To truly understand how business is done in Oman, it’s important to understand Islam first, because Islam is at the focal point of life in Omani society as well as the Omani business culture. Islamic Rule of Law or the Shariah dictates political, social and economic life in Oman, and everything, ranging from how women should dress to the mandated punishments for various crimes, is dictated by the Shariah.
Shariah also dictates commerce in Oman, and if you are looking to expand your business to Oman or are interesting in marketing your products here, you will do well to know the basics of this universal Islamic law. When it comes to business, there are three basic characteristics that prevail here in Oman – masculinity, obedience and tradition.
By masculinity, we mean that business in Oman is generally male dominated, and almost all business is done by men. There is a very limited role for women in business here, and even Western businesswomen may not get adequate respect if they are trying to do business in Oman, relative to what a Western businessman would get.
By obedience, we would like to draw attention to the fact that Oman is a very hierarchical society, with a strict delineation between those at the top and those at the bottom of the hierarchy. There is actually some sort of a caste system in place here, and it is difficult to break out of it. There is very little social interaction or intermingling among the various castes. As a Western businessman, you would be expected to show deference to those at the top of the Omani business hierarchy.
When we say tradition, we mean that the Omanis are very proud of their culture, religion and heritage, which harkens back to several hundred years. They are quick to take offence against any sarcastic comment or a joke made by a foreign businessman if it is seen in any way as being critical of Islam or Arab culture.
They expect foreign businessmen to dress conservatively, and foreign businesswomen not to wear clothes that are considered to be revealing even in the slightest.
Omani businessmen do not take kindly to non-serious behavior, and would expect foreign businessmen to be on their guard always, to be polite and deferential. In return, they are unfailingly polite and courteous to a fault.
Most Omani businessmen are very comfortable in English, but would appreciate it greatly if greeted with the Islamic greeting, “Assalam Alaikum” – which means, “May peace be upon you”. This is an equivalent of “Hello” in the Western world. If an Omani businessman greets you with these words, you should reply, “Walekum Assalam”, which is an equivalent of saying “Thank you!”
It’s important to make your appointments well in advance, and be punctual always for a business meeting in Oman. Also, while handing over business cards, it would be seen as impolite if your business card isn’t bilingual, or translated into Arabic as well. This is because while Omanis speak English well, they are also very proud of their Arab culture.
There are things you shouldn’t do during a business meeting in Oman – such as being too impatient, aggressive, or salesmanlike; pointing fingers at your Omani business partner, patting your Arab business partners on their backs, or showing your shoe soles to them by crossing your leg over. As long as you desist from doing anything that is considered disrespectful, you should find it easy to do business in Oman.
This article is a part of our ongoing series on “Doing Business in the Middle East and North Africa.” Our goal is to inform people about the right way to form a business partnership with local business partners in the region, and to offer a better understanding of the business culture and etiquette followed in that part of the world. The intention is to ensure that you are comfortable and know what to expect during a business negotiation with a business partner in the Middle East or North Africa. Please send us your suggestions on how we may help to serve you better.