For the U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, transplanted abruptly to an alien part of the world, standard-issue equipment includes a booklet with this advice:

Arab women aren't allowed to date, so don't try to ask one out.

If you get into an empty elevator with an Arab, don't be surprised if he stands so close that he is touching you.

When sitting with an Arab, be careful not to expose the sole of your shoe, because the gesture would be construed as a "grievous insult."

These lessons are part of a hasty primer to the Middle East that the U.S. military is providing its troops. According to educators and members of the armed services, these are vital lessons for many of the tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors arriving in the Middle East unfamiliar with the region's history, politics and culture.

"I think {the soldiers} understand the global picture, that right now we are a deterrent helping Saudi Arabia with their own defense," said 2nd Lt. John Ford, 23, a West Point graduate who oversees a 10-member fire support unit preparing to leave from Fort Stewart, Ga.

"But if you're talking about factions within the Islam world, the national sphere ... they are not overly inquisitive," Ford said of his soldiers. "To be quite honest with you, the main concern ... {is} not world geography or political science."

With the mobilization too sudden for detailed history lessons, what most of the troops know about Saudi Arabia depends on what they have seen on television or learned in high school.

According to a Pentagon spokesman, 94 percent of the U.S. armed forces' enlisted personnel have not attended college. The Pentagon has not kept separate figures for the troops sent to Saudi Arabia, but the spokesman, Maj. Doug Hart, said that their education level is probably similar to that of the armed forces as a whole.

And as elementary and secondary school students, the troops were likely to have learned little about the Middle East. Half of the nation's high school graduates have been taught nothing about the region beyond its location on a map, according to a recent survey by the Middle East Outreach Council, a national group of teachers and college professors trying to promote education about the area.

"If students in a 12-year education get more than three weeks on the Middle East, I would be shocked," said Andrew Smith, president of the American Forum for Global Education, a nonprofit group in New York.

What lessons are taught, educators said, may be counteracted by negative stereotypes in movies, television and comic strips. "All these soldiers have spent their childhoods in a society that has regularly depicted the Arab as a greasy person with a long headdress and a big nose," said Sandra Batmangelich, outreach coordinator for the University of Chicago's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, which runs workshops for teachers around the country.

There is little concrete evidence of what Americans -- and military personnel, in particular -- know about the Middle East. But a 1988 National Geographic survey found that 75 percent of U.S. adults could not locate the Persian Gulf on a world map.

Lt. Denise McDowell, a Navy nurse from Gaithersburg, said she felt ill-prepared when she learned she was to leave Bethesda Naval Hospital to join the hospital ship USNS Comfort. "I knew of Kuwait," she said. "I really wasn't sure where Iraq was, to be honest with you." Before she left this week, McDowell said, she contacted a University of Maryland instructor for recommended reading.

In some cases, perceptions of the region are tinged with military fervor. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jim Johnson, who is from Hershey, Pa., and is stationed in Norfolk, said, "In high school, I had a real good social studies teacher" who taught about the Koran, the Islamic holy book. "Allah is everything. They are willing to die for him."

As a Middle East primer for departing troops, each unit in all military branches has been given one of two booklets -- one on the region, the other on Saudi Arabia. Each unit commander is responsible for briefing his troops.

The more general booklet includes a four-paragraph section on history. "The Arab world is a land of ancient yesterdays, a thriving today, and tomorrows of great promise," it begins. Other sections deal with customs, the importance of religion and the role of women.

At Fort Stewart, Army Pfc. Thomas Olschewski, 21, from Vancouver, Wash., said he had been "drilled over and over" during the previous week on Arabic vocabulary and Middle Eastern culture.

"You can't hold hands with the opposite sex. You don't lift up any veils of the women, because then they're yours for life," Olschewski said. "I don't know a lot, but I feel like I know enough."

Staff Sgt. Ervin J. Jennings, 30, a communications specialist who also was preparing to leave from Fort Stewart, said he had been stationed in the Middle East from 1987 to 1989. In preparation this time for Saudi Arabia, Jennings said, he has briefed his 20-man platoon, whose members have asked him "just little things: How did they come to the custom of having a king? Who is the king?"

But Jennings said such issues are ancillary. "Right now, we could care less about the religion, the politics, the history," he said. "We are training them {in} things that are going to save their life in the desert, in the front lines."

Educators, far from the Saudi desert, think cultural lessons may be more important.

"You're going to have 45,000, 100,000 people or more going into a traditional Moslem county where drinking is prohibited, where there is {little} language capacity," said Smith, of the Forum for Global Education. "A year from now, or two years, you are going to have huge problems of local population with regard to the military."

Added Jonathan Friedlander, who runs summer workshops for teachers through the Near East Center at the University of California at Los Angeles: "It seems to me, if you fight for something that endangers your life, you better know what the issues are."