Travel Etiquette #3: Dubai
Dubai is one of the most affluent, elegant and architecturally stunning cities in the world. It attracts visitors for business and pleasure alike all year round, but as a Muslim state, there are certain codes of behaviour that the visitor should be aware of to avoid falling foul of the locals, or the law.
Faith is the cornerstone of life in Dubai and the call to prayer can be heard drifting from the many mosques across the city at various times of day. Visitors are permitted to enter some mosques, but should wear modest clothing which covers the shoulders, arms and legs and women should wear a headscarf. During the month long religious festival of Ramadan, Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset and visitors should refrain from eating or drinking in public as a mark of respect during this time, however there are designated areas across the city where non-Muslims can dine during daylight hours. The dates of Ramadan change annually in accordance with the lunar calendar so check before you travel when it will be taking place.
Shorts and t-shirts are generally accepted in the city as are bathing suits by the beach or at swimming pools, but it’s best to dress modestly – as the locals do – in light, loose-fitting clothing. Avoid showing the soles of your feet, or pointing toward others with your feet when seated as this is considered a mark of disrespect.
Greetings and Intimacies
When meeting new people, particularly those of the opposite sex, wait for them to initiate physical contact by means of a handshake with you, before extending your hand. Muslim women in particular are likely to refrain from shaking hands due to religious beliefs – it bears no reflection on you! Similarly, personal displays of affection are frowned upon; holding hands is ok, but kissing or hugging in public is not. Legally speaking, drugs, homosexuality, sex, cohabitation (including sharing hotel rooms) or conception outside of marriage, adultery and cross-dressing are all illegal. The authorities afford visitors some leniency in this regard unless the laws are openly flouted – be discreet.
Food and Drink
If you are offered something to eat or drink, use your right hand to accept it and feed yourself, the left hand is generally reserved for personal hygiene tasks. If you are hosting a meal, be aware that your Muslim guests don’t consume pork or alcohol and you should refrain from offering them. Alcohol is served only in licensed premises which are attached to a hotel or sports centre, and there is a policy of zero tolerance toward drink driving. Penalties are severe, so don’t take the risk.
Using aggressive hand gestures, swearing and being loud and offensive or drunk in public could all land you fines, or in serious cases, imprisonment. No reason you give to justify such behaviour is likely to placate the authorities so keep your cool and watch your alcohol intake.
For more information about local customs and laws, visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. For details on events, religious holidays and guides to other cities in the UAE, visit the United Arab Emirates National Council for Tourism and Antiquities website here.
Have you encountered any other cultural taboos or faux pas in Dubai that we haven’t already mentioned? Let us know and help save your fellow travellers from embarrassment!