Culture Shock in Bahrain
Despite its small size and extensive exposure to a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities, Bahrain's culture has essentially maintained its Arab roots. Islamic morals govern personal, business, legal and economic life. However, the country is regarded as quite liberal compared to its neighbours.
Bahrainis often speak English and are very friendly towards newcomers. Nevertheless, expats unused to the Arab way of life may experience some level of culture shock in Bahrain.
Dress code in Bahrain
On arrival, expats may be surprised to see just how smartly dressed locals can be. Even at the supermarket men can be found in their pristinely ironed white dishdashas and gutras, and women in abayas with detailed decoration at the neck or sleeve edges, heads or faces often uncovered.
A woman’s shoulders and knees should generally be covered, not by any formal ruling, but because skimpy tops or shorts can attract harassment. Hair should be covered too to avoid attracting unwanted attention. It is a formal requirement that shoulders and knees must be covered when visiting the Grand Mosque.
Both men and women should dress conservatively for business meetings.
Ramadan in Bahrain
Ramadan can be a period of severe culture shock for expats who have never experienced the holy event in a Muslim country.
No food or drink (including water) can be consumed in public between sunrise and sunset. Working hours and restaurant opening times are adjusted accordingly. However, some companies provide a room where non-Muslim staff can eat during the month of Ramadan.
Customs and etiquette in Bahrain
If invited to a Bahraini home, expats should take a non-alcoholic gift. Gifts will not be opened until the guests have left.
In Bahraini culture, men greet other men with handshakes, and kisses on the cheeks if they know each other. Women shouldn’t expect a man to shake hands with them, but a female friend may welcome her with a hug and a kiss. Men should not touch a Bahraini woman unless the woman offers her hand.
Always accept any coffee or tea offered as it is considered rude to turn it down.
Bahrainis love to socialise, but be aware that the event may be same-sex only. Make an effort to reciprocate the hospitality if possible. Social small talk will always precede a business meeting or a meal.
When visiting someone’s home, check if they’ve removed their shoes and do likewise; this rule applies no matter the nationality. Leaving footwear at the door avoids tramping the ubiquitous island dust through the house.
Alcohol in Bahrain
While alcohol is forbidden for Muslims in Bahrain, it is available at a price to non-Muslims over the age of 18. It is sold in specific outlets usually located away from schools and residential areas. Five-star hotels as well as some restaurants and expat social clubs are permitted to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises.