I’ve seen it happen again and again and again. People arrive in the UAE, see this very ‘modern’ place which has become more flexible and tolerant in relation to other cultures and values in order to grow and develop, and seem to forget this is still a Muslim country, with customs that are often very different from the ones of the Western world.
Since I constantly have visitors coming from all around the globe, I’ve decided to share with you the top tips I give them before the start of their Arabian adventure…
1. LEARN BEFORE YOU COME
It won’t hurt you to do a little research before you come. Let me sum things up for you a little bit:
The UAE is a 40 year old nation (turned 40 on December 2, 2011), located in the
Arabic Peninsula, with Oman to the East and North and Saudi Arabia to the West and South, and made up of seven Emirates ( Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Qaiwain).
The local currency is the UAE dirham which is divided into 100 fils. One dirham = USD 3.67 (this rarely changes as the UAE dirham is pegged to the US dollar).
Arabic is the official language. Actually, it would also be nice for you to learn a few little words, don’t you think? Here is something to get you started:
Assalaam Alaikum – Peace be upon you
Wa Alaikum Assalaam – And peace be upon you
Marhaba – Hello
Maa assalaama - Goodbye
Ahlan wasahlan - Welcome
Shukran - Thanks
Afwan – You are welcome
Men fadlak - Please
No – Laa
Yes – Naam
Yallah – Come on, let’s go
Yani – Like, you know
Mabrook – Congratulations
Shwey shwey - Slowly
2. RESPECT LOCAL STANDARDS OF MODESTY
In general lines, keep in mind the local standards of modesty.
If you are a woman, there is absolutely no need to cover yourself up entirely, but do avoid short, tight, or revealing clothes with lots of cleavage and transparencies. This will show respect towards the people of this country and the local customs and also avoid unwanted attention from men.
If you are a man, you can pretty much wear anything you feel like. However, don’t attempt to take off your shirt in public (even if it’s 50 degrees Celsius out there) or walk around in your Speedo’s – unless you are enjoying the sun at a beach or a hotel pool. Showing your knees might also be offensive to some people, so do check where you are going before you put on those shorts.
Oh… one more thing. I know you will probably get excited and want to buy traditional clothes once you get here, but keep in mind that locals might be offended to see a foreigner parading around in a dishdash or abaya (for more info read the post Fashion Time).
3. SAVE DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION FOR BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Westerners are used to seeing displays of affection everywhere as it is quite normal to find couples holding hands, hugging and kissing out in the open.
Well, not around here… So you better control yourself and leave all this touching for behind closed doors.
4. THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK
Although Emiratis are very friendly and warm, some of them – especially women - may consider it inappropriate or offensive to have their picture taken by a stranger.
When you do take a picture, be very careful. Do it from a distance, without too much of a close-up. Better yet, respectfully approach the locals and ask if it’s ok for you to take their picture.
5. WAIT FOR A LOCAL TO INITIATE A GREETING
Some men do not shake hands with women and some women do not shake hands with men. Since you will not know who does what in advance, unless you’ve met them before, the best strategy is to wait for locals to initiate a greeting and follow.
In addition, remember that the left hand is considered unclean and reserved for hygiene, so always greet with your right hand – even if it is just a wave from a distance.
6. KEEP YOUR SHOES DOWN AND OFF
Men are used to crossing their legs and pointing the bottom of their shoes up, towards someone. This is a big no-no around here. Very rude!
Also, if you are ever invited into someone’s house, ask if you need to take off your shoes before you walk in. You will probably be asked to remove them and leave them at the door. Don’t worry; they will still be there on your way out!
7. TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THINGS
We are all used to admiring things and letting people know how beautiful or amazing or unbelievable their items are.
Be careful with too much enthusiasm around here or your host might feel obligated to give you that something you seemed to fall in love with at first sight.
8. SAY YES
When invited to someone’s house, offered refreshments and food or presented with a gift, just say yes (and thank you, of course!). It is impolite to refuse such offerings or invitations.