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!
Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010. Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 75 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia! Follow my adventures in Saudi and beyond on instagram: instagram.com/blueabaya