The United Arab Emirates and its premiere territory, Dubai, are among the most open societies in the Western Asian hemisphere as a Muslim region. Being open to the influences of Western culture but still rooted deeply in the culture of their ancestors, UAE and Dubai in particular can be a puzzle to understand. There are plenty of negative news posted about Muslim regions especially from Western media, but as somebody who has lived and worked in Dubai, we share some insights about the beauty of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and the rest of the emirates in UAE.
While their society is generally more open and accepting to a diversity of cultures, the prevailing culture is that of moderate modernism – a mix of modern influence with a touch of deeply-rooted culturalism.
How to Behave: Some DOs and Don’ts for Travelers and Expatriates
Expatriates and travelers to these wonderfully built territories need to remember a few things if they want to have a truly wonderful time. Otherwise, they will be in for a wonderful time behind bars, waiting for the penalties to be meted by the local authorities.
DUBAI and UAE DOs
- Dress conservatively. This is a predominantly Muslim country so you must dress comfortably as well as modestly. There should be no exposed shoulders, chests or midriffs. Women can wear pants and business suits but they should not be too exposed at any time. Men should also be conservatively attired. Just do not violate the provision on cross dressing and you’re good.
- Keep your touching and displays of affection in private. Holding hands in public is a definite no-no. Even if you are married, do not show too much affection outside in public. Kissing, caressing and touching should be limited to your private abodes. Muslims are affectionate too but they keep it in the confines of their homes. Do not push the envelope. You will be penalized for sure.
- Do mind the separate sections. Men and women are escorted to different sections in several places. Do not try to cross over to the other side as this is considered disrespectful.
- Do use your right hand. This is a cultural thing. Erven left handed people should try to observe this. Right hands are used for a lot of things. Eating, receiving gifts, opening doors among other things necessitate the use of your right hand. The left hand is reserved for private hygiene purposes.
- Do prepare to lose your footwear. Several places require you to remove your footwear. Be observant of this practice even I you are not a Muslim. Respect for their culture is quite important.
- Food first, business second. Should you find yourself being hosted for a meeting, it is customary to eat first before moving on to matters of business. This will also take a while so be patient. Time takes a different meaning when eating.
- Do respect their traditions. Which means when they are indoors during Ramadan, try to stay indoors as well. You can of course indulge in your food but try to keep the noise to a minimum.
- Do bring your prescriptions. Should you need an over the counter medicine make sure you have the original prescription because they will not sell any medicine to you without it.
DUBAI and UAE DON’Ts. Remember these things and stick to them if you want to avoid the punishments meted severely and strictly by local authorities.
- Do not drink in public. While alcohol is served in hotels and bars, do not try to drink in full view of people in public. You are asking for trouble. Alcohol, as if you do not know, is prohibited in Islam. Drinking in public constitutes temptation attempts to influence Muslims.
- Do not smoke in unauthorized places. Smoking is allowed in designated places in malls, centers and areas. But do not try to smoke anywhere else as it can be penalized with stiff fines. The legal age to smoke is 18 so try to be careful in lighting up smokes for youngsters.
- Do not drink and drive. Drunk driving is not tolerated in the territories and carries a stiff fine plus the possibility of jail time. Always have a designated driver who is sober just in case you have to travel while some of you are intoxicated.
- Never indulge in extramarital affairs. This is taboo in the territories. While there are definitely some cases happening, once caught, there will be serious physical repercussions and punishments.
- Do not force the issue with women. If you are introduced to Muslim women, do not force a handshake. A simple nod of the head would do unless they are the ones who initiate the contact.
- Do not wear skimpy attire outside of the pool and designated areas. You can wear skimpy bikinis and swimwear in the pool areas and other designated tourist areas. But once you are out of these places, make sure you are covered well. No see-through cover-ups either as this is still considered provocative.
- Never indulge in adult websites. Particularly offensive is the idea of adult websites in the territories. Anyone who accesses these sites or carries indecent videos in their cellphones might be subjected to imprisonment.
- Do not take pictures of women without their permission. This is considered sexual harassment and could land you in jail.
- Never take pictures of vital military installations, security forces and the like. This is considered as espionage and compromising security for the nation. Never ever take pictures of these things if you want to get out of the territories in one piece.
- Don’t show your soles. This is disrespectful in their culture. Soles of the feet are considered dirty and must never be shown to other people.
- Don’t be a litterbug or a jaywalker. It is expressly prohibited to throw trash and violate traffic rules in the emirates. You will not escape unidentified and you will face fines and community work at the very least.
Knowing the prevailing culture in the place you are about to work in or travel to is important to have an unforgettable time. Make your stay memorable for all the good things and not the bad things that happened to you.