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Social Life in the United Arab Emirates


Much like the dress, most behavioral habits and restrictions are rooted in the country's Islamic roots. To conservative Muslims it is improper to touch a woman, even holding your wife's hand or offering to shake a local woman's hand can be considered inappropriate to a strict Muslim, but in the U.A.E. you'll rarely encounter this issue, especially in most resorts. While almost no one will take offense at hand holding, don't offer your hand to a local woman unless she does so first.

Islamic law forbids pork products and alcohol; however the country is aware of foreign interest in these items so they can be found with a bit of searching. Alcohol can be purchased at any "foreigner" hotel restaurant or bar, however outside of hotels there are no bars or pubs and alcohol cannot be bought for home consumption unless you are a foreigner residing in the U.A.E., in which case you can purchase a certain amount of alcohol each month. Pork can also be bought at certain stores by foreign residents, but it is not sold in restaurants, not even in western restaurants, and cannot be purchased by tourists. Pork and alcohol should not be brought into the country either.

In addition to following the dress restrictions mentioned below and following the local dining etiquette (see our U.A.E. Dining & Food Page), the most important behavioral restrictions tend to be common sense. Avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, religion, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public.


Emirati Culture - Billboard

As a Muslim country, there are a number of religious laws which should be obeyed by everyone in the United Arab Emirates, although few foreigners seem to actually follow them. Nearly 75% of the country is foreign, many of whom come from nearby countries, Europe, North America, India, and the Far East, to whom local religious dress and dietary restrictions mean little to nothing.

For the locals, the dress is a long and loose-fitting cloth that covers the entire body from the neck down, including going down to the wrists and ankles. For men this is always white and is called a dishdash, while women almost always wear black and their dress is called an abaya. Both men and women cover their hair; women wear a black cloth called a hijab, which is wrapped around their neck so only their faces can be seen, while men wear a white cloth called a keffiyeh, which is generally more loose-fitting and the bottom is often tossed over the top to be a bit cooler.

While the locals dress one way, most foreigners dress in whatever way they want. The local dress, or national uniform, is worn with pride by the locals and trying to imitate this dress can actually be more offensive in the U.A.E. than it is "correct." Although following the local dress isn't necessary, covering up is greatly appreciated and respected by the local population and by visitors from neighboring Muslim countries, who are numerous. Although most foreigners who live in the U.A.E., and most tourists to the U.A.E., don't follow these guidelines, you should make the effort to do so since all are simple and easy to follow.

Foreign women may cover their hair, although very few do, even Muslim women from other countries tend to ignore this rule as they view the U.A.E. as a liberal place where they can ignore dress restrictions. However, even these Muslims from abroad tend to cover their legs and shoulders. Since the locals are used to foreign tourists, they accept shorts and short sleeve shirts.

This page was last updated: November, 2013