The Middle East is an extremely broad term which covers many regions and ethnicities and is usually considered as the region covering western parts of Asia and Egypt – this dynamic makes it a transcontinental region. The major populations of the area are Arabs, Kurds, Persians, Egyptians and Turks while a number of other ethnicities exist in smaller numbers which form significant minorities such as the Jews who have their own state in the form of Israel. All the Abrahamic religions find their roots here making it an important area for a great majority of the world.
In recent times, the term the Middle East has gained a notorious reputation as every media house uses this term to identify the breeding grounds for terrorism but what is often forgotten is the sheer size of the region and the diversity it holds. Places like Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) attract a large number of tourists every year and these areas, too, fall in the Middle East. There are many things one needs to know before visiting the region in order to enjoy the experience completely.
All the Abrahamic religions have their roots in the Middle East which is the reason why concepts like modesty are deeply entrenched in the Middle Eastern societies even in the more progressive ones. It is predominantly Islamic so one needs to be a little respectful of that fact. People in Middle Eastern countries dress conservatively even during the summers which are especially hot in this part of the world. However, every country is different than the other for example Turkey is fairly secularized whereas Saudi Arabia has punishments for not following the dress code so you should check for your specific country before embarking on the journey.
2. Behavior in Public
Many countries in the western hemisphere don’t appreciate public displays of affection but there are usually no restrictions on doing so if one chooses to do it, however, in the case of middle eastern countries, you have to be especially careful about these things. In the more conservative countries, the interaction between men and women in public is discouraged and often considered disrespectful. Also, if you happen to visit a Muslim country in the Islamic month of Ramadan then you should avoid eating in public.
3. Addressing People
An important distinction between the Middle East and the Western countries is the difference in greeting people when you’re meeting for the first time. People in the west are fairly relaxed about these things and greet each other with their first names however Middle Eastern are very concerned about their titles and you should always address someone with their title and their last name especially when you’re meeting them for the first time.
4. Taking Pictures
Making Middle Eastern governments don’t trust the west, in general, and the Americans in particular, especially countries like Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia and even taking the camera out in front of the military facilities in these areas can land you in jail for questioning under suspicion of espionage. Besides, some of the best places to take pictures will be mosques, monuments and other works of art so a little carefulness is all that is needed.
5. Social Media
Even though this is not the case in the entire Middle East but many Middle Eastern governments are notorious for blocking access to the internet so you’ll be blocked out of many of your favorite social media apps. One way to get around this censorship is to use VPNs but those too will depend on the speed of your internet which can be very lousy in some places so be prepared for a social media detox.
One of the best things about the Middle East is the food. Almost every country in the region has some particular dishes it is famous for and they’re all particularly delicious. Finding authentic cuisine can be a little hard as fast food has found a place in the lives of middle easterners too but once you do find a good place, it will be worthy of all the trouble. Although vegetarians will have a more difficult time as almost every local food item seems to contain some sort of meat. Groupon offers some great discounts on food for both dine-in and takeaway.
7. Slow Time
This will take a little getting used to as life seems to move at a slower pace in the Middle East, especially in the rural areas. Service can be slow and the travel times you’re given are mostly rounded figures. A two-hour trip can become a four-hour trip because you’re taking breaking on the way. You would need to pack some patience and leave your worry at home for this trip.
8. History Lessons
The Middle East is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions whether it’s Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs, or Iran, the successor to the mighty Persian Empire, there is a great sense of pride associated with history in this region. You should read about the history of the region you’re visiting, it’ll make up a great topic for discussion with the locals.
This is a guest post written for Aditi’s Monologue by Frank Lee. He works at Rebates Zone, you can follow him @franklee84 Keep reading this top Travel Blog from India for more stories and travel tips from around the world.