The thriving expat community may well be a big reason for setting your sights on moving to Dubai. If you’re going to live here, it’s important that you embrace Dubai’s own social customs, too.
You’ll be working, living, and socialising with Emiratis – and although natives are outnumbered by expats nine to one it’s only right that you make an effort to respect the way things are done here.
Doing this will not only keep you from accidental social blunders, but immersing yourself in some of the practices of the culture you’ve chosen to live within will make the experience all the richer for you.
Making small talk
In business as well as socially, it is customary to spend some time enquiring as to the health of the person to whom you’re chatting. Asking after the family is also polite.
Cracking straight onto business matters without this courtesy preamble will be seen as rude and impatient.
Learning some basic Arabic phrases if you haven’t already will also go a long way.
As it is the case with English, ‘goodnight’ is something Arabs say on parting rather than arriving and men should always shake hands when bidding an Arab man farewell.
For men saying goodbye to Arab women the rules are less clear, as Arab women will rarely shake hands with a man who is not a relative. If in doubt - and to ensure no offence is caused - place your hand over your heart to signify a goodbye to an Arab woman.
Try to accept all invitations to Arabs’ homes: it’s offensive to decline an offer of hospitality and the experience will be fascinating.
You will no doubt spend a lot of your time in Dubai flocking together with like-minded people of a similar background to yours, and that’s fine. You won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to mix with your real hosts during your time in Dubai.
Arriving at the home
Take your shoes off when you arrive, and try your best to avoid the topics of religion or politics. If you’re a woman it’s likely that you will be whisked off to sit with the other women when you arrive. Men should be prepared to jump to their feet every time an elder or a lady enters the room.
Showing up unexpectedly might be something you do at home, however in Dubai it’s not really the norm.
While it might be polite to compliment your hosts’ on their home and their nice things where you come from, here it’s thought rather vulgar to make a fuss of people’s possessions.
It’s also a little awkward, since your host might feel obliged to actually give you the object you’re fawning over.
Food and drink
You should always graciously accept your hosts’ offers of food and drink, and see the act of sharing a meal together as an opportunity to bond and understand one another better.
Use your right hand for eating as the left hand is symbolically ‘dirty.’ Although you will have taken your shoes off at the door, you should make sure the soles of your feet stay on the floor so as to avoid showing your hosts the sight of the soles of your feet, which can be seen as an insult.
If you’re the one doing the entertaining, don’t offer an Arab an alcoholic drink unless you can be sure that they drink alcohol. Implying that a friend or colleague might be persuaded to partake in drinking when they don’t touch alcohol can be a great insult.
Holy places and rituals
It is unlikely that – unless you are a Muslim – you would be allowed into a mosque without invitation. Avoid walking over prayer mats or passing by in front of people praying, and never stare at someone while they pray. You wouldn’t like that either.
During the holy month of Ramadan, you would take care to respect the rituals of all Muslims and refrain from eating, smoking, drinking, or chewing gum in public places.
If you need to eat or drink in public during daylight, there are hotels where you can grab a bite to eat amongst other non-Muslims, behind a partition.
Greet your acquaintances with the words ’Ramadan Kareem’, and demonstrate awareness that all of the usual cultural rules are heightened during this devout month of austerity and prayer.
You may be invited to an Iftar feast during Ramadan, where eating and celebration begins once the sun goes down. Always bring a little gift of thanks for your hosts, like a box of sweets or dates.
Remember that while Dubai is one of the more liberal and progressive emirates, you will also be mixing with plenty of non-Gulf Arabs in Dubai, whose values might be far stricter than those of its natives.
Younger Emiratis tend to be more tolerant and Westernised in their outlook, but whomever you meet and work with, it is expected that expats respect local customs and show an awareness of local etiquette.
Anyone considering a move to Dubai will quickly settle in the rhythm of the city and the culture, as long as you show the same respect you’d like to receive.
This post was written by Movinhand.
Based in London, digital jobs marketplace Movinhand helps match mobile skilled workers with employers all over Europe, and then helps successful candidates through the relocation process through different API services.