Although locals in your host country will likely be understanding and not take offense at social blunders, provided they arise from ignorance rather than malice, you will be far more comfortable and welcomed if you acquaint yourself with local ways of doing things. As a guest in your host country you must adapt to the customs and social behavior of the region – not the other way round.
Socializing & Relationships
- Norms around public displays of affection are very different than in the U.S. Holding hands is generally tolerated in public for married couples, but kissing, hugging and other open displays of affection are not.
- Randomly addressing women in public, or taking their photos without permission, is strictly frowned upon. This specifically pertains to visually identifiable religious women.
- It is normal to take-off your shoes when entering someone else’s house, unless the host indicates otherwise.
- Avoid showing the soles of your shoes or feet, which implies that you think the other person is ‘dirt’, which is highly offensive. You should therefore keep your feet flat on the ground and not cross your legs.
- When having visitors, your host will always serve coffee, tea, dates, sweets and fruit as a way of welcoming you.
- Punctuality is not considered a virtue in Dubai, and you may be kept waiting before, or during, a meeting. Be patient, and do not take it as a lack of respect. Some deadlines may also be flexible, so try not to get frustrated if things do not go as planned.
- The official weekend in the UAE is on Friday and Saturday (this means your classes will take place Sunday-Thursday). Friday is considered a holy day so public transportation may not be run until later in the day and some things may be closed.
- It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re dining with an Emirati friend, they may not be comfortable around drinking, therefore, try to be mindful of your company and what may make them uncomfortable. It may be advisable to first invite a new friend to a dinner where alcohol is not served.
- Accepting refreshments when offered to you is considered polite, but note that you should always use your right hand for drinking and eating, as the left hand is regarded as unclean (as it’s used for ‘toilet purposes’).
- The United States has had friendly relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since 1971.
- Violent crime and crimes against property are rare. The U.S. Embassy advises all U.S. citizens to take the same security precautions in the UAE that one would practice in the U.S. or any large city abroad.
- The highest risk in Dubai is road safety. Dubai is one of the countries with the highest rate of mortality due to road accidents. It’s advisable to always wear your seat belts and if you are ever uncomfortable with the way a taxi driver or Uber driver is driving, tell them to either slow down or drive more carefully. Most of the drivers will drive safely, but the speed of some drivers, tailgating and constant lane changes of some make the UAE roads extra risky.
- Dubai is tolerant and cosmopolitan and all visitors are welcome. However, Islam is a way of life in the city, and therefore visitors should adopt a certain level of cultural and religious sensitivity for the duration of their stay.
- Islamic religious values are greatly respected in Dubai. Showing any disrespect towards any religious beliefs or practices is considered deeply offensive and very likely to result in a heavy fine and/or legal action. Other religions are respected and can be followed by visitors.
- During Ramadan, which is marked by prayer and fasting, government offices work a shorter day and some sights, attractions and restaurants close. Bars and clubs may not open until 7 pm, if they open at all. Non-Muslims should not eat, drink, chew gum or smoke in public, but do so only in private or at specially closed off restaurants. If you see a café or restaurant covered up during this time it’s because they are still serving drinks and food but want to be respectful to those who are fasting.
Follow a few simple rules of respect:
- Muslims pray five times a day. You will notice that the Mosques call people to pray through a speaker system. At this time you will also notice public music is turned off as Muslims perform their daily prayers.
- Be aware that drivers who are not close to a Mosque, may stop at a convenient spot to pray privately.
- Don’t walk on a prayer mat or in front of any person at prayer and try not to stare at people who are praying.
- Compared with certain parts of the Middle East, Dubai has a relaxed dress code. However, care should be taken to not wear clothing that may be considered inappropriate or revealing.
- At the pool or on the beaches, trunks, swim-suits and bikinis are quite acceptable. Swimwear should not be worn in any other area outside these areas.
- Local Emirati’s dress conservatively in traditional dress.
- For visitors, in public places such as shopping malls, restaurants and parks, you are encouraged to dress appropriately. Avoid very short skirts, dresses, short shorts, revealing tops, tank tops and shirts with potentially offensive logos or language.
- When visiting souks, mosques, and public offices it is most appropriate to wear long skirts, shorts, or pants and tops that extend to the elbows. Women will usually be required to wear a headscarf when entering mosques.
- Be aware that if you enter public areas dressed inappropriately you could be asked to leave (most of the larger shopping malls display signs warning respectable clothing should be worn).
- Good quality sunglasses are advised as well as hats or some protection for the head when in direct sunlight.
Meeting & Greeting
- When greeting a member of the opposite sex who is Muslim, it is important not to offer to shake hands unless they extend their hand first – both men and women (more commonly women) may prefer not to shake hands with the opposite sex due to religious reasons.
- If you are in a meeting or at an event, it is polite to stand for authoritative figures like officials and the elderly, as well as for women when they enter a room.
- Drinking alcohol in Dubai within a licensed hotel or club is legal for non-Muslims over the age of 21. Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars and can be expensive. Previously, restaurants that are not associated with hotels are not permitted to serve alcohol, however, now some independent restaurants that serve alcohol.
- To legally drink in the UAE, one must be of age and have an alcohol license. RIT students of drinking age would not be able to apply for the alcohol license as they are living in the Dubai Silicon Oasis housing accommodations where alcohol is not permitted.
- Being under the influence of alcohol in public is illegal and subject to legal action.
- Dubai has a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving (i.e. the blood alcohol limit is 0%). You can be charged and imprisoned if you are caught with even the smallest amount of alcohol in your system.
- Drugs are strictly forbidden, even a residual amount. Consuming or carrying drugs can result in imprisonment and deportation.
- Offensive language, spitting and aggressive behavior (including hand gestures) are viewed very seriously and can result in legal action and deportation. This includes “road rage”.
- Dubai has very strict drug/medication laws and even certain over the counter medicines, especially those with codeine are forbidden. Checking the controlled and banned substance list from the local consulate or embassy is helpful for peace of mind. All tourists and residents of UAE are required to fill in an electronic form to get approval to carry any kind of medication that is a narcotic-based, psychotropic and controlled medicines for personal use on their travel to the UAE. It is best to be prepared as you may randomly be checked at the airport. More information about bringing medication into Dubai can be found on the U.S. Dept. of State website (scroll down to "Health" section).
Topics to Avoid
- Be careful what you post on social media while you are in Dubai. Anything deemed political, offensive to the UAE, religion, heads of state and/or any person can result in legal action.
- Avoid politics and religion as subjects for discussion; your opinions might be regarded as ill-informed or even offensive, even if they seem acceptable to you from a western perspective.
Up until the mid-20th century Dubai’s economy relied heavily on fishing and pearl diving, however with the discovery of oil in 1966, this sleepy fishing village rapidly transformed into the lively, modern city it is today. Dubai is home to countless modern marvels including the world’s tallest building, impressive hotels, manmade islands off the coast, and massive shopping malls. Dubai attracts people from many different nationalities and more than 80% of the population are citizens from other countries making Dubai one of the most multicultural cities in the world. You’ll find the streets, shopping malls and business to be alive with numerous languages and cultures.
- Dubai has a very hot arid climate.
- Summers in Dubai are extremely hot, windy and dry, with an average high around 104 °F and overnight lows around 86 °F. Most days are sunny throughout the year.
- Winters are warm with an average high of 73°F and overnight lows of 57°F.
- Remember, that due to air conditioning it can be cold inside. It is advisable to pack a light sweater or jacket to wear over summer clothes since in can be cold indoors.