UAE: Culture, Customs and Etiquette

The United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) is an Arab country, part of the Arabian Peninsula, with rich traditions and customs dating back thousands of years ago. The culture of UAE is deeply connected and rooted in Islamic traditions, and Islamic traditions form the basis of UAE’s heritage and lifestyle. UAE is also the most modern and cosmopolitan country in the Middle East, welcoming investors and tourists alike, to taste its hospitality. This article mentions a few of the key things that any visitor to UAE needs to keep in mind.

UAE is a closely-knit federation of seven Emirates (states) which comprises of Abu Dhabi (capital city), Dubai (commercial hub of the Middle East), Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. Dubai is considered to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, whereas some of the other Emirates adopts a slightly conservative approach. This difference can be reflected on several aspects including, culture, business and people.

The people of UAE – Emiratis – exhibits great hospitality and are welcoming of the expatriates coming into the country. Many of them, in particular, the younger generation are well educated and entrepreneurial in nature. The Emiratis, as well as many other Arab brethren from the Middle East wear traditional clothes influenced by their deep connection with Islam. Men wear “Dishdasha” (long white rob), with the “ghutra” (headdress) and “agal” (rob or band). Women usually wear “abaya” (a long over-garment) with hijab (head scarf). It is expected that the expatriates wear “respectable” clothes, with shoulders and knees covered, in particular while visiting public places.

Religion is an important part of the Emirati culture. Many of its long standing traditions come as a result of its deep-rooted Islamic beliefs. The vast majority of the population is Muslim; however UAE has adopted a flexible and tolerant approach towards other religious communities including polytheists such as Hindu adherents living within UAE. Christian churches, Hindu temples and Sikh gurudwaras can be seen in many parts of the UAE.

Arabic is the official language of the country, and is used by all the government departments, including courts. However, over 200 nationalities have made UAE their home and a myriad of languages are spoken in UAE, majority finding common ground in English. The government has taken a conscious stand to support its foreign population, and all the road signs, restaurant menus etc. can be found in English as well.

The government considers privacy of its citizens very important. It is advisable to be careful while taking pictures and one should ensure that he does not take pictures of local people, governmental buildings, military establishments etc. Equal care should be given while using the social media since it is prohibited to put pictures or write about incidents that may prejudice the image of the country, its people, customs, religion etc.

During the holy month of Ramadan, it is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public, during day time, as a mark of respect for those who fast. Many non-Muslims too fast, expressing solidarity towards their Muslim brethren. The official working hours are also reduced during Ramadan. However, it is a wonderful time to visit UAE during Ramadan to better understand its deep-rooted culture and religious heritage.

Unlike in many Arab countries, alcohol is not forbidden in UAE. However, there are certain restrictions in this regard. Alcohol is served in certain permitted hotels etc. and sold in designated stores, however, a “liquor permit” is required to buy alcohol. Such a permit is issued by the Ministry of Interior and only to non-Muslims. It is forbidden to drink or being drunk in public, which can get you arrested and even deported on certain occasions.

It is important to be courteous and respectful to others, and not to abuse or use curse words (through any means) against anyone since this is considered an offence in UAE. Further, it is advisable to avoid public displays of affection between opposite genders. Use of, or trafficking of drugs invites stringent consequences in most of the Muslim countries, and UAE is not an exception.

UAE is an incredible nation, with rich history, proud people and amazing hospitality. The country beautifully blends its deep-rooted Islamic traditions with unbelievable modernity, making it one of the best destinations in the world, be it for an ambitious investment or a peaceful life.

Author: Faizal Latheef

Faizal is renowned for his expertise in corporate and commercial law. He represents and advises clients on a wide variety of matters including Foreign Investments, Joint Ventures, Mergers and Acquisitions, Corporate Restructuring, Distribution & Franchising, Anti-Corruption & Compliance, Cross-Border Transactions, Employment and Wills.