• Dress Conservative dress is the rule of thumb in Saudi Arabia. Shorts in public are a big no-no (except for private beaches operated by some top-end hotels and expat compounds); if males wear shorts, they must reach over their knees, while women must cover themselves with the traditional abaya (robe-like dress).
  • Greetings Greetings are considered to be extremely important. The most common greeting is salaam alaykum ('may peace be upon you'), to which the reply is wa alaykum as salaam ('and peace upon you too').
  • Handshaking Shaking hands (between men) is an important gesture of mutual respect.
  • In public Almost every institute, especially restaurants, have a male and 'family' section, which is essentially for women, and men can enter only with family. Sometimes there are also separate queues. When in public spaces, steer clear of getting too close to another family, especially when deciding where to sit.

Religious Police

Formally known as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the mutawwa (religious police) used to have an infamous reputation as moral vigilantes out to enforce strict Islamic orthodoxy. Operating independently from other branches of the security services, the mutawwa were at their most authoritative (and hence not to be argued with) when accompanied by uniformed police.

These days their powers have been completely reduced, as has their visibility. You will not see them in any of the big cities and barely find them present, if at all, in some of the smaller, more conservative areas. Even then the only thing the mutawwa have been seen doing is patrolling the streets in their vehicles around prayer times, using a loudspeaker to urge businesses to pull down their shutters and that men attend prayers. They will almost never approach foreigners, unless they are seen to be eating in public during Ramadan.

Ramadan

For Muslims, public observance of the fast is mandatory. Non-Muslims should avoid smoking, eating or drinking in public during Ramadan between the hours of sunrise and sunset, as this is a serious offence punishable by law.