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When visiting any country, it is crucial to be well-aware of local customs. This will help avoid any cultural faux pas and help you enjoy your trip and interact with locals, without offending anyone. Emirati culture is rather different from Western equivlents in many ways, and there are small acts in everyday life that visitors need to be mindful of when visiting any Emirate. This is the complete guide to Emirati customs and how to act in the UAE.
One major thing to know about Emirati culture is that the people from the UAE thrive on their hospitality. Emiratis are extremely friendly and welcoming people, so when greeting friends, they tend to use fairly long greetings, with praises to God, in addition to hugs and kisses. This is only done in between men. When it comes to Emirati women, one should not try to shake their hand unless she puts out her hand first and definitely avoid embraces and kisses.
UAE locals are extremely hospitable. When having visitors, they will always serve coffee as a way of welcoming them – as well as dates. It’s polite to accept coffee and once one has had enough, a sign of showing so is by shaking their cup from side to side. Refusing coffee or snacks may be seen as offensive. It’s also important to remove shoes when entering an Emirati home and show great appreciation for the meals served. Additionally, visitors should make sure to shake hands with the host on arrival and departure of their home.
Ramadan is the holy month in the Islamic calendar and is extremely important to Emirati people, as well as other Muslim cultures who reside in the UAE. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month. This occasion moves around accordingly to the lunar calendar, but when visiting the UAE during Ramadan its crucial to know not to eat, drink, smoke or even chew gum in public. Aside from it being highly offensive to those who are fasting, it is also not allowed by law in the country.
Body language can make or break a foreigner’s relationship with a UAE local. There are little things that are must-knows when interacting with Emirati people. For instance, it’s polite to always stand when someone enters a room, other than the help. Locals also take offense when one sits with the sole of their feet facing them, this is considered extremely rude. Food should never be offered with one’s left hand and public displays of affection are not only offensive but are also illegal.
There are a few notes on clothing that people should keep in mind when visiting the UAE. Unless tourists are at a desert safari or another location which invites them to try one the country’s national clothing, it’s actually seen as disrespectful for Western men to wear the Emirati national dress around. Additionally, women should be mindful of their clothing. Although some Emirates are more relaxed than others when it comes to dress codes, when visiting an Emirate home women should also try to dress in a manner that can’t be seen as provocative.
Family is seen as one of the most important factors in Islam, and this is particularly true for Emirati people. UAE locals are extremely close to their families – not only the immediate one, but also grandparents, uncles, cousins and other members of their extended family. They often live in close proximity, sharing the same compound of houses or at least being close by to one another. These family ties are extremely strong and it’s crucial to respect the local’s families.
Small things that are common in Western culture are actually high offensive when done to Emirati women. Under no circumstances should one take pictures of an Emirati women. Additionally, it’s considered extremely offensive to stare at a women in national dress. Although tourists may do so innocently and out of curiosity, this shouldn’t be done at all. Any sort of unwelcome physical contact is seen as a form of disrespect and even flirting with Emirati women is frowned upon.
Emirati food is delicious and visitors should definitely take some time to indulge themselves in Emirati cuisine. UAE locals are big on eating and often say praises to God before and after their meals. Some of the more common delicacies Emirati people enjoy are dates and camel milk. It’s important to know that locals do not consume alcohol and when having dinner out with an Emirati friend it’s best to pick a spot where alcohol is not served. Additionally, never serve pork to locals, or any Muslims for that matter, as it’s against their religion to eat it.
There are a few public behaviors that are extremely frowned up – and sometimes even illegal in the UAE. Considering that UAE locals don’t drink, being drunk and disorderly is a big no-no and people can even be taken in by the police for doing so. Additionally, public displays of affection are deemed to be rather disrespectful to Emirati culture. Another things to be mindful as tourists is what to take pictures of. It’s illegal to take photos of women, in addition to military and government facilities.
As a visitor, this custom is not one to be careful with, but one to enjoy. Emirati music and dance is extremely fun and exciting and tourists are bound to love it. They can catch a glimpse of it in desert safaris or when visiting the UAE during national holidays, such as the UAE National Day on December 2nd. Emirati music comes from the time of the Bedouins and was sung by camel herdsmen and professional performers, in addition to being highly popular with pearl divers.
Religion is a massive part of Emirati culture and customs and visitors should be highly respectful of it. Many of the customs seen in the UAE are derived or identical to customs in Islam and visitors should always show regard to the religion. This is done by dressing appropriately when visiting mosques, not eating during Ramadan fasting hours, respecting prayer times and showing admiration and respect for this interesting religion. A visit to the UAE is a great opportunity to learn more about Islam and its customs as well.