On the correct way to act during a chance meeting with Emirati royalty.
Andrew Henderson / The National
To: Ali Alsaloom
Dear Ali: If I unexpectedly meet one of the royal family in the workplace, what is the correct etiquette for such a meeting? MM, Abu Dhabi
Dear MM: The protocol for interaction between the public and members of our royal families varies vastly from one region to another according to the context. For example, I wouldn’t suggest you speak to a sheikh if you see him in a restaurant or hotel, especially if he seems busy in a meeting or in a heavy discussion with other guests. You may definitely offer a smile and nod a salam; if you have a close relationship with him, he will welcome a handshake or simply reciprocate with a smile. On the other hand, if you were at a wedding or an open majlis, or even on an international trip, it would be OK to speak to him.
But since your question is about the correct etiquette for a chance meeting at your workplace, let’s deal with that. The correct etiquette is to treat members of the royal family the same way you should anyone else; with respect. You should politely acknowledge their status without exaggerating the divide. No going on bended knees or curtseying, please.
For example, if you are in the presence of a sheikh and he is accompanied by a senior officer of your company, the chances are you won’t stop him to say hello. But a polite smile while making eye contact and offering a greeting, such as “marhaba, your Highness” or “as-salamu alaikom, your Highness”, is fine.
It is important to keep a distance, but if you sense from his body language that he is inviting you to shake hands, do so. Make sure to stand still and not hurry a handshake while walking away. Then wait until he passes by. If he is walking into a room, allow him to walk in first by giving him the room he needs and then everyone else can follow. If he stands, then everyone should stand also and wait until he is escorted out.
However, all this would greatly depend on your place in the food chain. You would observe the above protocols if you are a senior manager or a director. If you are an office assistant or a telephone operator, however, you wouldn’t leave your booth to go to shake hands, but you could stand up, smile and greet him with an “as-salamu alaikom”.
But again, none of this is written in stone. These pointers are more in keeping with the natural codes of social conduct.
Interestingly, each sheikh sets his own codes for interaction. Some don’t care to be treated like royalty; they are always down to earth in their behaviour, sit with the public, shake hands, speak on their mobiles, drive their own cars and carry their own laptops, read a newspaper in a hotel lobby and generally live just like regular folk. Then there are other sheikhs, who, because of their place in the hierarchy, have no choice but to accept the VVIP treatment. Keeping their distance from people, their demeanour pre-empts any impromptu interruptions.
But as a rule, I can assure you the sheikhs are well known for their humility. They are always open to interacting with people and patiently listening to someone in need of help. On occasion, they also practise the traditional Arab greeting of rubbing noses.
All the same, it’s important to remember not to take advantage of the sheikhs’ accessibility. The onus is on us not to bother them in public, give them their space and honour their need for privacy unless they initiate an interaction. And yes, I’m happy to shake hands anytime.
Arabic: Al-denya lesa be-khair.
English: Life (or the world) is still fine (or good).
We usually say this whenever we are speaking with someone who is having problems and not able to move on, to remind them how beautiful life is and that it still has good people. So, hey, sad people, cheer up – “al-denya lesa be-khair”.