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  • Tombs at the Mada'in Saleh

Saudi Arabia is largely a traditional nation defined by its ethnic and religious roots. It’s the birthplace of Islam, which is the official religion, so Islamic law and custom shapes every aspect of legal and cultural interaction in Saudi Arabia, even for non-Muslim visitors. For instance, many shops and restaurants close briefly to observe the five calls to prayer throughout the day. In the month of Ramadan, further restrictions are observed. As well, alcohol and drugs, which are prohibited in Islam, are illegal.

But the nation’s customs run older than even the emergence of Islam and are defined by Arab hospitality and modesty. Saudi Arabia is an overwhelmingly polite nation, with strong forms of social etiquette and an emphasis on social decorum. In Saudi Arabia, you’re encouraged to be discrete, quiet, and not draw attention to yourself. Public displays of affection, cursing, and religious iconography is banned in public. There is a national dress code, which enforces modesty. Men are expected to always wear a shirt and pants or long shorts, while women need to cover up their legs and arms. It’s also expected (although not legally required) for women to wear a head covering such as an abaya or hijab, although it is required to gain entry to mosques and other holy sites. However, the coastal city of Jeddah has a more relaxed dress code, which conforms to more Western norms. So long as you’re polite and follow the local customs, you’ll be overwhelmed by the hospitality of your hosts.

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