The UAE’s distinct culture is founded on progressive and moderate Islamic values and endowed with a rich Arabic language, to proudly celebrate Emirati traditions and heritage while reinforcing national identity. A spirit of religious tolerance forges mutual understanding and acceptance within the country’s pool of diversity.

The Emirates is a very friendly and welcoming place, with lots to see and do. Some of the customs and what is deemed acceptable, however, may be different from what people are used to at home.  Emiratis are generally very tolerant and will not easily take offence when dealing with people from other cultures.  There are though, a couple of points to bear in mind when meeting locals or those from other predominantly Muslim countries, to ensure there is no awkwardness or embarrassment.

Making Introductions

  • HandshakeWhen being introduced to someone of the opposite sex, wait to see if he/she offers their hand first.
  • Men should wait to be introduced to an Emirati woman before starting a conversation. Men should never approach an Emirati lady and try to speak to her

Hospitality

The Arabic culture prides itself on its hospitality, and whether visiting someone at work, or receiving an invitation to their home you will almost certainly be offered refreshments. This will often be a sweet, milkless tea or a light Arabic coffee flavoured with cardamom. You should accept at least one cupful, as it may be considered discourteous to refuse.  If you do not wish to have a refill, leave a little in your cup and shake it while setting it down.  This will indicate to your host that you have had enough.

When sitting, make sure that both feet are on the floor.  Showing the soles of your feet is considered disrespectful.

Taking pictures of local women is not permitted unless you have their permission.   Taking photographs without someone’s permission is serious and if reported, could involve the Police.  Do not take pictures near military bases, oil installations, airports and government buildings.

Swearing, profanities and vulgarity are not permitted in the UAE, and this includes all social media; whatsapp, twitter etc.

Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and most Muslims worldwide fast during the hours of daylight.  The dates on which Ramadan begins and ends changes year to year and are dictated by the Ramadansighting of the new moon.  It is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar and ends with a huge celebration called Eid-al-Fitr.  Non-muslims are asked to be respectful and understanding at this time. Here is some further information and tips:

  • During Ramadan schools close earlier than usual as do most workplaces.
  • Eating and drinking in public during Ramadan, and this includes water, is considered extremely disrespectful and you could incur a fine. If food or water must be consumed due to a medical condition do it discretely.
  • Generally restaurants, cafes etc do not open for service of refreshments until Iftar, that is the time after sundown when the fast is broken. This time varies from day to day.  Some malls have closed areas where those who are not fasting can go to eat.
  • During Ramadan smoking in public is not acceptable and neither is the playing of music.