intrusive or impolite question, so a reaction that indicates offense on your part may insult the person inquiring. In these situations, the best response is to be as direct as possible, although replies such as "I don't believe in God" may be met with incredulity or genuine shock. The rule here is to tread sensitively, and if someone tries to argue or debate with you over religious differences, refuse politely. Most Yemenis - the vast majority, in fact - will treat you no differently for being a non-Muslim. Indeed, the Quran enjoins believers to treat Jews and Christians with friendliness and respect, as these "people of the Book" are followers of the holy tradition, which Islam springs from and completes, and are religious cousins to Muslims.


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