Backpacking around the Middle East can be a challenging yet very educational and enjoyable experience. As a Westerner, the culture of the Middle East can seem very, well, foreign. However, if you educate yourself before you're there to avoid offending anyone, the difference in culture will be easy to pick up and good manners will come naturally before you know it.
Before you get scared out of your travelling plans, on the whole the norm of behaviour is just to be gracious, kind and honest. This large stretch of land is host to a diverse set of rules of etiquette, depending on where you go. Therefore, whilst it is beneficial to clue yourself up on general, widespread traditions, it's best to research the area you're going to in particular, also.
The Middle East has a heavy emphasis on trust, respect and friendship, in particular a reverence for elders. On your travels, it is wise to greet older people first, and stand when you are in a room with them. There is a popular saying: 'the eye cannot raise above the eyebrow', which means that everyone should know and respect their and others' position in life.
Despite the effort on friendliness, there are clear restrictions - public displays of affection towards the opposite sex are generally frowned upon.
In the West, we can be quite relaxed in terms of making plans. It is generally accepted that an arrangement you have made with someone can go awry - something else can come up which you need to prioritise. Aside from the arduous hassle of scribbling something off your calendar, there's little harm in rearranging a plan. In the Middle East, however, if you make a plan, make sure you stick to it. Also, it is considered rude to show the soles of your feet or shoes.
The best you can do is to watch and learn - body language and facial expressions, which you have innately learned throughout your life, will differ in the Middle East, so be aware and pick up on it. Don't refuse hospitality, but accept it graciously.
Thanks to globalisation, we are a lot more knowledgeable of other countries than our own. However, this can misinform as well as inform, of which the film 'Sex and the City 2' is a good example of.
'Global Etiquette Guide to Africa and the Middle East,' by Dean Foster, says that travelling to the Middle East can be a great learning curve. In his book he says: 'Arabs and Westerners often bring out the worst in each other, for each is sometimes quick to misunderstand the other and to lay the blame for misunderstanding on the other'.
Egypt, in particular Sharm el-Sheikh, is one popular destination for travellers. With amazing beaches and the delights of the Red Sea, there is an abundance of all inclusive holidays to Sharm el-Sheik to enjoy. This is one region where it is custom to shake hands as a greeting. Another Middle-East hotspot for travellers is Turkey, with many low-budget hostels and beautiful landscapes. Handshakes and greeting the most elderly person firstly is custom here. For the budget-conscious traveller, Jordan is a great placed to travel around. With beautiful Mediterranean beaches and plenty of budget accommodation, it's a cheap way to a beautiful escape.