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Understanding Local Etiquettes in Dubai


A non-Muslim needs to be very careful during the holy month of Ramadan. In Dubai, most businesses and offices ban eating and drinking at desks – and smoking, even in smoking areas – out of respect to those colleagues who are fasting. Some set up special rooms where food and drink can be consumed. Bars and restaurants will open at night and serve alcohol, but usually will not play any music. It is extremely important to remember not to eat, drink or smoke when out on the street or in one's car: the police keep watch and have handed out fines for doing so. It is also good to remember that fasting colleagues – even those on the road during the drive home – could be growing increasingly tired and irritable as they have not eaten or had a drink all day. People frequently leave on mini-breaks during Ramadan. So it also bears keeping in mind that some more conservative destinations, such as Oman, ban alcohol altogether during this time.

Conversational Topics

In conversations regarding politics and world affairs, avoid criticising the ruling family of any of the seven Emirates or prominent business families. The UAE does not have any formal relations with Israel, and the government publicly supports any cause that involves the Palestinian people or Palestinian statehood.


Drinking alcohol is illegal in Dubai. Westerners must obtain an alcohol licence through Dubai Police. It costs a percentage of one's salary, puts a limit on how much alcohol one can buy and is valid for one year. Although it is possible to buy alcohol without a licence at some shops, expatriates should not try it. Nor should they carry alcohol on the street or transport it in their cars, as they can be arrested in the case of an accident or if they are stopped by police. Bars are tucked away from the streets in hotels; public drunkenness is not allowed and could lead to an arrest. Alcohol is not sold on religious holidays, nor during daylight hours in Ramadan (even to non-Muslims).

Azan (Call to Prayer)

One of the biggest differences living in Dubai is the five-times per day call to prayer. Most mosques are co-ordinated, so there isn't the competing, full-on sort of call that happens in other countries. But it is loud, and it does jerk you out of whatever else you were doing. The congregational prayer (solat) that happens each Friday at about noon is much longer and some people say louder. The prayer can be heard on the street, in homes, at work, on the radio and on television, even in malls. For newcomers, it can be a stark and repeated reminder of their new surroundings.

Social Hierachy

There is a unofficial social hierarchy in Dubai, and Emiratis are at the top. So you might find yourself ordering ice cream or buying a pair of shoes, only to find an Emirati has jumped to the front of the line and commanded the cashier or server's attention. Or you've been waiting in the heat for 15 minutes for a taxi and when one stops, the person who arrived seconds ago sweeps into it. The logic is: Emiratis were here first, everyone else came second, and that is the way it is.

Gender Etiquettes

Do not be surprised if women do not want to sit by you, if you are a man. Conversely, men will sometimes move away from women, out of respect for them. This frequently happens in movie theatres and airplanes. Western women who do not cover their shoulders may find men turning away from them; it has been explained that this out of respect to the woman and not an act of judgement. Women or man, almost everyone will expect you to be married and will probably be quite surprised if you are not.

There are no public displays of affection in Dubai, save married couples and men from the subcontinent – culturally, they are much more affectionate with their friends – holding hands. Public kissing or touching will at best offend local sensibilities and at worst get you arrested. It's best to remember this goes for cars and taxis as well – you never know who is watching and it's best not to take any chances.

Women should dress sensibly and avoid wearing revealing outfits when in busy areas. This is especially true when travelling to districts like Karama, Deira and Bur Dubai,where the streets are packed with men, especially on evenings and weekends. While swimsuits and bikinis are a common sight on Dubai beaches, avoid sunbathing topless or wearing micro bikinis – even in the private beach of a hotel.





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