The Customs, Traditions, Norms and Unacceptables of UAE
UAE IS BY NOW SO USED TO FOREIGN VISITORS that you won’t
be pilloried for accidental uncouth behaviour – in most instances at
These indiscretions will at most cause a mild tut-tut (rather than a prison term or deportation), especially given the fact that you’ll encounter very few Emiratis in the normal course of things. First and foremost, chill out. Things tend to get done here at their own pace – if you’re rude or try to hurry things along, the only person you’ll upset is yourself.
In fact, this is a good rule of thumb in general – rudeness and aggressiveness are not tolerated from tourists here. Do not shout, swear
or make offensive hand gestures to anyone, anywhere, but especially
not to locals.
Basically, if your mum would be ashamed of your behaviour, the UAE police are unlikely to take too kindly to it either.
Another thing to watch out for is taking too much of an interest in
the locals, especially women.
Don’t point your camera randomly at people in national dress – you will almost certainly see local women in the malls, although never in bars and rarely in restaurants – as this is seen as a huge invasion of privacy.
Don’t point your finger at people either – although the hands are used a lot to gesticulate while speaking, pointing directly at people is a no-no.
If sitting among locals (again unlikely, but you never know), do not point the soles of your feet towards them. You should, however, remove your shoes before entering the house of a local.
Also, do accept any hospitality offered – often this will come in the form of coffee and dates – as you may cause offence if you don’t.
If you are introduced to an Emirati man, it is acceptable to shake hands with him. If he is with a local woman (most probably his wife or a family member), you may not even be introduced to her – and if you are, do not offer her your hand or, even worse, attempt the Continental-style kiss on both cheeks. You may be surprised to see groups of local men sitting on their own in bars, restaurants or cafes – it is the norm here to socialise in single-sex groups. Even weddings are segregated. One more thing – if in doubt, don’t mention Israel; it is an incredibly emotive topic here and best avoided entirely.
Lastly, and probably most important – apologies for going on about this at length, both here and later in the book, but it cannot be overemphasised – is that public displays of affection are not acceptable anywhere. On the street, in clubs, in bars and in taxis – if you are feeling amorous, believe us, it is far better to take it inside.
Again, the mum analogy works pretty well in UAE– although on the safe side, maybe it would be better not to do anything of which your granny wouldn’t approve in public with a member of the opposite sex, especially if you are unmarried.
The only exception you will see is men with their arms around each other or holding hands (the latter is most frequently seen among workers from the Indian subcontinent). This brotherly sign of affection is perfectly acceptable.