Travelation‘s Guide to Practicing Cultural Sensitivity in Dubai – Once a sleepy fishing settlement, Dubai has risen to an almost iconic stature as ultra-cosmopolitan hot spot where sunshine, exotic seaside landscapes, upscale dining and shopping and luxurious amenities draw in business and leisure visitors by the thousands each year.
The second largest and most well known of the seven United Arab Emirates, Dubai offers travelers a wealth of things to see and do. However, there are some serious cultural differences you should be aware of and take into account before you head out to this famed emirate.
Dubai is, in general, friendly and welcoming toward foreigners and does its best to accommodate different cultures within the scope of its own cultural rules. English is widely spoken in Dubai and public information (like warning signs, road signs and menus) is typically posted in both English and Arabic. This makes navigating the city as an English speaker fairly easy.
While Dubai is heavily populated and visited by Westerners, it very much remains a Middle Eastern culture. The emirate is under royal rule by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and strictly governed by Islamic law. To have the most comfortable and pleasant trip, it’s really important to be sensitive to the culture and respect the law of the land.
Islamic law requires that men and women cover themselves at all times with modest clothing. In public places like shopping malls, the dress codes are not overly strict. However, wearing clothing that is considered too tight or too revealing is frowned upon, and can potentially result in your being asked to leave an establishment or, in serious cases, cause you legal problems. Bathing suits and bikinis are allowed at beaches and water parks, but nowhere else. If you’re visiting a mosque or religious site, you should cover up bare shoulders, arms and legs, and wear a headscarf if you are a woman.
While alcohol is available in licensed bars and restaurants in Dubai, drinking in public is prohibited, and public drunkenness is considered a serious offense.
Be careful about snapping photos of local color in Dubai. It’s culturally unacceptable to take pictures of Muslim women or military installations, or to photograph Muslim men without getting their consent first.
Public displays of affection (PDA) between men and women—even minor displays like kissing on the cheek or holding hands—are frowned upon in Dubai. While officials may look the other way in some light cases, overt PDA can attract the attention of officials, and possibly get you into some legal trouble.
If for any reason you are reprimanded by a local official or even a passerby for something you are wearing or doing, politely and humbly apologize. Trying to challenge the customs or defend your rights is not only in poor taste, it can cause you further trouble.
If you’re planning on going to Dubai, be sure to visit Travelation for the best flight, hotel and car rental options. The Travelation site is easy to use, and offers some of the best deals available for flights to Dubai, and anywhere else you might want to go.