Hookah Etiquette: East Meets West Halfway

The Middle East is a region rich in tradition and custom, where certain behaviors govern social interaction, so it should come as no surprise that a set of expectations, or etiquette, surrounds smoking the hookah, too. As the hookah's popularity spread across the ocean to the West, the rules of etiquette evolved to suit the different lifestyles of the smokers. I thought it would be interesting to see how the East meets the West when it comes to hookah smoking behavior.

Eastern Hookah Etiquette

*First and foremost, smoking hookah is about social interaction. Smokers gather around a hookah, whether by sitting around a table together or in a circle on the floor, thus enabling them to see one another face-to-face and to communicate comfortably.

*Relaxation is key to hookah enjoyment. Smoking hookah takes time, moves slowly, and is never hurried. Enjoy a cup of
tea Middle Eastern style, Turkish coffee, or Arabic coffee and share the events of the day with friends. Alcohol is not part of the hookah tradition in the Middle East.

*Keep the competition for the soccer (football) field. There's no need to compete with friends for a turn with the narghile, so smokers take their time with the hose and pass it along only when they are satisfied.

*Don't blow smoke! In the faces of others, that is. Watch where those smoke rings go because it is considered rude to blow smoke at or near others. It is best to exhale in an upward or sideways direction, allowing the smoke to go over the heads or away from the faces of the others in the group.

Hoses belong in the right hand. Because people in the Middle East use the left hand for personal hygiene, it is considered unclean and should never be used to smoke hookah.

*The hookah belongs on the floor not the table. As a service object, the argile should never be placed on the same level as those whom it will serve. The average height for an
authentic Middle Eastern hookah is 32" (81 cm) to accommodate its placement on the floor while making the hose(s) and head easy to reach.

*Don't pass the hose directly unless absolutely necessary. The proper way to indicate that the hose is available for another smoker is to place it on the table for someone else to pick up. If the hose must be passed to the next user, hold it in the right hand and keep the tip pointed at yourself.

*Although not a common practice, smoking a cigarette during a hookah session is rude only when the cigarette is lit from the
narghile charcoal or the ashes dumped on the hookah tray.

Western Hookah Etiquette

*Smoking hookah is an individual as well as a group activity, thus it is not unusual to find people who enjoy their pipes without sharing.

*Relaxation is not always of prime importance to a smoking session. Hookah lounges in the U.S. often have loud music or a television blaring in the background, making conversation challenging at best. Many Western smokers mix argile and alcohol which sometimes causes raucous behavior and a total loss of manners.

*Competition is an issue only when it comes to who gets the biggest smoke cloud or makes the best smoke rings. Smokers typically take only a puff or two before passing the hose off to someone else.

*Blowing smoke directly in someone's face is rude, but sharing smoke mouth-to-mouth is cool. Go figure!

*Holding the hose in the right or left hand doesn't matter. Individual smokers typically use their dominant hand.

*Smokers may still gather around a hookah, but the pipe is often placed on the table instead of the floor. Although this practice breaks with the traditional rules of etiquette, it does elevate the hookah to a place of admiration so that smokers can marvel at its beauty. This practice also allows for the use of
shorter hookahs.

Whether you follow the traditional etiquette or enjoy the adaptations of the rules made in the West, smoking hookah is meant to be an activity that allows you to escape from the hectic and often frantic pace of everyday life. So enjoy the hookah experience with or without these rules!