As the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has a wide range of cultures within its borders. Each region carries its own story and identity, and you can't help but wonder: how is there so much diversity across the country? Before the 1970's, Oman was a major port for travellers which resulted in the assimilation of many cultures into its own. When Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said came into power in 1970, he decided to unify Oman's national identity, thereby creating Oman's unique, welcoming culture.
The food of Oman draws its influences from India, Africa, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Their dishes generally feature a meat base of chicken or lamb with a serving of rice. Mashai is a hearty plate of roasted kingfish from Oman's coast with a side of aromatic lemon rice, and the ruz al mudhroub is a rich rice dish served with fried fish.
Arsia is a rice-based dish of well-roasted lamb served with a sour sauce called torshe. A similar variation of this dish is kabsa which is spiced saffron rice with meat. Hares Lahaam, an Arabic delicacy, features roasted lamb in a generous portion of ghee. Owing to its location in the Middle East, Omani food also includes delicious kebabs and shawarmas.
The Omanis have an assortment of traditional desserts as well such as lokhemat which are deep-fried balls of flour flavoured with cardamom and halwa, although their halwa is wheat-based and slow-boiled over a wood fire.
It is during the month of Ramadan that Oman's heartiest delicacies can be seen. Shuwa is a meat-based dish cooked with herbs and spices like cloves, pepper, cardamom and cumin. It is wrapped in banana leaves and placed in an underground pit to roast for over a day. This dish is often made as a community with multiple types of meat roasted together in the same tandoor. Another Ramadan favourite is the milk and date-flavoured thick soup called sakhana.
The country boasts of a wide variety of dates and understandably, this dry fruit is found in many Omani dishes. It is often served with Oman's spiced coffee called kahwa that has an intense and slightly bitter flavour. If coffee is not your chosen drink, then do try the laban which is a variation of buttermilk.
The religion of Oman is Islam. Roughly 75% of the population practice a branch of Islam known as Ibadism, making Oman the only country in the world in which Ibadism is dominant.
In keeping with the austere nature of Ibadism, Oman's mosques are simple with little decoration and no minarets, unlike their Muslim neighbours. As per their religion, Ibadis do not drink alcohol and modesty is the norm. Women and men are expected to cover their shoulders, arms, and legs while in public. During the month of Ramadan, Oman is relatively quiet during the day and it is against the law to eat, drink or play loud music in public during this time.
The country ranks high in religious tolerance. Non-Muslim religious communities in the country include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Buddhists and Christians. Most non-Muslims in Oman are foreign nationals or migrants.
Muscat has two temples, small gurudwaras and churches that have been built under Sultan Qaboos? rule to promote freedom of religious expression, and there are almost no reports of religious discrimination of any kind. Sunnis, Shias and Ibadis co-exist peacefully in Oman. Religious meetings, however, do not take place in private residences as this is against the law. All religious groups need to be registered in order to plan any activities.
The Omanis are humble but welcoming people. Public displays of anger are not permitted, neither are violent or rude gestures. They believe in conducting oneself properly in public to maintain a good reputation. As a result, it's important to avoid any situations in which an Omani may lose face in front of their peers. They will take it as a personal slight and it will reflect poorly on both parties.
If you'd like to take photographs with locals, remember to ask for permission first, especially when it comes to Omani women. If they are not comfortable being photographed, it is best not to push the issue. However, if the locals take a liking to you, they are very warm and hospitable. It's common to be invited home where they would typically serve dates and Omani coffee. When visiting their home, it's customary to carry a small gift and to take off shoes before entering the premises.
The formal address to a man is 'Sayed' and 'Sayeeda' for women, and it's important to greet the local people in the right way as civility is valued highly. Although it is not mandatory, the locals respond well to visitors who know at least a little Arabic, as it shows a conscious effort to learn their culture.
They are particular about punctuality, so do keep that in mind while conducting business. The Omanis enjoy good conversation and it is polite, to begin with inquiries about family, health, etc before beginning any talk about business. However, when making inquiries about family, remember to be tactful and limit questions about the women of the household. In addition, they do not appreciate sarcastic comments on religion or the Sultan, and will not take kindly to any remarks against the ruler in any way. In fact, these conversations can sometimes be considered treasonous. Therefore, try to avoid discussing the Omani government, its official, or the Sultan in conversations.
Because Oman is a Muslim country, social interactions are generally segregated by gender. Handshakes are the most appropriate greeting, especially among business partners. As respect for elders is an important part of Oman's culture, make an attempt to shake the hand of the most senior person before anyone else in a meeting.
Although customs are slowly changing, it's advised to limit interactions such as shaking hands, smiling, and making conversation with the opposite sex unless they make the first move. In public transport, too, men will mostly give up their seat for women as sitting with someone of the opposite sex in such close quarters is frowned upon.
In keeping with the hot temperatures of the country, the traditional attire of Oman is loose-fitting for ventilation but covers the body to maintain modesty. The men wear long, ankle-length gowns called dishdasha while the women typically wear burqas or full-length skirts with a headdress called a lihaf. Both genders wear kohl which both accentuates their eyes and provides protection from the sun. In terms of accessories, the men carry the traditional dagger called a khanjar and a cane called an assa. The women wear intricate earrings and necklaces, as well as bracelets.
As tourism is a major economic activity in Oman, the locals have become used to tourists and expats in their cities. However, they remain traditional in their beliefs and it's best to remain respectful of their culture. Oman is a beautiful country with kind people and breathtaking landscapes, and you'll find that they have a culture that is rooted in tradition, community and togetherness.