Advice to Tourists in Oman

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When visiting Oman -- or any other Gulf-Arab state -- there are a few things one should keep in mind. First of all, the Gulf states are all very devoutly Muslim. It's hard for a secular Westerner to comprehend just how deeply affected these conservative socities are by Islam. Unlike the West, religion permeates every aspect of life, from the foods one eats to the way one should treat one's guests. The tenets and taboos associated with Islam are taken deeply to heart and visitors are expected to respect them. So how does this affect you as a tourist?

Dress

If you follow these guidelines, you should encounter no difficulties of any kind:

Women:

Do not wear shorts or sleeveless blouses in public unless you are at the beach. Even there, do not wear two-piece bathing suits. The only exception to this is at a five-star resort on its private beach -- if it has one. Don't wear excessive amounts of make-up, and be relatively circumspect in your approach to local men. Steady eye-contact and broad smiles are highly unwise and may lead to unpleasant encounters.

Men:

It is not wise to wear shorts in public unless you are at the beach or are participating in some kind of sporting activity which justifies them. In sophisticated parts of the Capital Area -- Qurum, Al-Khuwair, or Medinat Qaboos -- it's okay. Outside of those up-market areas, it's not the best idea. That said, you won't be arrested or deported; however, someone may tell you to "dress properly." Short-sleeved shirts and tee-shirts are permissible, but tank-tops are not.

Visiting Mosques

With few exceptions, non-Muslims are not encouraged to enter mosques in the Gulf. I have lived in the region since 1982 and have never been inside one, the one exception being a tour of the spectacular, new Sultan Qaboos Mosque which is now open to visitors.

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