The Finnish Dude’s Ultimate Guide to Coffee Drinking in Saudi-Arabia

This humorous cultural guide to Saudi coffee (gahwa) drinking ceremony is directed at the traditional Finnish man, but could be useful for any western men when navigating though the Arab coffee drinking culture.

For Saudis visiting Finland for the first time it’s recommend to read the Saudi Dude’s Guide to Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony. These two nationalities are highlighted in the guides because the author of this blog is a Finnish woman married to a Saudi man.


Gahwa Drinking Guide For Finnish Men

So you are Finnish dude and have arrived in Saudi-Arabia. Like the typical Finnish dude, you are not very familiar with the Arab culture. You think Saudis are hairy men wearing big skirts that live in the desert in tents eating camels and fighting other Arabs. Your perception of Saudi Arabia is that it’s full of sand and rocks. For this problem, I recommend you go here: Images of Saudi
Luckily you find yourself invited to a Saudi house for some Arabic coffee to change your perceptions to more realistic ones.
What to expect?
What should you do, and most importantly, NOT do?
The Saudis, like the Finns have specific rules to their coffee drinking ceremonies. This guide will help you not only to enjoy the evening, but to avoid getting deported.
When you arrive at the house you will be greeted by the Saudi man. He will start kissing and hugging you. Note that this is completely normal. He is not trying to make a move. Try your best not to stand there like frozen popsicle. It is polite to say something also, try Marhaba.
Note that the Saudi man will likely ask you how you are and then ask the same about your family members one by one. You might feel this is obtrusive but do not worry, he’s not trying to find out your family secrets, just being polite. You can reveal how your relatives are doing however if one of your uncles is in rehab or jail it’s best not to mention that. The point is to pretend everyone is fine and keep it short. Saudis won’t like to listen to the story about your grandmothers medical report starting from year 1902.
At this point you might start to wonder where the women are. They are in the other side of the house. If you see something that looks like this:

That is a woman, not a ninja. Do not make any attempts to kiss her. If you happen to see her you are supposed to look away and not say a word, that is seen as being polite. Don’t worry if you accidentally mumble something. The black figure will not attack you.

You will be escorted into a room with no couches or tables. Mattresses, carpets and pillows will be spread out on the floor. Don’t panic. This is not their bedroom. It’s their living room called a Majilis.

Remove your shoes and sit on the floor with your legs crossed. You can keep your white tennis socks on. Don’t attempt to lie down or spread your legs.

Next the Saudi coffee drinking will begin. You will hear them say “kawa” or “gahwa”. This doesn’t have anything to do with the “kava-ceremonies” you saw in Fiji.
The coffee pot and cups will be brought into the room. They will likely look something like this:

Don’t get your hopes up. Those are NOT shot glasses. The tiny coffee cups are called “finja” and the coffee pot is called a “dallah“.

Next the youngest of the Saudi’s sons will pour the coffee. He will hold the coffee pot in his left hand while pouring the coffee from a high distance to the small cup like you saw many times in the night club. Please do not cheer him on though. The coffee cup will not be filled to the top but always 1/3 full. The Saudis are not being cheap, they just like to keep filling your cup to show hospitality.

Don’t worry if the color of the coffee is very yellow. The hosts are not serving you camel pee. The color of the Arabic coffee beans is golden and they might have added some saffron to it. Accept the coffee cup with your right hand. Don’t blow on the coffee like you are used to, it is seen as bad manners.

Don’t ask for sugar, cream or milk with a cinnamon roll. There are none. The coffee is drunken straight. That does not mean you should throw the coffee in your mouth with one big gulp and burp afterwards. You should sip on it slowly holding the cup in your right hand with two fingers. It will taste delicious with aromas of cardamon.

Next you will be offered something that looks like these:

No need to get concerned, they are not dried cockroaches. They are in fact dates that taste very good despite the suspicious appearance. Be polite and taste at least one with your right hand. Note that there will be a seed inside. Do not spit in on the floor but discretely place it in a napkin handed to you.
Be warned that you might be served something that resembles rotten grapes but they are actually half ripe dates and you should eat both sides.
You will be served more and more coffee by the son who circulates the room with the coffee pot. Be polite and have at least three rounds. If your hands are starting to get shaky and you feel sudden light-headedness your coffee has not been spiked by your hosts. You most likely had enough of the strong coffee.
To stop the son from pouring more coffee into your cup, place your left hand on top of the cup or shake it. The cup that is.
Saudis love small talk, which for Finnish men can be a very difficult language to speak. Some suggested topics: sports, weather, and they will surely ask you what you think of their country. Topics to avoid: Politics, religion, asking about the women of the family.
Remember to profusely thank your Saudi hosts. They will be genuinely glad to have had you as their guest.  Congratulations you have survived the Saudi gahwa ceremony!
What if you’re Saudi dude visiting Finland for the first time? If you thought the Saudis have weird coffee drinking habits, then you aint’ seen nothing yet! proceed to the Saudi Dudes Survival Guide to Finnish Coffee Drinking Ceremony. 

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  • NoorSeptember 18, 2011 - 2:03 pm

    OMG this is hilarious and should be titled any western man bc I could see American men thinking the same hahaha.ReplyCancel

  • SylviaSeptember 18, 2011 - 2:09 pm

    Amusing insight into yet another fascinating cultural custom! I’ve got the exact same salt&pepper shakers, except my white one doesn’t have an eqal on top :DReplyCancel

  • SylviaSeptember 18, 2011 - 2:22 pm

    Oh, and what if I was a Finnish chick? :D Would it look the same, just with the sexes reversed?ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 19, 2011 - 12:26 am

    thank you this post it made me laugh so hard as I was imagining the man in all the situations,how clueless he was and always thinking of alcohol like Finnish men usually do, but I agree the title could as well be american dudes guide!ReplyCancel

  • DentographerSeptember 19, 2011 - 3:50 am

    Layla your blog is amongest the most amusing in my feed :D
    this is trully entertaining to read,keep it up!ReplyCancel

  • Chick Flick JournalSeptember 19, 2011 - 10:38 pm

    Lol hmmm im not sure how to react to thisReplyCancel

  • QusaySeptember 20, 2011 - 6:26 am

    I like what u did with the salt and pepper shakers :) great thinking LOLReplyCancel

  • LaylahSeptember 20, 2011 - 7:50 am

    I love those salt&pepper shakers, they have endless potential ;)
    Thanks everyone for the feedback!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousSeptember 22, 2011 - 11:54 pm

    ROLF, what a great guide laylah. I’m sure the Saudi host will be so happy if you praise his coffee.


  • LaylahSeptember 26, 2011 - 1:10 pm

    Hi Bandar and welcome to my blog!
    Hopefully the Finnish dude would understand to say how good the coffee is and not just sit there with a dumb look on his face ;)ReplyCancel

  • Umm MansourDecember 10, 2011 - 8:14 am

    i just found your blog and enjoyed reading some of your entries…but this one really made me laugh.:) keep on blogging sister! Jazakallu khair.ReplyCancel

  • FarooqFebruary 9, 2012 - 8:06 am

    I really do think that you should try writing humor professionally. That was hilarious and very well written.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 22, 2012 - 7:06 am

    Articulate, informative and offcourse highly amusing, thank you very much for this I needed the laugh. I must agree with “Farooq”, you must write humor professionally, you are quite good at it.


  • AnonymousFebruary 22, 2012 - 7:07 am

    Articulate, informative and offcourse highly amusing, thank you very much for this I needed the laugh. I must agree with “Farooq”, you must write humor professionally, you are quite good at it.


  • Proud MuslimahMarch 8, 2012 - 8:15 pm

    So funny. I loved this very much. Now you need to write a Saudi guide to a Finnish coffee experience. I’d like to know what Finnish people do differently :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahMarch 10, 2012 - 10:37 pm

      Proud Muslimah-Great idea! I will do for sure :)ReplyCancel

  • Hey MamaApril 6, 2012 - 4:19 am

    Hi Laylah, I just wanted to let you know that I found your blog randomly (I have a friend living in KSA and was interested in learning more about it since she doesn’t write much – I think she’s afraid to!) Anyway, I think your blog is great. You’ve done an amazing job of “keepin’ in real” while being respectful as well. My best friend is Swedish and I travel there a lot and lately I’ve noticed a very hateful attitude towards “Arabs”, which sounds rude to me, as an American (we say “Middle Eastern” but you know how politically correct we are here ;) I love digging beneath the stereotype and meeting real, ordinary people just living their lives, so thank you! Also, those two ceramic/glass figures you have (the white one and the black one) – do you remember what they are called or where I would find something like that? Best WishesReplyCancel

  • HahnApril 11, 2012 - 12:54 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJuly 20, 2012 - 5:48 pm

    Hilarious!!! loved this post :))ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 2, 2013 - 5:34 am

    “You think Saudis are hairy men wearing big skirts that live in the desert in tents eating camels and fighting other Arabs.”
    I couldn’t stop laughing from the begining to the end. I really like your blog Layla. I just recently discovered it, and now I’m going through all your posts.Keep it up.ReplyCancel

  • Maimuna SyedFebruary 13, 2013 - 10:03 pm

    mähtävä! this was hilarious :DReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 13, 2013 - 10:57 pm

    Dear Layla,

    Let me assure you that I am now going to read and comment on as many entries in your blog as possible. You are a born writer, chronicler and humorist (this one is truly outrageously humourous!).


  • LaylaJune 17, 2013 - 8:49 am

    Hi drtaher,
    Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • […] What if you’re a Finnish dude and you find yourself invited for coffee in the land of the sand?? Survival Guide here: The Finnish Dude’s Ultimate Guide To Coffee Drinking In Saudi-Arabia […]ReplyCancel

  • Cat MorseDecember 6, 2014 - 5:42 pm

    As an American lover of Finnish culture, everything in this and the “Saudi dude’s guide to coffee in Finland” made me laugh hysterically. Shared with my lovely friends in Rovaniemi! <3ReplyCancel

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