While handshakes are a common greeting in the West it is important not to offer your hand to a Muslim of the opposite sex unless they offer theirs first. Body language can be very important. Avoid showing the soles of your feet, or pointing your foot at anyone. If you are sitting in front of an important guest, it is considered rude to cross your legs. Do not beckon or point with your finger; if you need to use a hand gesture, use the whole hand.
While Dubai is a progressive Emirate, cultural sensitivities must still be observed. Beach wear on the beach is acceptable, but in shopping malls knees and shoulders should be covered. In nightclubs and restaurants Western dress is acceptable, but women should always carry a pashmina or scarf. It is useful as a cover up if your car breaks down, to keep the sun off your head, as a makeshift beach towel, and to protect you from the brutal air conditioning.
Emirati women choose to wear traditional dress to cover up, with older generations sticking more closely to the rules. The abaya is a long black robe worn over everyday clothes with a headscarf. The catwalks of Milan, London, Paris and New York are followed very closely in Dubai with up to the minute fashions being worn underneath the abaya. Older women are more conservative and can still be seen wearing the traditional leather mask known as a burkha.
Men prefer to wear the national dress called a dishdasha or khandura, and a headdress, (known as a keffiyeh, ghutrah or shamagh) in red and white check or plain white, which is most common in the Arabian peninsula. The choice of headdress material, and the style in which it is worn, is indicative of the wearer’s nationality and tribal heritage.
Food and drink
Pork is readily available in some western supermarkets for non-Muslims, usually in a discrete corner of the store. Alcohol is only served to non-Muslims and at licenced outlets associated with hotels and clubs, or at liquor stores if you have a licence. If you are entertaining Muslim guests, do not offer them pork or alcohol.
If you are invited to a majlis (a reception or lounge room in a house), remove your shoes at the entrance. Males and females are usually escorted to different sections. If you are sharing a meal with your host, accept food and refreshment before talking about business. It is customary to accept food and drink with your right hand; this is also the hand you should eat with.
There is no expectation to tip in Dubai, but it is becoming more common and some restaurants automatically add on a 10% service charge. If you would like to tip, 10% is about the norm. It is best to leave your tips in cash to ensure that it goes to your waiting staff rather than the restaurant’s profits. At petrol stations, where you are served, and taxis, it is common to round up your bill or fare. If collecting your car from a valet a Dhs 5 tip is acceptable.
Some national holidays are based on the Islamic calendar and the sighting of the moon, while others have fixed dates. The dates of Islamic holidays can be announced with 24 hours notice. These include:
· Mawlid Al Nabee: The birth of the Prophet;
· Lailat Al Mi’raj: A spiritual and physical journey undertaken by the Prophet Muhammad during a single night;
· Eid Al Fitr: the end of Ramadan;
· Eid Al Adha: The “Festival of Sacrifice" commemorating the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep to sacrifice instead;
· Islamic New Year.
The public sector will sometimes get two days off, compared to one day in the private sector. As schools are considered to be in the public sector, even if they are private, your children may have more time off than you.
New Year’s Day is the same as the Western calendar and UAE National Day falls on 2 December. Most private companies make Christmas Day a holiday as well.
The Islamic calendar is based on twelve lunar months. However, it is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Ramadan is the name of the ninth month, and so its timing appears to shift in the Gregorian calendar. It lasts for 30 days.
Ramadan is a time for worship and fasting during daylight hours. At sunset families and friends come together to feast, strengthening community ties. Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Eid is the Arabic word for "festivity", while Fiṭr means "breaking the fast".
The pace of life in Dubai changes during Ramadan. The working day is shortened by two hours, to assist people who fast, but in practice as many companies operate within freezones, not all employees are obligated to do this. The rush hour shifts from the morning to gridlock in the afternoon. Eating, drinking and smoking is forbidden, and unless they have a curtain or screen, most restaurants and cafés shut until the evening, which is the busiest, and most social, time of the day for fasting Muslims. Malls become very crowded.
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