Dubai City Information Site

10 Dubai Culture Tips

Stay Guided in a Confusing Environment



Hi, Sunil here with some Dubai culture tips that you can use on your visit to Dubai

Human beings are social beings by nature aren’t they?

And by default everyone is a good person, until situations and circumstances turn them in the other direction.

There is a lot of misconception in this world in general, and I hope this discussion on Dubai culture tips sheds some light on what is acceptable and what is not in Dubai and clears any confusion you may have from hearsay or whatever other means.

There is a lot of confusing and misleading information about the culture in Dubai.

Dubai is a mixing bowl with over 100 nationalities co-existing together in peace (mostly at least).

Add to that millions of annual visitors and you are looking at a truly “globalized” population.

There are less than 20% local Emiratis or Dubai Nationals (citizens) in Dubai.

They are all mostly warm and welcoming people and are tolerant of foreign visitors and residents.

Having said that, it is expected that you at least take a little time to learn about the local customs and culture prior to heading out to Dubai. I mean wouldn’t you expect someone visiting your land to do the same? I think it’s reasonable (personal opinion only).

Dubai Culture Tips #1

Language

Arabic is the official language in Dubai. However, English is spoken predominantly by almost everyone. English is spoken in corporate / professional settings as well as mostly in social settings. All street signs are in both English and Arabic as well.

Dubai Culture Tips #2

Religion

Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) and the UAE is a Muslim country. The culture is based on a deeply rooted belief in Islam and centers on the family. There are Mosques scattered throughout the city and you will hear the prayer alarm 5 times a day. Mosques are busiest on Fridays; the official religious day in Dubai.

Dubai Culture Tips #3

Weekends

Thursday and Friday are weekends in Dubai, though Friday is the only official holiday. Government offices and certain multinational companies are also closed on Saturday. Some small stores will open on Fridays late in the afternoon and larger retailers like grocery chains will remain open all day.

Dubai Culture Tips #4

Dress Code for the Locals

Local Muslim women would typically be dressed in long black robes known as the "abaya". The "abaya" is not an Islamic requirement but rather a cultural custom. Women have been wearing it for ages as Islam requires ladies to cover their heads and to wear long loose clothes covering their arms and legs. These sights are reserved only for their husbands.

Local Muslim men typically wear a loose white robe called a "dishdasha" along with a white or red checkered headdress known as the "gutra". The gutra is held in place with a black cord called an "agal". I almost picked up one when I was shopping with Kish at the BurJuman mall. Kish said it would look good on me since I like keeping a bit scruff on my face.

Dubai Culture Tips #5

Dress Code for You!

You will see all kinds of dress codes in Dubai. Generally though, men shouldn’t wear shorts out in public. And no matter how hot it gets, keep your shirt on! You will see women who cover themselves from head to toe as well as those who choose to barely cover themselves at all.

It is recommended for women not to wear mini-skirts, baring tops, and short shorts. If you don’t want to be starred at like a piece of meat, I would strongly recommend against dressing this way.

Dubai is not America where everyone minds their own business and you can wear pretty much anything and everything you want. Dubai men are quite something when it comes to spotting a woman who is dressed “less than sufficient” to put it in a nice way.

The dress code changes in beach settings. Women can wear beach outfits like bikinis and men can wear swimming trunks or shorts. T-shirts, blouses, mid-length and long skirts or Capri are acceptable attire for women in Dubai.

Dubai Culture Tips #6

Social Interaction

I would advice against taking pictures of local women, at least not without their permission. If you absolutely must, you MUST ask permission first. Chances are you will be denied. Be respectful and back away. Insubordination and misbehavior can put you behind bars. Yes, it is really that serious.

Ask Kish, I merely smiled at one and said hi while walking by in passing in the mall and she turned around and started screaming and pointing at me. Kish told me to run because I could have gotten my as!@#)$ kicked had local Arab men seen me. I would have been thrown in jail after getting the boot. Also ask permission when taking pictures of men. You are more likely to get a yes when you approach a man instead.

When it comes to shaking hands, most Muslims will not shake hands with members of the opposite sex due to religious tradition. So the best thing to do is wait and watch what the local Arab does to welcome you. If they extend their hand first, then you can lend your hand to them in return.

Local Arab men will typically greet other local men by touching noses or kissing cheeks. And it is perfectly normal for two Arabic men to hold hands and walk together in public. So don’t be “weirded out” when you see this. It is a symbol of friendship. Public display of affection otherwise is highly discouraged, whether between two different sexes or you know what.

Dubai Culture Tips #7

Dining With Locals

Try not to decline an invite from a local if you really don’t have to. And if you are invited over for coffee, tea, refreshments or a traditional meal with a local family keep in mind a few guidelines.

Remove your shoes before entering their home. And when you sit, do not point the soles of your feet in someone’s direction. This is seen as very rude in Arab culture. You must eat your food or pick up your glass with your right hand. Your left hand is for "unclean" practices such as washing after using the bathroom.

Because local Arabs are very hospitable, they won’t stop feeding you. It is their duty to “take care of you”. Don’t hesitate to take more food. However keep it to just seconds. No thirds and fourths or you will definitely attract wrong attention.

Again, because it is their “duty” many hosts will force you to eat more. Be polite and nicely say thank you but express the overload of your tummy and that you cannot intake any more.

Dubai Culture Tips #8

Ramadan for the Locals

Ramadan is arguably the most important event to a true Muslim. Ramadan occurs in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (based on the moon’s position). During Ramadan, local Arab Muslims will get up before dawn and have a light pre-fast meal called "Suhoor".

They will then spend the day fasting. No eating, drinking, smoking, sex or any bad behavior is allowed at this time. They are supposed to pray and reflect during these hours. The fast is broken at sunset. This is called "Iftar".

It is mandatory to fast during Ramadan for all adult Muslims. It is a way for them to draw closer to their religion and to appreciate all that they have. They are also supposed to donate to charity during this time and help out the less fortunate.

As a visitor it is important to keep in mind that the Islamic calendar is different from the Gregorian calendar. The Islamic calendar moves about 11 days each month and so you can have the Ramadan celebration at any time of the year. So don’t expect Ramadan to fall during the same period each year you go to Dubai.

Dubai Culture Tips #9

Ramadan for You!

If you are a visitor in Dubai during the month of Ramadan, you are also expected by law to refrain from drinking or smoking (in public at least). Try to respect the local customs and cultural practices as much as possible.

Of course no one can see what you do behind closed doors. It is acceptable for you to wine and dine in the privacy of your own home or hotel room. Most places should be open if you want to dine out. If you are a woman, the locals would appreciate it if you dressed more conservatively during Ramadan.

It is best to experience Ramadan as a visitor after sunset as the entire city comes out and enjoys in celebration. Prior to sunset all bars and clubs are closed and no dance performances are enacted. Everything opens up after sunset though. You can go to all the clubs and bars you want at night.

Dubai Culture Tips #10

Cultural Education

Dubai is world renown for a lot of things, shopping, restaurants, buildings, hotels to name a few. What most visitors often forget is that there is plenty of history in Dubai and much of it can be learned while you are there.

I strongly recommend a visit to the Dubai Museum, which was built in an old traditional fort. It is a must-see for all ages I’d say. The museum has exhibits of weapons, national costumes, displays of the desert and much more as well as the history of the pearl diving industry on which Dubai was originally founded.

In addition to the museum, make sure to visit the Heritage and Diving Villages. These venues have displays of Dubai 's past and include small, quaint shops and restaurants. You should also visit the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.

This venue offers cultural awareness programs by recruiting young UAE Nationals to speak to visitors and residents about the Dubai’s culture and history as well as offering other activities throughout the year including Mosque tours and Arabic classes.

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I hope this brief section was helpful to you. I will continue to add to this as I come aware of more things to look out for. This section doesn’t include things I recommend you must learn prior to going to Dubai (i.e. a few important words in Arabic).

I will work on a discussion that includes some key things to learn and take with you. Look out for it sometime soon up on the site. Sign up for our Dubai City Blog and our monthly newsletter to be notified on new discussions and articles.

Also, please let me know if you have something to add to this list. Let’s make this a comprehensive list of cultural tips for someone heading to Dubai.


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