Customs & Traditions in UAE

Updated: May 5

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General Etiquette

  • Men should not stare at women or offer compliments

  • Maintain eye contact with people of the same sex.

  • Men should show courtesy and respect for women.

  • Members of the opposite sex do not embrace or kiss in public.

  • Do not discuss religion or criticize Islam.

  • It’s illegal to take photos of women, in addition to military and government facilities.


Family

  • Family is Key to UAE society and is based upon the long-held values of Emirati tribal kinship.

  • Children are highly prized and families are close-knit, preferring to reside in the same neighborhood.

  • In February 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid introduced the ‘UAE National Charter 2021’ which aims to strengthen family relationships and preserve the traditional principles of marriage.

  • The introduction to the charter states that “We aim to be among the best countries in the world and this can only be achieved by strengthening families, which form the nucleus of society.” The Charter emphasizes the importance of communication between family generations and respect for elders. As part of the campaign, a ‘Family Pledge’ was set up asking Emiratis to sign an online form honoring family traditions.

  • Large families are encouraged and it is not uncommon for couples to have six children or more.

  • Traditionally, marriages are arranged by parents and it is frowned upon for an Emirati to marry outside his or her tribal kinship group.

  • Divorce is in the UAE is becoming more common and is subject to Sharia Law with complex issues around the custody of children. Joint custody is not recognized in the UAE.


Naming

  • The first name is the personal name followed by "ibn" which means "son of" followed by the name of the father then the name of the father followed again by "ibn" the name of the grandfather, then followed by the family name.

  • For the female her first name followed by bint (daughter of) father’s name, then ibn to indicate the grandfather’s name followed by the family name.

  • When a couple marries, the wife retains her family name and the children will take the name of the father.

  • In modern times ibn and bint are often only used in official circumstances. Additionally, addresses are likely to only included the son or daughter of the father as opposed to both father and grandfather, e.g. the first prime minister of the UAE was addressed as Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum.



Meeting & Greeting:

  • A long but steady handshake is common. Ensure you only use your right hand.

  • Greetings between individuals of the same gender who know each other well are often warm and include hugs and embraces.

  • Emiratis are extremely friendly and welcoming people, so when greeting friends, they tend to use fairly long greetings, with praises to God, in addition to hugs and kisses. This is only done in between men.

  • When it comes to Emirati women, one should not try to shake their hand unless she puts out her hand first and definitely avoid embraces and kisses.

  • When a man greets a woman it is better to use a gesture that is often used across the Muslim world as an alternative greeting whereby the right hand is placed flat over the heart, coupled with a brief nod of the head and a smile.

  • It is polite to greet the oldest or most senior members of the group first.


Visiting a home

  • Guests must remove their shoes when entering an Emirati home, and make sure to shake the host's hands when you arrive.

  • Before leaving a UAE local's home or majlis, guests must shake hands with the host to show that they have appreciated their kind hospitality.

  • Avoid squatting when sitting on the floor, or crossing your knees when sitting up in a majlis - these can be seen as a sign of arrogance.

  • Emiratis will always serve coffee as a way of welcoming guests besides dates.

  • Refusing a drink or snack may be seen as offensive, so it's best to politely accept a drink (coffee, tea, juice, or water) unless you have medical-related reasons explaining why you cannot accept. If you don't want any more drinks, you can shake your cup from side to side to show you don't want a refill.

  • Coffee will be served to the guests starting from the right to the left.

  • If there is an important figure or elderly person present, they are to be served first.

  • The person who is serving coffee to guests must not interrupt any ongoing conversation.

  • If you're in a gathering of Emirati women, the woman who serves coffee can remain sitting while offering coffee to others. If a man is the one offering coffee, he should remain standing while serving guests a drink.


Giving gifts

  • All gifts should be of high quality.

  • A good perfume is acceptable even for men who take pride in appearance and status but such a gift for a woman should only be given by another woman.

  • Gifts with a personal touch that shows thoughtfulness is very acceptable.

  • Never give alcohol, pork products, knives, or dog-related items.

Dining & Food:

  • Dining in the UAE is a very social affair and can be a means to doing business also.

  • It is considered polite to arrive fifteen minutes late.

  • Expect to eat with the right hand – the left hand is considered dirty. However, if you are left-handed it is acceptable to eat with a utensil in the left hand.

  • Emiraties may eat with their hand only and without utensils. Hand cleanliness is therefore very important.

  • Some families prefer to be seated on cushions on the floor.

  • It is not considered polite to decline the offer of more food.

  • If eating with utensils, place the cutlery facing up in the middle of the plate on finishing the meal.

  • If dining in a restaurant gives more than the service charge – up to 10% is acceptable.



Communication style:

  • Small talk is common, indeed expected, and is often the introduction to business discussion.

  • Business is conducted on the basis of trust in the UAE and will fall short if individuals try to hurry on to business matters too hastily.

  • Take the time to get to know your counterpart by asking generic questions and showing an interest in them personally. Ask about their children, their school, sporting interests, trips abroad, etc.

  • It may take a good few meetings and a restaurant visit before your counterpart will feel ready to move into any business transactions with you.

  • Genuine flattery will never go amiss.

  • Be aware of hierarchal structures and show due respect to those in a higher position. Use titles where appropriate.

  • Never criticize Islam, the ruling classes, or local traditions.

  • Never sit in a position that shows the soles of the feet. To do so is an insult as feet are considered dirty.