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Middle Eastern society is generally considered both more formal and more traditional than Western society. People less familiar with the region should be aware of different rules of etiquette. Middle Easterners are also social and personable people who are interested in their guests and who expect their guests will be interested in them. The guidelines below are adapted from information prepared by the Middle East Institute for visitors to the region.
Both English and Arabic are the most widely spoken languages in the UAE, though because of its diverse expatriate population, visitors may also hear Urdu, Hindi or Pashtu. Arabic dialects are numerous, but several basic phrases are the same throughout the region, such as:
The response: “Wa aleikum a-salaam” (“And unto you peace”).
The act of communal eating is a highly recognized outward expression of friendship in the Middle East.
Women traveling in the UAE are not expected to cover their heads or wear traditional Muslim dress. When visiting a mosque, women will be asked to respect Muslim tradition and wear an abaya and cover their heads. Often, this will be provided at the mosque.
Do not take photos in mosques or at military installations. If you would like to take a photo of a Middle Eastern person, especially a woman, ask permission first.
It is an insult to show the bottom of your foot to another person. It is best to keep both feet on the floor. Modest dress is best for men and women.
When asking about a Muslim person’s family, keep questions general and do not ask specifically about the spouse.
Men shake hands. Women should wait until the man extends his hand. Pious Muslim men may not shake hands with women. Pious Muslim women do not shake the hands or touch men who are not in their families. Rather, they might simply put their hand over their hearts to show their sincerity in welcoming the visitor.
Generosity and thoughtfulness are extremely admirable and respected in the Middle East and Arab cultures.
In the UAE, Friday is the holy day and day of rest. Weekends are Friday and Saturday.
The concept of time in the Middle East is generally seen as fluid, and many Middle Easterners are more relaxed about when an appointment or event ends or begins, both at work and at a social gathering. Visitors should always be on time or notify the host if you will be delayed because of traffic or other reason. But it would not be unusual for visitors to be kept waiting.
It is common to see men walking together holding hands, but men and women generally do not unless they are married or related.
Islam is the predominant religion in the UAE. It is based on five pillars: Profession of faith, Prayer, Fasting, Charity and Pilgrimage.
The UAE’s Constitution declares that Islam is the official religion. However, the UAE government follows a policy of tolerance toward non-Muslim religions. There are a number of Christian churches, as well as a Hindu temple complex.