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History & Heritage


Nose rubbing: where does this traditional Gulf Arab greeting come from?

Greetings, as diverse as human interaction itself, take a variety of forms around the world. They range from commonplace gestures such as the peck on the cheek and the handshake to more unusual practices such as the touch of the shoulder and even the kiss on the shoulder. However, in the vast Arabian Peninsula, there is a very special method of greeting: the nose rub.

Customs of the Arabian peninsula

In Arab culture, this custom is a symbolic sign of mutual respect, gratitude and loyalty. It extends beyond interactions between peers to those of higher social status. The importance of the nose in Arab culture cannot be overstated: it symbolizes pride and honor, and is even used as a metaphor in the Arabic language to describe a person who has high self-esteem and is proud. Placed in the center of the face, the nose carries profound symbolism, making it the place to greet someone with the utmost respect. This practice is not restricted to Arab men: women also frequently rub noses with each other.


For some, understanding the symbolism behind nasal greetings is the key to understanding the deeper meaning of this practice, which goes beyond a simple exchange of pleasantries. The nose is transformed into a metaphorical bridge of equality when two peers press their noses together. In situations where there are hierarchical differences, the younger or lower-status individual may express deference by participating in this unique form of greeting.

Note that this practice is not unique to the Arabian Peninsula. Similar customs can be found in other parts of the world, notably among the Inuits in the Arctic and the Maoris in New Zealand.


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Published on 1 September 2023

#Arab world