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Make yourself at home, but do not forget that you are visiting: culture, traditions, etiquette

Будьте как дома, но не забывайте, что вы в гостях: культура, традиции, этикет

The UAE has long turned into a global multicultural center. Having set a course to create an economically developed, technically perfect, comfortable to live in and frankly luxurious state, the authorities have opened the borders to everyone who can be useful to achieve this ambitious goal. Highly qualified professionals from different areas of the economy began to move from the West to the Emirates, workers and middle-level specialists began to move from the East. At the same time, representatives of each ethnic group brought with them not only their knowledge and skills, but also cultural traditions, religion, and language. Currently, only 1 out of 10 people in the UAE is indigenous, the rest are expats.

For foreigners who want to live and work in one of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world, all conditions have been created, maximum benefits have been provided, much of their habitual lifestyle is allowed, which is not welcome in traditional Muslim society. However, this does not mean that absolutely everything is allowed to them: the requirements for observing the rules of behavior in society, on the roads, and everyday etiquette are very high. For non-compliance, rather high fines are imposed, and they can be imprisoned and even deported.

What is traditional Arab society

Arab society

Culture, traditions and daily way of life in Arab society are strictly subordinated to the Koran – the Muslim holy Scripture, which stipulates everything that a true Muslim can and cannot do. It describes the rules of behavior in society, the family, and prescribes all prohibitions and duties.

The local population strictly adheres to the Islamic canons in the use of household items, in clothing and in cooking. A traditional Arab house is devoid of many modern attributes that are used in everyday life by residents of European countries.

Muslims should not drink alcohol, there are some types of foods. In the Holy month of Ramadan, eating, drinking, smoking from sunrise to sunset is strictly prohibited. It is impossible to live in couples outside of marriage, especially to enter into intimate relationships. Strict rules apply to clothing: it should cover the body as much as possible, especially for women.

The fair sex in the country is generally treated with extreme respect. An Arab woman is a keeper of the hearth, a loving mother, a respected spouse. And she is inviolable not only figuratively, but also literally, because she is part of a family whose life is protected from prying eyes in every possible way. In no case should an Arab woman be touched by a non-Muslim man, even if she needs urgent medical care. The first thing to do is to call a Muslim man for help.

Muslims pray several times a day at a certain time. It can catch a person far from the mosque, but it does not matter: a true Muslim will hold prayer anywhere, even on the street. At the same time, any increased attention to this action on the part of the public is severely punished.

In recent years, society has become a little freer, especially young people. She is no longer so committed to the strictness of traditions, she uses the benefits of civilization much more widely. However, it is not she who gives the general tone to the lifestyle, but still respected representatives of the older generation.

What language is spoken in the Emirates

People are talking

In the UAE, the official language is the literary version of Arabic – Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). It is spoken by representatives of the authorities, records management is conducted, television broadcasts, the media are printed. But this language is not used in everyday life: residents speak their native dialects among themselves. Their children also learn to speak first in their native dialect, and learn the official language at school. 

Gulf Arabic is one of the three most common dialects in the country. In the UAE, a large percentage of the population also speaks Egyptian and Levantine dialects. However, the difference between the languages is small, and the Arabs understand each other well, as, for example, residents of the UK and the USA understand English, despite the difference in pronunciation of some sounds.

Representatives of more than 200 countries live in the UAE. The largest diaspora of immigrants is Hindus: there are more than 3 million of them in the Emirates, and they all speak Hindi. Also, large groups of migrants speak Farsi, Malay, Tagalog.

Considering that there are about 10% of indigenous Arabs in the country, the settlers needed the language of international communication. It became English. The UAE was dependent on Great Britain until the 70s of the last century, and English has long been the second, albeit unofficial, language here. When applying for a job, you may not know Arabic, but fluency in English is mandatory. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that no one will make linguistic indulgences when communicating with the authorities, law enforcement officers and courts: there everything will happen on the MSA. Therefore, if you are planning to move to the UAE for permanent residence, it is better to immediately enroll in Arabic courses in order to quickly master it at least at the level of everyday communication.

What can and cannot be done in the UAE

Man with Woman

In order to adapt to society faster and not get into unpleasant situations, future expats should study some rules of behavior in advance:

  1. Drinking alcohol in public places is strictly prohibited. Tourists and non-Muslims can drink alcohol in bars, restaurants or hotel rooms, but after that it is necessary to immediately go home by taxi.
  2. Transportation, storage and distribution of drugs, pornography in the form of magazines, photographs, videos is punished most severely – a long prison term up to life, and for drugs you can get the death penalty.
  3. A lot of concessions have been made in relation to clothing in the country. European women can wear ordinary dresses, but they should not be transparent, tight-fitting, too short or open in the decollete area, open the stomach or show through underwear. Sunbathing in a bikini is possible only on closed beaches, but it is strictly forbidden to go topless there. On other beaches, swimsuits should be sufficiently closed. And in no case can you go out in a swimsuit from the beach. There is a fine for this, but the police often only give a warning and offer to get dressed.
  4. In the subway, you should carefully choose the cars. Those that are painted pink are intended exclusively for women with young children. Men are not allowed to enter there.
  5. The police strictly monitors compliance with traffic rules and strictly punishes for any, even minor violations. On the roads, you can not exceed the speed limit, talk on a mobile phone or smoke while driving, throw garbage out of the window, stop on the highways for no good reason, carry children under 10 years old without a special chair, and much more. For speeding, running a red light, driving into the oncoming lane, you can lose your license.
  6. On the streets, it is not customary to talk loudly, laugh, especially to shout, make threatening and indecent gestures towards other people. This is considered a violation of the order and is punishable by a fine.
  7. In the month of Ramadan, it is forbidden to eat and drink in the daytime. However, this prohibition does not apply to pregnant and lactating women, as well as seriously ill people. As for non-Muslims, they are obliged to observe the rule on the street, but they can eat and drink in a restaurant behind a closed door. At the same time, remember that you can not only eat and drink on the street, but even chew gum.
  8. The manifestation of romantic feelings on the street, even between husband and wife, is unacceptable: you can only hold hands. Homosexual relations are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  9. Be careful with taking pictures. You can’t shoot people without their consent, especially Arab women, as well as believers performing prayer. Filming of mosques, military and state facilities is prohibited.

If you came to visit, then:

  • take off your shoes at the entrance;
  • shake hands only with a man and hold until he lets go (in the East, a hospitable handshake lasts longer than a European one);
  • even if you know the owner well, you should not even touch him in a friendly way: friendly male hugs are not accepted;
  • give a woman a hand only if she gives it first;
  • to refuse food means to insult the owner;
  • it is accepted to take plates, glasses and pass them only with the right hand, the same rule applies to food that is eaten with the hands;
  • do not sit with your legs crossed or so that your soles are pointed towards the owners: this is insulting;
  • don’t point at anything with your finger, just with your palm;
  • never bring alcohol with you to an Arab home.

At first glance, there are too many rules and prohibitions. But if you think about it, there are no over-demands. You just need to follow the basic rules of decency, be understanding of local traditions, and not violate rules that may be dangerous to the life or health of other people. And welcome to the UAE!

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Vladimir Sviridov
Vladimir Sviridov
General Manager RLC Consulting
With a Postgraduate Masters in Finance from The, Moscow State University, Russia. Vladimir started his professional career as an auditor of the financial sector of EY. After that, he worked for several years in senior positions in corporate banking. In 2018-2021, he managed the finances of a large agricultural holding, and is currently responsible for strategic planning, corporate partnership and financial management in the role of General Manager of RLC Consulting GROUP in the UAE.

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