Dubai – the City of Gold – has long been included in most people’s lists of places to go before they die. The most liberated city in the Arab region never fails to show the world that there is no such thing as impossible. It is home to many of the world’s top man-made wonders, after all.
If you are one of the many travelers who still have Dubai to check off on your list of places to visit, there is no doubt that you will marvel at this city when you do come. There is an abundance of adventurous activities here. Furthermore, if you want to treat yourself to a luxurious getaway, there is no shortage of luxurious hotels and resorts in Dubai ready to enthral you in every possible way.
Suffice it to say, Dubai is ready for you.
But are you ready for it?
This desert city, while committed to growth and progress, is still very much rooted in its Arab culture. Are you aware of Dubai’s customs? If not, then you better learn so you can avoid getting into trouble with the locals and the law.
There are activities and behaviours you may think to be neutral in other countries that could actually be deemed scandalous – even criminal – in Dubai. Listed below are eight important points for you to learn about the city’s local culture and customs.
Drinking alcohol is no casual activity here
You may find restaurants in Dubai that advertise their happy hour, but you can’t just head on over and freely order a drink. Residents need to present an alcohol license to be sold any alcoholic beverage.
You can, however, enjoy a beer or glass of wine as a traveler without an alcohol license – but only if you purchase it at a licensed hotel, bar or restaurant, and stay within its premises the whole time. Also, it’s imperative to note that you must not consume excessive amounts of alcohol because exhibiting drunken behavior is not tolerated in Dubai.
Loud and wild parties are no-nos
Dubai may have a flourishing social scene, but local culture dictates great consideration for others despite the frivolity of an event. Loud music and dancing are frowned upon, and may even land you in jail for being a disturbance to others.
Public displays of affection are considered indecent
You may be spending your getaway at a romantic ocean view hotel, but keep the affection for your spouse (yes, it has to be someone you’re married to) in the bedroom.
Kissing, hugging or cuddling, and holding hands in public are all considered lascivious acts. Many have landed in jail simply because they didn’t know Dubai remains that conservative when it comes to physical affection.
Cussing is always an offence
There is no tolerance for vulgar language in Dubai, be it said or in written form (like on a shirt or a post on social media). Observe local culture sensitivities about ‘defamatory language’, because failure to do so can easily land you in jail.
A lot of visitors and expats learned this lesson the hard way, so if you’re coming to the City of Gold for the first time and you’re used to cussing like a sailor, do your best to hold your tongue. Even if it’s just a casual expression for you, and is not directed toward anybody, you still run the risk of spending a night in jail.
Modest dressing is the norm
Desert weather is super-hot, but remember to stay covered to avoid generating unwanted attention and getting fined. That means no to clothing that shows too much leg, arms, and chest, for both men and women.
Dubai is the most tolerant city in all of the Middle East, but it still holds strict rules of propriety. Visitors of the city should avoid breaking these rules.
There exist strict photography laws
The UAE has strict photography laws, which protect its conservative locals, as well as sacred sites and buildings of power. Keep an eye out for signs indicating that picture-taking is not allowed.
Moreover, if you wish to take snapshots of the locals – especially women – get their consent first (which is a little tricky to do because casually chatting up women can be considered a form of harassment). In Dubai and the rest of the UAE, it is deemed rude and intrusive to just suddenly take pictures of people around you. Failure to uphold these photography laws can lead to an arrest or hefty fines.
Use your right hand for doing most things
The left hand is considered the dirty hand in Muslim cultures. Avoid using it when meeting people for the first time, opening doors, and most importantly, when eating.
Don’t eat in public during Ramadan
Show respect for the Muslims who fast during Ramadan. You do not have to fast along with them, however, avoid eating where you can be seen during this time to demonstrate social sensitivity as the Muslim majority of Dubai’s population.
Article 313 of the Penal Code actually considers it a criminal offense for anyone (irrespective of faith) to consume food or drinks in public at daytime during Ramadan. Violation of this law can lead to a month-long imprisonment or a fine of Dhs 2,000.
Knowing these important points will keep you from committing social mistakes that could ruin your time in Dubai. Keep your trip classy, and observe, respect, and learn from the local culture, especially if the customs are different to what you are used to. With these things in mind, your Dubai experience is sure to be spectacular.
Thomas Grundner is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for JA Resorts & Hotels. He has more than 20 years of expertise in the hospitality and leisure industry – across international markets including Germany, Egypt and Spain. Grundner oversees all sales, marketing and revenue efforts as the company continues to build on its key growth and development strategies and further cultivates its unique blend of ‘Heartfelt Hospitality’ and ‘Casual Luxury’.
Photographs courtesy of Unsplash
If you’re interested in learning more about social customs in different cultures, be sure to spare a moment for my experience in Egypt’s conservative climate. Open Season: Being a Ginger in Egypt is waiting for you…
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