The Arabic language is spoken with very different dialects across the region. When I spoke a few words of Arabic to my taxi driver in Muscat he smiled warmly and said: "Ah madam, I think a Lebanese taught you Arabic?" He was right. The Arab world is full of contrasts, different cultures, different modes of behaviour and doing business, and different traditions. Governments, corporations, institutions operate and perform differently.
Reading (yet another) piece of research this week that drinking coffee leads to longer life however, reminded me about one thing which is shared, in the same way, across the Arab region. Sharing a coffee together, sitting in one of the profusion of coffee shops in every Arab city is a great way to build friendships, grow trust, share experiences and gossip. All this is crucial to building a working relationships, the foundation of a healthy business. The first time a senior Arab suggested we met at a coffee bar instead of his office I was taken aback. Am I not important enough to come and visit you in your office, I thought? I was wrong. I was important enough for him to share a coffee with me.
The Arab world has a reputation of a difficult place to do business, Arabs find it harder to say 'no' than their Western counterparts - in an effort not to cause offence, decision-making can be slowed down sometimes to a standstill. Much of this is because time is needed to get to know people before commitments are made.
Networking gurus say this is the price for doing business. I say this is the bonus. Getting to know people, making new friends, drinking coffee... these are, for me, one of the joys of doing business in the Arab world.
Oh, and it you want a snapshot of coffee and the Arab world, read it here