Oman is the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula, lying at its south-east corner, south of the Straits of Hormuz. It is bordered to the north by the United Arab Emirates, to the west by Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The coastline faces the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
There are two parts of Oman. The MusandamPeninsula overlooks the entrance to the Gulf and is divided from the rest of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. Musandam is almost entirely mountainous and sparsely populated, with Khasab as its chief town. Within the United Arab Emirates is the landlocked Omani village of Mudha.
The north of Oman is dominated by the Hajjar mountain range, which runs parallel to the coast reaching a height of over 3,000 metres at the Jebel Shams. This highland region is dissected by wadis (river beds) which are mainly dry but sometimes flood in the winter rainy season to support much vegetation.
Between the HajjarMountains and the coast is the Batinah plain, stretching from Muscat to the U.A.E. border. This plain is intensively cultivated near to the coast and it reaches up to 30km in width. At its south-eastern end are the major population centres of the capital area. To the south and west of the mountains there is an extensive desert of stony plain and sand dunes. The discovery of oil brought new life to this part of Oman.
The Dhofar region in the south is seasonally fertile and green, benefiting from an extended summer rainy season, in contrast to the hot and dry summer of the north. Dhofar centres upon the town of Salalah.
LOCATION OF THE SULTAN’S SCHOOL
The school is situated between MuscatInternational Airport (12km) and Seeb town (5km). The school is 3km from the sea as the crow flies but the intervening dual carriageway makes for a longer journey by road. The beaches are enormous and are strewn with lovely shells. The dual carriageway is part of the main road running from Muscat to the U.A.E. It leads eastwards to the suburbs of Medinat Qaboos (30km); Qurm (39km); Ruwi (45km); Muttrah (48km); and Muscat (50km).
The local time is GMT plus 4 hours during the UK winter months and GMT plus 3 hours during the summer.
Oman’s climate varies considerably from region to region. In the coastal area, average temperatures vary between 13 and 30 degrees Celsius (55 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit) in the coldest period, from November to March. The hottest months are May to September when the average monthly maximum temperature varies between 40 and 49 degrees Celsius (105 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit). During this period night temperatures remain very high. The period from May to September is hot and sticky and frequently humid. In April and October, temperature and humidity levels are reasonable and the November to March period is cool and pleasant.
The unit of currency is the Omani Rial (RO). The abbreviation RO should precede the numeral. There are 1000 baizas to the Rial. The Rial is linked to the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of $2.58 to the Rial. The sterling exchange rate fluctuates but has been within the range of GBP1.35 – 1.80 to the Rial this year. There is no limit or restriction on forwarding money out of the country.
Coins; 5, 10, 25, 50, baizas
Notes; 100 baizas, half-Rial
RO 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 (Take care – the one and five Rial note look similar!)
CULTURE AND CUSTOMS
Oman’s population is around three million. A fifth of these are expatriate workers. The expatriates include British and Americans but the majority are from the Indian sub-continent. It is a Muslim country and its language is Arabic. English is the second language and is taught in all schools in the Sultanate. (Omani state schools follow the American system of year grades). Most shopkeepers will speak some English, as do most business people. However, this is not always the case when travelling into the interior but sign language usually suffices, or you could learn a little Arabic!
Islam is not just a religion, but a total way of life which prescribes behaviour for individuals and society: codifying law, family relationships, business etiquette, dress, food, personal hygiene and much more. As the single most important factor in Omani culture, it dominates nearly all activities and policies of both the government and people.
Visitors are advised not to photograph military installations and key industrial, communications and transportation facilities. It is inappropriate to photograph people without their permission, and most Omani women and children do not like to be photographed at all. Although Oman is more tolerant and liberal than some of its Arab neighbours, it is important to remember at all times that we are guests of a traditionally-minded people who may be offended by certain western excesses.
Omanis have been described as ‘the gentlemen of the Gulf’ and are indeed renowned for their hospitality and friendliness. Social customs follow a similar pattern to those in other Muslim countries.
Handshaking on meeting and parting is much more customary than in Western countries, especially Britain. However, some women prefer not to shake hands. Wait for them to make the first move! Before entering a traditional house, it is usual to remove shoes, taking care not to expose the sole of the foot to the host. Refreshments are always offered to a visitor and it is polite to accept. If this extends to a meal to be eaten with the hands, use the right hand only.
One area where Westerners may unwittingly offend and even overstep the Omani law, involves the public display of affection between members of the opposite sex. Embracing, kissing or holding hands in public is frowned upon, and will cause offence. The drinking of alcohol in public is forbidden by law.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat, drink, or smoke during daylight hours. During this time, working hours are shortened, parks and restaurants are closed by day, and even at hotel pools, refreshments are not served, though there may be access to water in areas hidden from public view. However some hotels, like the Intercontinental, will have a restaurant open at lunch time where you can get a meal and soft drinks. Alcohol is not served at all during this time. Non-Muslims must not eat, drink, or smoke in public during daylight hours and should be generally more conservative about dress. (See also – the section in Residents’ Handbook).
Ramadan falls approximately eleven days earlier each year and in 2012 is expected to begin around 21 July.
None of this is intended to invoke paranoia. Omanis are sophisticated enough to realise that Westerners are different, with their own particular culture. Use your common sense and bring your sense of humour.
It is difficult to begin the serious study of spoken Arabic of Oman before arriving in the country. Most learning programs you can buy are based on Egyptian Arabic which differs in vocabulary and grammar from that spoken here.