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These are most of the important social rules
you'll encounter -- a politeness primer
for first-time visitors to Oman.

By John Hessburg, General Mgr
U.S. Dive Travel Network

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.

Oman's Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
© Copyright 2008 John Hessburg, USDT
courtesy of Radisson SAS, Muscat.

The Sultan of Oman is renowned
for 30 years of progressive rule.

© Copyright 2008 John Hessburg, USDT
courtesy of Radisson SAS, Muscat.

It would be wise to memorize a few simple rules of cultural sensitivity to ensure you can mesh smoothly with your host country of Oman. These suggestions will help any traveler show respect for some of the dearest people I have ever met in 30 years of adventure travel -- here in the Sultanate of Oman. I personally think it is a fun challenge to travel as lightly & unobtrusively as possible. It's enjoyable to make friends & to avoid offending people, while still digging deeply into a new country, & relishing the best & brightest of its cuisine, art, outdoor vistas, sports & shopping. No need to be shy folks -- just be circumspect. And how am I an authority in this tricky arena? Easy. I made mistakes, inadvertently, for many of the 30 years I have traveled through a couple dozen countries worldwide. Made the mistakes, & learned from them.

So many millions of North Americans & Europeans receive a skewed view of the Arab world through their TV sets each week. It might be a sadly common misconception among westerners who seldom travel, that all Arab countries are afflicted with militant youth & venomous anti-American demonstrations -- just because they see CNN highlighting yet another clash between cops & kids on the West Bank.

Time to rethink this shopworn cultural paradigms, folks. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is NOT the guiding light for the way all Arabs treat westerners. Far from that. While many Arabs -- especially politically savvy youth -- do empathize with the Palestinians' political plight, it is still their millennia-old tradition to treat all visitors with graciousness & respect. The Muslim Koran preaches hospitality to strangers & kindness to travelers. The Arab people of Oman, & the many other Asian & African peoples who have gathered to work & live in Oman, are some of the friendliest people you will meet anywhere in Asia. This is a gentle culture, an exceptionally bright & well-educated culture, one that will astonish you with its simple decency & the relaxed "feel" of everyday living.

This article will share some ideas on how to ease adroitly into the Omani culture, fully alert, in a way that will endear you to your hosts. Give it a go. You may make some good friends for life. One of several themes that are common to the Christian Bible & the Islamic Koran is this idea: "In all things consider others as more important than yourself." That's basically the Golden Rule, & it serves you well here in Oman.

Oman is a culture of hospitable & orderly people.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.


There's a non-frantic flow to life in Muscat's Souq.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

Good idea never to compliment an Omani host too effusively about any prized possession, be it an art object or household ornament. Why? You might find yourself the sudden recipient of this item, as the host places it firmly in your hand & insists you keep it. Whoops. Now THAT can be a gaffe to remember. Many cultures around the world, from Asia to the South Pacific, are just the same. I've seen this a lot. So North Americans & Europeans, please be aware of this little social rule. Also, when you give a gift to any person in Oman, do so without fanfare & boasting, just be subtle & humble about it. If an Omani gives you a gift, he will probably expect something in return, so come prepared with a few choice but affordable items in your travel pack, such as nice pens, CDs, tapes, small books. These are appreciated & will not upstage your host's gift, yet will seem generous & thoughtful on your part. Most Omanis will never open your gift in front of you; they do it in private. This is normal & good to remember when you receive something that is gift-wrapped from an Omani person.

Most Omanis behave very discretely in public places such as restaurants, parks, the Souq or in shops. You simply never will see western-style "PDA" -- Public Displays of Affection -- such as kissing, ardent embraces, fondling or any sexually suggestive behavior between spouses, or especially between a boyfriend & girlfriend. This sort of thing is simply not done -- ever -- & would evoke needless tension among your hosts if you try to "let it all hang out," as if you were chillin' at some Club Med or Jamaican resort. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Oman, well...

Another thing I noticed is that you virtually never see Omanis indulge in boisterous laughing or arguments, nor any loud shouting in public. This is a culture of subtlety. I found the Omanis greatly respect people who are low-key & who blend into a crowd in an easygoing manner.

By all means, ladies, please never wear skimpy bathing suits or low-cut blouses, shorts or mini-skirts or tight rave-type clothing in any public place in Oman -- even in the more tolerant downtown Muscat. You can wear bathing suits around hotel swimming pools, no worries; or at the beaches. And gentlemen, avoid wearing shorts or going bare-chested in public as well, except around the hotel pool, on the beaches, or in the outback desert sectors when you are camping & trekking. Good for both men & women to wear long-sleeved shirts most of the time.

In general, most Arab cultures value the privacy of their homes to a very high degree; & that's why you will see that the typical Omani house has walls around it, & shuttered windows & the windows are designed to discourage people from the outside looking in. Arabs also have an endearing trait -- they do not want you to feel like they are spying on you & invading your privacy; so you will see averted gazes & people politely "looking the other way" if you commit some social gaffe. Further, when you visit an Omani's home, please make sure to stand outside the main door in such a way that you will not be peeking directly inside when the host opens the door. Of course, you wait to enter any home until your host beckons you clearly with an overt hand signal of welcome.

It's a simple game of social chess: follow the rules,
keep a sense of cheerful balance & have a great time!
This is the private beach at Al Bustan Palace Hotel.

© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

Virtually all Omani nationals are Muslims, & many are quite devout, following the rules of the Koran strictly each day. Just as certain as the sun sets & the moon rises, you will see that traditional Muslims pray 5 times each day -- at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, & nightfall. The typical prayer time lasts about 10-15 minutes. The tall-spired Muslim "churches" are called mosques, & if you are a non-Muslim please do not even think of strolling into a mosque. That is absolutely forbidden throughout the Arab world & would be met with concerned protest, even in a culture as tranquil & hospitable as Omani society. There are two things you just do NOT do in Oman: mess with a mosque & criticize the Sultan or his closest people. The most important time of the year for all Muslims is Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During that roughly 30-day period, devout Muslims fast from dawn until sunset each day; & you will find it VERY hard to secure alcoholic beverages anywhere except certain hotel clubs. Please be sure to be on your best behavior during Ramadan, a religious month that comes at a slightly different time each year as the lunar calendar shifts.

It is not possible to do business in Oman without encountering the traditional coffee-sipping session. Arabs are world-renowned for their warm hospitality, & serving strong freshly-brewed black coffee is one of the main ways they check out their visitor, making lots of small talk sometimes for hours, to see what you're made of -- before getting down to brass tacks. Never try to rush a business meeting by pushing an Arab towards whatever conclusion you desire. That's a social blunder for sure. Just take it easy & enjoy the languid pace. You will get to the point in due time, & who cares how long it takes? This is the Omani's country & they do things in a very relaxed & peaceful manner, which I frankly find charming. By all means, even if you are caffeine-sensitive like I am, never refuse a cup of coffee, as that would be an insult to your host. Just take one small cup graciously, smile in thanks & signal to the server that you have had enough by teetering your cup side to side over the saucer, or by placing your right hand, palm down, over the cup. Simply say "Shokran" when it is all over -- thank you.

Women are protected & respected in Oman & western men need to be very aware of how they treat Omani women. This is not some repressive culture where woman cannot work or drive, & walk 10 paces behind their husbands. That's not the case in Oman. But women follow strict social rules. It is considered a major blunder to shake a Muslim woman's hand, or to touch her in any way, unless she is an ultra-modern business woman who first extends her hand to you. Also, NEVER greet any Arab woman with a European-style kiss, as that is just not done in Oman. Further, Arab men do not appreciate it when western men mention, even in a kindly manner, how attractive their wife or daughter might be. This is considered a crass, insensitive social move that borders on the lurid.

This is a powerful cultural norm that's common to many areas of Asia. If you understand this idea, & shape your public behavior to accommodate this intrinsic part of Arab culture, you will go a long way toward avoiding stressful conflicts & making good friends easily. In a nutshell, the Arab people in Oman enjoy living in a non-argumentative manner; & they virtually never seek a publicly embarrassing resolution to any conflict. In fact, Arabs tend to dislike overt conflict in most cases. When you see an potentially embarrassing situation develop, or you sense some accidental circumstances arising that might cost an Arab gentleman his public honor, by all means devise a creative & subtle way to help this gent save face. This means find a way to preserve his feelings of self-worth & dignity. To shame an Arab is tantamount to slapping his face with a battle gauntlet. You may forever lose the opportunity to make a friend. Or worse...

In short, if an argument starts, try to find a peaceful way to resolve the conflict in a manner that conveys respect to your counterpart, so that he feels his emotions & dignity are validated & not "dissed" by your impertinence. Other Omani Arabs will look upon you with admiration when they see you practice this face-saving social skill. You will be regarded as a person of high breeding & reliable ethics, & your social status will grow. If any Omani's self-respect is threatened, & you exploit that gap in his emotional armor, you stand to make big trouble for yourself down the line.

You will always befriend more hummingbirds with one spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.



Please contact -- Susan & John Hessburg, Mgrs
PMB 307 / Suite # 116
15050 Cedar Ave. S.
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA 55124-7047

Voice Mail: 952-953-4124
Fax Line: 952-431-5023




First things first for your Oman scuba diving holiday. Please remember that you will need to secure a formal visa from the Omani Consulate closest to your hometown, before you will be allowed entry into Oman. Visas for most U.S., Canadian & European citizens are very easy to secure, & take only a couple weeks. The Oman Embassy staffers in Washington, DC are exceptionally gracious & helpful. They are geared up to encourage eco-responsible tourism; this is quite evident. Visa fees are nominal & paid via cashier's check to the Omani Embassy or Consul General nearest to you. Make sure you prepare well for your Oman scuba diving trip.

OMAN VISA PROCESS -- Passport & visa required for all tourists, & for all Oman vacations. Tourist/business visas for multiple-entry issued for stays up to 6 months & valid for 2 years. Both business or tourist visas require a special official application form & cholera immunization if arriving from infected area & a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of passport by mail. For transit & road travel, please check with the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/387-1980, -1981 or -1982).

All package prices listed here for Oman diving holidays are subject to possible change in this steadily evolving travel market. Land prices are traditionally stable, while air prices may fluctuate for Oman vacations. Until air tickets are issued, all airlines reserve the right to change airfares without notice -- a longtime industry standard, per FAA rules. We at U.S. Dive Travel will price-protect you to the utmost of our professional ability; & that has been our pledge for one decade now. We normally secure excellent discount air tickets. Remember please, the federal government has deregulated airlines, so only they control their pricing -- not any travel professionals. But our lodging & Oman diving contracts are set for one year at a time, & therefore are rock solid nearly all seasons.

Unless specifically noted, these above packages are prices for only the land-based or vessel-based portion of your Oman scuba diving vacation, in most cases reflecting double-occupancy rooms. At most vacation resorts there will be no triple-occupancy rooms offered. Some exceptions may be noted. International air tickets & commuter "island-hopper" airfares are always extra above these land costs. Nominal service fees are also extra for air tickets & the lodging + diving components of all Oman vacations. The baseline tariffs for all clients start at $35 per person for the land portion + $20 pp for published-fare air tickets. Late-booking clients may receive slightly higher tariffs on the lodging + diving. Solo clients will always pay a single supplement to secure a private room on their Oman diving holidays -- normally 35% to 50% more -- & possibly a doubling of the standard double-occupancy rate at some resorts.

For our U.S. or Canadian clients, the preferred payment mode for all lodging, diving & side tours is by cashier's check or wire transfer in U.S. dollars. All clients living outside the USA or Canada will need to pay only via direct wire transfer in U.S. dollars -- no exceptions please. No personal checks or credit cards will be accepted for the lodging or land-tour portions of any Oman dive vacations, please. Thank you for your gracious understanding. Our service level is the highest & our prices the lowest in this industry, & thus we need to preserve a reasonable margin to keep the Ship of State afloat, thereby ensuring that your Oman diving holidays will be brilliant & affordable.

For published-fare air ticket bookings on your Oman dive vacations, USDT always accepts Visa & Mastercard, even from non-U.S. clients. For discount wholesale air tickets, however, USDT accepts only cashier's checks or wire transfers, please, since we are giving you exceptionally low net rates, below the lowest published discount fares available.

Remember, all clients to all foreign destinations will be asked by local officials overseas, upon departing the airport on your final day, to pay a nominal government departure tax, usually between USD $25 - $45 per client. USDT cannot collect this tax beforehand, so you simply pay it down there, in your host country. Be sure to stash away a little cash for this final moment at the airport, so you'll get your exit visa stamped quickly with no fuss; & away you go. Best of luck with your travel plans. We hope your Oman dive vacation is a safe & satisfying adventure. Blessings & best wishes.

Best fishes too!

>////*> <*\\\\<

John Hessburg, General Manager
Susan Hessburg, Operations Manager
Founding Partners of the U.S. Dive Travel Network.

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.

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