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Getting to the very essence of a country means understanding its culture, from understanding the people, to understanding their traditions. We have put together a series of articles to help you make sense of things in an Arabic culture and how that differs from the West.


UAE National Clothing


What do you wear when you come to the UAE? Well, in business it's always better to be conservative. For men, this means getting suited up, although in some office environments a shirt and trousers will suffice. Females should make an effort not to wear too figure hugging clothes and to cover up their flesh, until they are able to figure out what is acceptable in the workplace. A shirt and trousers or long skirt would be fine, therefore.

Outside work, anything really goes, to a limit. In the malls, many wear jeans and t-shirts or the like, and clubbing gear is as you would expect elsewhere. Some Emirates are more conservative. For example, in Sharjah, even men are not permitted to wear shorts. Stick to the laws of the land, and you should be ok. Walking around in hot pants and a tank top simply won’t work in the UAE.

Understanding that the heat is a big issue, so dressing in light clothes is very important. However, remember that everywhere is air conditioned, so while you may have to bear the heat for a few minutes, the air conditioning can cause problems. The malls in the heat of summer are particularly cold, and women should take a shawl or equivalent when going to the cinema. Bear in mind that apart from western dress, there are a whole range of styles of clothes that are adopted, from the bright African gowns to the flowing Indian Shalwar Kameez outfits.

As a rule of thumb for females, dress Western in Dubai, a little more conservative in Abu Dhabi, and cover your skin in Sharjah, bar your face, neck and hands.

To give you a brief understanding of the clothing used by UAE Nationals, below we have detailed the dress adopted by both male and female Nationals.


UAE National Dress – Male



The Kandura, or dishdash, as it is referred to by the expats, is the long white cloak that male UAE Nationals wear. You will be amazed at how these remain crease free during the day - and they never look dirty. During the winter months, a whole realm of different colours come out, with browns and greys not uncommon. You may have seen pictures of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid walking in his iconic colours that are now his trademark. Only the traditional white is seen in summer because it reflects the suns rays. The men may change their Kandura a number of times in the day to go to different events (work, prayers, dinner etc) and so the men's clothes remain looking spick and span. A UAE National might have 50 or so Kandura's in his closet, and have up to 20 of those with the dry cleaners at any one time. A typical kandura would cost between 100 and 200 Dirhams to get tailored. You may see the difference in those Kanduras that are worn by those in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, you can sometimes have Kanduras with collars and cuffs, as opposed to the traditional types.


The guthra is the headscarf sported by the males. The most popular colours are the plain white, or the red and white checks. These checks are traditional to the Beduin, since the material used was tougher than the other and useful for protection against the elements in the desert. Nowadays, colours come in all types to match with the latest fashion. Also, the way that guthra is worn can define who someone is.


The Egal is the black rope that fixes the headscarf in place. In days gone by, these would be used by Bedouin to tie their camel's feet down during the night while they were travelling. More of the younger nationals these days do not wear their egal and tie their guthra in a different way on their head. This is called hamdaniya.

Ever seen a Muslim prayer hat? The ghafiyah looks exactly like this, but since it is usually under the guthra, you wont necessarily see it. It is usually white in colour with designs woven in.


Look closely at a male's kandura, and you will see a small string like contraption flowing from the neck. This is the kerkusha. Some aliken it to a tie, and it is not always worn, though those who do wear it sometimes are inclined to play around with it.


Those in power can be seen wearing the bisht which is similar to a jacket that is worn on top of the kandura. Also, the bisht is worn during specical occasions such as Eid or weddings, for example, and also when visiting a Sheikh.


A faneela is like a vest worn under the Kandura.


A woozar is a a piece of white cloth which is tied around the waist under the Kandura. You'll never see one!


These are essentially the sandals that are worn. You may find that shoes are actually worn instead. People say that those in Dubai wear shoes whereas those in Abu Dhabi are sandal wearers.


UAE National Dress – Female



The long flowing black gown worn by the UAE National Females is known as the Abaya. Somewhat misunderstood by the west, the abaya is an elegant piece of attire and used to cover the female clothing. Abayas range from the plain to those with intricate jewel designs. Accordingly, the prices range between 100 and 2500 Dirhams for each Abaya. Ladies will wear western dress, local dress or even indian type clothes, under their abayas. The main reason for wearing the Abaya is concern for modesty, with the most devoted covering their faces, as well as all viewable skin.


The Shela is the piece of material used to loosely cover their head. This is sometimes black, especially those used to cover the face. And since the material is very light it is possible for the lady to see through the material. More recently, the shela is usually designer material, the most popular being Givenchy, Dior and the like and these are sometimes matched with their hangbags to produce a super cool outfit.

The Hijab is not usually worn by UAE Nationals, and more usually by some Muslims from the other GCC countries. The Hijab is a covering of the head, to ensure that the hair is not exposed, usually with one or two pieces of material.


The Burqa actually represents two items: one, the covering of the head except for a slit for the eyes; the other item is the metallic coloured object used to cover part of the face, and these days is only used by the older generation - this is specific to the UAE.

The Gishwa is the thin black veil that covers the face of the female. It is just dark enough for you not to be able to make out who is underneath, and just light enough for the female to see through. This makes it easier for the woman to travel around in freedom
Jelabia Mukhawara

Although, in normal life, you will never see this, this item is the traditional outfit worn by the females, similar to a flowing gown in some great colours worn to weddings or special occasions.


Sometimes, you will see Ladies wearing gloves, to ensure that all of their skin is covered. Gafaaz is the literal translation of gloves in Arabic.

Halal and Haram


There are rules set down on what can do and can't do. Specifically there are rules in the Quran on what a Muslim can or can't eat. Things that are permitted are halal, whereas those things that are forbidden are haram.

Haram items include:

- Alcohol (and other methods of intoxication), and all things related to alcohol, even if it is cooked into a meal. Thus, if you pick it, it will likely be a virgin tiramisu.

- Pig and all pig products, such as pork, bacon etc, as well as gelatine

- Blood

- Animals that have died a natural death. Thus animals need to be slaughtered in a proper way for the intention of food, and prayed upon, at that stage.


The basic principle is that all things created by Allah are permitted, apart from those listed above. Islam is considered a way of life with rules and manners governing every facet of a Muslim's life. Since food forms an important part of daily life, these laws carry a special significance. The life of a Muslim revolves around the concept of Halal. A Muslim must earn income from Halal sources, be involved only in Halal transactions and consume Halal food and drink.


Family and Women


The family is a key social unit to an Arab. The loyalty to a family, or family name influences all aspects of family life the seeps into UAE society. As such, Arabs honour and respect their family, especially that of the children. Thus, it is very paternalistic, patriarchal and hierarchical, with the elders and fathers making the decisions.

Family wise, UAE National families are large, with families citing Allah's will for one to procreate. So, the larger the better, giving economic and spiritual benefit. The children, when they get older, are expected to look after the parents, especially in the case of the sons who much bear the financial burden, if necessary. Some say that the larger families demonstrate the virility of the father.

As far as loyalty goes, i follows family first, then clan and then tribe. The UAE Nationals also express national identity as well, and are proud of their heritage. There is also a strong loyalty to the royal families. Demonstration of this includes photos of the leaders in all areas of life. The UAE Nationals loved their founding father, Sheikh Zayed, and there was massive outpouring of grief on his passing. The people still remark on his generosity for what he did for them and for building the UAE.


Women are respected in UAE society, as they are the ones who bring life into the world, and raise the children. This perception, in the west, is that they are subordinate, but increasingly, they are more prominent in the workplace. Some guidelines for the westerner include: respecting the privacy and role of women in society; stand when a female enters the room; and understand that in many households there are separate living areas, so when visiting a home, you wouldn't socialise with women.

Things that males should definitely not do include:

- Do not talk in public to professional UAE National women, unless it is business related. You will understand when you are allowed to cross the limit, when prompted to discuss other matters

- Do not shake hands with a UAE National female, unless prompted to.

- Suffice to say, do not flirt, touch or hug females

- Do not stare at women or maintain eye contact

- Do not ask an Arab about his wife or female members of his family

Of course, it is better to be strict on yourself first, to understand the situation, and with western values, and an increasingly diverse make up to society, things are changing, but traditions still remain and it is best to bear this in mind.

The Hijab

Many from the west do not understand why Arab women wear the hijab or shehla to cover their hair. We described the clothing specifically on our clothing page, but we asked a number of females to describe why they wear the hijab, and this are the responses we got:

- it is traditional in my family, and country to do so

- it is unheard of for females of my nationality to go out in just western clothes, and it could cause a lot of shock if I did so

- I would feel vulnerable and may cause shame on my family

- distancing myself from the world, it enriches the spiritual life, grants freedom from material preoccupations

- it erases differences by expressing solidarity with people wearing the same clothes, my sisters of this world

- Islamic dress gives me greater freedom and mobility rather than less so

- It is a liberation, freeing me from being considered a sexual object

- Feminists in the west have reflected on the connection between feminine clothes and female oppression

- We are not victims, our culture is different to the West

- Our clothing demands respect as an equal, and based on intellect

We hope this gives a better understanding of why wearing the hijab (and indeed other clothes) is justified by those who choose to wear it.


Understanding Islam


Being in the UAE, you are essentially in the Islamic World, and therefore it makes sense to understand the religion that is practiced here. Since Islam is part of every day life for the Nationals as well as many of the Arabs, we have put together some information about Islam to give you the heads up on what you need to know.

Roots of the religion - Islam was part of the great religious competition that stretched across many centuries among the people near the Mediterranean region, from Asia into Africa. The three great religions lived and worked side-by-side down through the generations. To understand Islam, you simply must pick up the Quran and read it. The Quran is essentially Biblical, in the sense that Adam and Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all important characters in its pages, as are David, Solomon, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. The obvious difference is that Muslims believe that the Quran, the Muslim scripture, is a compendium of revelations that God gave Prophet Muhammad during the last 22 years of his life. The Quran's story of creation is similar to the Bible's in many respects. But rather than a single narrative, the Quran is an assemblage of revelations said to come from God to Muhammad. The Quran makes frequent allusions to the Old Testament teachings, almost always by way of illustrating a point.

Who Is Allah? - Allah, the Muslim deity, was well known in pre-Islamic Mecca before Muhammad. Among Arabs who worshipped many gods, Allah was known as the chief god. Muhammad, however, considered Him to be the same God that the Jews and Christians worshiped. The observant Jews of the day avoided even speaking the name of God: "I am who am," or Yahweh (Jehovah). The Muslims, however, followed the instructions of the Quran, which states that the names of God "were the most beautiful names." This led to the practice of stringing 33 or 99 beads, one for each name of God, to be recited by the believer. Ironically, the rosary and the ubiquitous "worry beads" common in the Middle East are the modern-day legacy of this practice. Is Allah the same as God? Muslims and most historians would answer yes. On the other hand, Allah had a different history in pantheism, prior to Muhammad's arrival. Islam claims nothing more than to be the religion of Abraham. It is not so much a new interpretation of an older religion - it is not a New Testament - as it is a return to the strict Old Testament relationship of Abraham to the one Creator.

The Hajj - Muhammad made his first and last hajj, or pilgrimage, as a Muslim in 632. In a sense, this was the first Muslim hajj. Only Muslims were present and Muhammad led them, but the pilgrimage became a template for all other Muslims to follow. Muhammad returned to Medina from his pilgrimage in March of that year and, three months later, he was dead. His death was unexpected.

The Quran - When Muhammad died, there was no Quran, except in the hearts and minds of his followers. Although the finished Quran authentically represents the statements Muhammad presented as revelations, it is definitely not the literary work of the Prophet himself. The book is believed to be a compendium by essentially anonymous editors who arranged the chapters, or suras, in their current order. Muslim tradition states that when Muhammad died, several believers had already memorized the Quran. Some were said even to possess written "copies."

Shia and Sunni - The Shia (or Shiites) and Sunnis are the two main branches of the practice of Islam, embodied foremost today in the rival nations of Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively. In the UAE, the majority are Sunni although perhaps 15% of Muslims here are Shia. It was said that when Muhammad was dying he asked for a pen and paper, to write instructions to his followers. Unfortunately, he died before doing so. The Shias believed that Muhammad was going to name God's appointment of Ali bin Abu Talib as his successor. Ali, Muhammad's younger cousin, had already played a key role in promoting the Islamic faith. Although Abu Bakr was elected to succeed Muhammad, the succession was disputed. The question essentially was whether the leadership should be a matter of election, as with Abu Bakr, or a matter of lineage and inheritance, as with Ali. Both branches agree that after Abu Bakr's appointment, several leaders visited Ali's house to ask or demand that he also take an oath of allegiance. The Shias state that some urged Ali to assume the leadership himself, and Ali refused to do so. Sunni and Shia historians strongly disagree on what happened next. The Sunnis state that Ali accepted the legitimacy of his three predecessors - Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman - prior to attaining the caliphate, that is, succession to Muhammad, in 656. The Shias deny this. The schism gradually widened over the generations through various betrayals, treacheries and acts of violence. Today, Shiites maintain that leadership belongs by right to a family, and is not a communal or societal political decision. The Sunnis believe otherwise.

Sharia - Implicit in Muhammad's teachings was the idea that there was an Islamic "way" that came from God, called "sharia," and now known as Islamic law. Sharia is the clear-cut pattern of behaviour that Muslims are expected to follow according to God's will. In some respects Sharia is adopted in the UAE, however it is enforced in different levels, with notable examples of Sharjah and Fujeirah adopting a tougher stance than that of Dubai. The Quran contains 140 rules or laws regulating prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and other religious practices. It has 70 laws on personal matters, such as divorce, marriage and inheritance, and 70 more laws on commercial matters, such as loans, usury and sales. Thirty laws relate to crimes and punishments, 30 more cover justice and 10 address economic matters. Thus, Islamic law derived from the Quran observes more than 300 specific precepts. These laws have been augmented by the "hadith," the growing body of reports after Muhammad's life a bout his sayings, beliefs, acts and behaviours that guide Muslim behaviour.


Some final points of note

- To understand Islam, you must understand the Quran.

- "Islam" means submission - submission to monotheism, and to Muhammad as its spokesman.

- The Quran is said to be a collection of revelations given to the Prophet Muhammad.

- Allah was well known to Arabs before the time of Muhammad. The chief god of pre-Islamic Arabs, who worshipped many gods, went by the name of Allah. - Muslims hold that Allah is the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews.

- The rosary, the Eastern Christian prayer rope and the omnipresent Middle Eastern worry beads were all modelled on the Muslims' "subha" - a string of beads, one for each of the 99 names of God.

- God told the Prophet to turn to the Jews for advice if he had questions about the revelations he had been given.

- Muhammad considered His revelations a confirmation of what Moses had already revealed to the Jews.


Arab Politics


Firstly, it should be defined what the Arab world actually is. Essentially, it stretches right across from Morocco across Nortern Africa to the Arabian Gulf. The Arab world is sometimes used interchangeably with the MENA region, but crucially, MENA does not include Somalia, Djibouti and the Comoros Islands. An easy way to determine the Arab world is based on whether Arabic is spoken there as the main language. Arab countries are diverse, ethnically, and Islam is more often the main religion, but not in all cases. The 22 Arab countries are: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen. The GCC which is the Gulf Cooperation Council consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Iran, Turkey and Israel are NOT Arab countries.

The strategic importance of the Arab world is that the area consists of the seat of the 3 main monotheistic religions, with a multitude of ethnic and linguistic groups. Although, numbers vary, the Arabian peninsula consists of nearly 60% of the world's proven oil reserves, with Saudi Arabia possessing the world's largest oil reserves. These two facts alone, religion and oil, are probably the main reason for such conflict in the region, along with territorial disputes, no doubt.

The Arab world has a politically diverse set of government types. Parliamentary republics exist in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. The GCC countries, however, are traditional monarchies, with Jordon and Morocco as constitutional monarchies, where monarchy powers are limited by a set of rules or representative bodies. Religion does play a role in Arab politics in many different ways where, in Lebanon, parliament is divided according to religious affiliation, and in Jordon and Morocco, the Kings base legitimacy on direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed, but does not act as a religious leader.

Arabs don't agree on everything but the main areas of contention are:

- Country borders

- The relationship with Israel although, it is recognised that many Arabs have very negative feelings against the Israelis

- Rivalry amongst some countries

- The Oil factor, leading to some countries being very rich, with others relatively poor

- The conflict of Sunni and Shia factions, leading to violence.

The United Arab Emirates, stays relatively neutral with regard to politics, perhaps for fearing that swaying one way or another would involve it in any conflicts. Whichever way you look at it, the West looks at the UAE as a role model for the Middle East, on how success can be generated from within.


Traditional Sports


The sport of falconry is among the many traditional pastimes still practiced in the UAE. The Locals consider it as a unique partnership between man and bird and it is not unusual to see a hooded falcon being trained on an owner's gloved wrist. You can usually get to see such activity on arranged tours. Falconry had been an integral part of life in the desert and goes back centuries. Originally, falcons were used for hunting, as they assisted in providing extra food to core dates, milk and bread. They were used to catch animals such as such as hare or houbara.

Hunting expeditions were used in the past for Sheikhs to tour their land, in a fun way, with hunting in the day followed by a majlis out in the desert in the evening, and the local Bedouin would come to pay respects to their leader. Nowadays, falconry is primarily a sport or hobby but ensuring that the sport does not kill off any local species of hare or whatever else is caught.

With a love of the camel, it is no surprise that camel racing exists in the UAE, which can be an enjoyable race to watch as you drive by next to the camels in a 4X4. In recent years, it has been revived formally and although there was some controversy regarding the the under age camel jockeys, the introduction of robot jockeys (!), seems to have solved this problem. There are a few tracks near Abu Dhabi, in Al Ain, in Dubai and Umm Al Quwain, and usually held on Friday mornings or on holidays.

Throughout history, the Arabs have maintained a great love of horses and the tradition lives on with the rapid growth of horse racing. This includes the Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race. Sheikhs Mohamed and the Al Maktoum family are the driving force behind Arabian horses in the Emirates with their Godolphin Stables. He is considered one of the leading owners in the world, with his sons also enjoying success.


Common Arabic Phrases


Although English is increasingly used in business relationships, in many situations Arabic is the key language, as you would expect. If you really want to learn the language, then you should perhaps attend a course by one of the international providers such as Berlitz. The next best option would be to try some of our recommended books on learning Arabic. What we have provided below are a few phrases that will give you the basics. Arabs will be particularly impressed that you have at least made an effort to learn their language, and will score you some brownie points in a business situation. We have deliberately tried to spell the words to help you pronounce them correctly.

Basic Arabic Phrases


Assalaam Alaikum -Peace be up on you

To which the reply is:

Wa Alaikum assalaam -And peace be upon you

This phrase will be used in many different contexts when meeting people.

Marhabbah – hello

to which the reply is:

Marhabbteen – hello

This is probably the equivalent of saying hi in the UK

Sabah al khair - good morning

To which the reply is:

Sabah al noor


Masah al khair -good afternoon / evening

To which the reply is:

Masah al noor

Shukran (jazeelan) -thank you (very much)

To which the reply is:

Aafwaan -you're welcome

An alternative to Shukran is Mushkoor


Ahlan wa sahlan –Welcome

To which the reply is:

Ahlan beek - welcome to you (to a male)

Ahlan beech (to a female)

Ahlan beekum (to a group)


This is usually used in introductions

Keef haluk? -How are you?

Sometimes shortened to Keefak

To which the reply is:

Al hamdu lillah (bi khair) - praise be to Allah (well)

This should be the usual reply.

You could use:

Ana bikhayr, shukran - I am fine, thank you

Weyn inta - Literally, where are you?, but probably equivalent to Long time no see

Occasionally you will hear:

Shu-ukhbaarak -what's your news?  - which you would reply to in the normal way

Aysh ismuk -what is your name?

Ismi Jason -my name is Jason


Titakellem ingleezi -do you speak English?

Ana la atakellem al arabi -I don't speak Arabic

Terrref arabi? -do you know Arabic

Atakullum inglieezi -I speak English


Inta min weyn? -where are you from?

Ana min ingliterra -I'm from England



Al imaraaat –UAE

Wa inta? -and you?


To which the reply is:

Fi aman allah or Maasalaamah


Miscellaneous Words

Inshallah -If Allah wishes

This phrase is used in reference to a future, since all things are at Allah's will. So if you say, see you tomorrow, you might be replied with Inshallah. Indeed, it is used in numerous contexts. You'll send me the report tomorrow? -Inshallah.

Maashallah -What Allah wishes

This is used when complimenting something, usually in the context of family or health.

Mabrook – Congratulations

This is used in any congratulatory context, more so than you would use in English.

Naam – yes

Aywa - yeah/ok

La – no

Min fudluk – please

Shoo? - what?

Shoofi mafi? -what's up? or what's the matter?

Shoo hada? - what is this?

Mafi mushkil -no problem

Itfudul -by my guest / my pleasure

When you sneeze you say

Al hamdu lillah

To which someone will say

Yer humkullah

And you will say again

Yer hamna wa yer humkum

Tamaam - perfect

Baadin – later

Dilwaati – now

Ilyoum - today

Bukra – tomorrow

Ashoofook bukra - see you tomorrow

Aadhi - it's normal

Jebli shai - bring me some tea

Kallemni - call me/talk to me

Ma adhri - I dont know

Maa-i-khussni - its not my problem

Inta kida - thumbs up

Areed areef - i want to know

Mumken asaduq - can i help you

Sida – straight

Yasar - left

Yameen - right

Tabaan - of course

Andi - i have

Kam -how much

Affwaan -excuse me

Kull –everything



0 –siffr

1 –wahid

2 –itnain

3 –thalatha

4 –arba

5 –khumsah

6 –settah

7 –sabaa

8 –thamaaneeya

9 –tissaa

10 –asharah

11 -ihda shaar

12- ithna shaar

13 -thalatha shaar

14 - arba ata shaar

15 -khamsta shaar

16 -sitta shaar

17 -saba ata shaar

18 -tamantha shar

19 -tis ata shar

20 –ishrin

21 -wahid wa ishrin

22 -ithain wa ishrin

23 -thalatha wa ishrin

24 -arbaa wa ishrin etc

30 -thalath een

40 -arba een

50 –khamseen

60 –sitteen

70 –sabeen

80 –thamaneen

90 –tiseen

100 –miyya

200 –mittain

251 -thalatha miyaa

400 -arba miyya etc

1000 –alf

2000 –alfain

2510 -thalaathat aalaf

4000 -arbaat aalaf


Social Conduct

Getting your social etiquette right can be crucial in establishing relations, whether business or personal in the UAE. To be aware of the local rules, practices and customs and to familiarise yourself with them can go a long way, and with minimal effort. In this section we highlight a number of different customs that may differ from social norms in the West.

How are you? Always answer with 'Al hamdulillah' which means All praise is do to Allah. What this means is, essentially is that all is as it should be, since your wellbeing is governed by Allah. Even if you are very ill, you would answer with this phrase.

The sole of the foot is dirty When sitting cross legged, never point the sole of your foot in the direction of an Arab. The foot is considered dirty, and what this act is saying is the same as giving someone the finger - or even worse.

Crossing legs is a no go sometimes Crossing your legs in front of someone of high importance is considered disrespectful and should not be done

Don't give them your back If someone is talking in your direction, you should always turn to face them. And not just in this part of the world. It's just rude otherwise.

I wanna hold your hand Shaking hand is the normal greeting with a male. But having your hand held for longer than usual is a sign of brotherly bonding, not that of homosexual tendencies.

I wanna hold your hand some more Your hand may even be held for longer than usual, while walking down the corridor, for example.

Always shake hands If you don't shake hands when meeting or leaving, it could be considered rude.

The right hand is clean In most instances, the right hand is clean, and the left hand is dirty, so, when accepting food or drink, do it with your right hand. The left hand is resigned for picking your nose, we assume, unless it is held while walking down the corridor

Shaking female hands is not done Although some do in this part of the world, it should never be assumed that a female will shake your hand which could lead to an awkward moment. A better suggestion would be to wait if a hand is offered by the female. Females do shake hands with each other, and occasionally a kiss kiss is shared.

Show respect to females always Females demand a certain respect in the Muslim world. Always give women the option to sit down where she wishes to sit, stand when she enters the room, and let her go through the door before you. The basic rules of chivalry work well.

Culture demands respect of elders Always respect your elders. It's even more important in the Arab world.

Never give the finger Yes never, but never beckon anyone with one finger pointing up. If you do need to beckon, use your full hand pointing downwards

Say yes to drink, always When offered something to drink, always say yes. Saying no would mean rejecting someone's hospitality. Drink more than one small cup (tea, arabic coffee) but never more than anyone else.

Never express admiration Be very careful when expressing admiration for an Arab's possession. You may find that he or she offers the object to you. (using "itfudul" - my pleasure) And then declining becomes a problem, followed by offering something back at a later date. Stating that you like your friend's Porsche Cayenne is somewhat risky therefore.

Polite chit chat can last for numerous meetings. When initiating business, it may be necessary to meet with a contact numerous times for him to scope you out, before committing to talking shop.

The office coffee shop It is not uncommon for offices to contain a number of sofas, and for many people to come by while you are sitting in a meeting

Your office coffee shop Bear in mind that while you may pay someone a visit, the pleasantries requirement may be sprung upon you, with numerous people popping by for a gossip.

The closest position is the most important When visiting others' office's you will be invited to take a seat according to your perceived level of importance. This might mean that someone gets up to make room for you. But you may have to move later if you drop down the pecking order!

Patience is a virtue Business may move at snails pace, but patience can buy you a big amount of respect.


Body Language


Body language in the UAE and amongst Arabs is completely different to that in the West. And because there a many Arabs here from different countries, it would make sense to understand a little about what certain body language might mean. We have touched on the importance of not showing the sole of your foot, but there are many more which we will briefly sum up here. Remember that in the Middle East, the concept of personal space is a lot smaller that in the West, and though you may feel that your space is being invaded, this is a normal part of society. Be careful when dealing with females making sure that you do not stare or initiate physical contact.

Hand on Heart - While this is usually just used as a phrase in the West, the Arabs actually place their hands on their heart to show genuine respect and humility. Sometimes, this is used in combination with a small bow, meaning thank you.

The Chin Scratch - Scratching or holding of a chin or beard is an indication that someone is thinking. It might be wise to wait until the person has finished thinking this before continuing talking, if it takes place during a moment of silence.

Kissing - Friends kissing each other on the cheek is considered normal and not linked to homosexuality. It is a sign of friendship, and it is common amongst male friends.

Kissing the shoulder - This is another greeting and usually one of respect. It is often used when Muslims go on the Hajj to Mecca.

The hand hold - Holding hands even for a long period after shaking hands is common place and a sign of friendship

The hug - If a hug is initiated by an Arab, then it is a sign that you are considered a trustworthy friend.

The refusal to touch - If an Arab refuses to touch you, it may be an indication that he considers you untrustworthy or unclean

Conversational staring - If an Arab stares you in the eye as you speak, it means that he is giving you his full attention. If he doesn't, it means that he may not care what you are saying. Bear this in mind and reciprocate giving eye contact.

The sideways finger bite - If an Arab bites their right finger, it is a sign of contempt and that you are not liked, and this will usually be accompanied by a muttering of some sort of curse!

The hungry sign - If a semi clenched hand is placed in front of the stomach, it means that you are thought to be a liar.

The finger on the Nose - This means that it is the intention of the person to undertake what you are talking about. Sometimes, this takes the form of the finger on beard, nose or head also, all meaning the same.

The cup - The hand signal of putting all your fingers and thumb together, sort of cup like, means 'Wait just one minute' or 'Slow down'. This sometimes may be used to indicate that the person is getting impatient at your speed.

The Head Snap - Snapping of the head upwards while tutting means No or an indication that you are wrong or that what you are saying is untrue.

The Nose Touch - You will often see Arab Nationals touch noses three times as they shake hands. This is a traditional Bedouin greeting.

The left finger clasp - If the fingers of the left hand are clasped together and touched with the right forefinger, this is the equivalent of giving someone the finger in the West. It is a very rude gesture.

The Scratching Claw - A clawing action with the right hand is usually indicative of a beckoning to move closer or to come into a room. This is probably equivalent to a beckoning with the one finger, used in the West, but this would be considered rude, if used in the Middle East.

Of course many Western gestures are used, in this multi cultural society, and you may find yourself learning all sorts of hand movements from all over the world. We hope that this gives you a general overview of what some of the Arab gestures actually mean.


Drinking Coffee


If it weren't for the Arabs, there would be no Starbucks and no skinny latte, no whipped to go. In actual fact, coffee is said to have originated in Ethiopia and transported through Arabia before reaching Europe.

When you are in the UAE, especially on business, coffee, as well as tea, will often be offered to you in offices and at Arab's homes. As we have mentioned before, it is considered rude to decline taking coffee since the tradition of offering coffee is Bedouin, and thus offering coffee is symbolic of hospitality.


The coffee is poured from a pot no dissimilar to what you would consider a large Aladdin's lamp into a small cup called finjaan, which is about the size of an espresso shot. The pot, called a dallah, usually has a long spout and is made from brass, but increasingly many other designs are used. It may be served to you by the hired help, or, indeed, by the host himself.

The coffee is called Kahva. On first tasting such coffee, you may be particularly shocked since it does not taste like your regular Espresso or Nescafe Gold Blend. Instead, you may find it a little bitter and you will also taste some sort of spice in the coffee. This is most probably cardamom, but also other spices are sometimes used. In times gone by, the wealthier you were, you would have more cardamom in your coffee, since it was more expensive than the bean. However, nowadays, it just adds to the taste. Milk is never added to this type of coffee - it is simply not done. Arabic Coffee is an acquired taste, but one needed to get used to if getting involved in business in this part of the world. Some refer to Arabic Coffee and Turkish Coffee interchangeably, but we have found that Turkish Coffee is the thicker darker coffee and is usually a lot stronger. One other point, Kahva actually means a drink from plants, and thus could refer to wine, for example. The Europeans used to refer to coffee as Arabic Wine.

Arabic Coffee is made completely differently to other methods. It is not filtered, not percolated - the coffee is boiled. This is main difference between other methods of making coffee, and why the basic taste of the coffee is so different. You may see the someone making the coffee in a kezveh, which is a copper pot with a long handle, not dissimilar to a small saucepan.

The British expect milk with their tea. The Arabs expect sugar in their tea. When asking for tea, you will most probably get a clear cup with saucer so that you can see your brew. This is usually Lipton and the bag is sometimes left inside for you to decide on the strength. This tea, which is commonly served is sometimes called the Sulemani. And, if you ask for tea or chai, this is what you will get. Chai bil Nana or Chai Nana commonly known as Mint Tea is also very common, with the mint leaf left in the tea for effect and strength of flavour.

Being invited to a coffee shop could mean going to Starbucks for a Latte, going to a shisha café, or actually going to a traditional coffee shop. It is a convivial thing, alikened to going to a bar in the west, and usually kept between men. But, in general, there are many western types of coffee bars, where people hang out as they would do in the West or to get their caffeine fix.

Some final points of note

- A shake of the cup shows that you have finished.

- Not shaking the cup and giving it back to the server will result in another cup being poured.

- If you prefer another drink before the server comes around with the spout and are offered, then do not be afraid to ask.

- Only use your right hand when drinking, eating or offering.

- Coffee means Arabic Coffee.

- Turkish Coffee is the thick coffee.

- Nescafe means American Coffee.

- If you ask for Nescafe with milk and sugar, do not be surprised if you get condensed milk with 3 teaspoons of sugar.

- Sometimes, but not always, dates will be offered with the coffee.

- You will sometime be given a glass of water with your coffee.

- Increasingly companies are starting to offer Western type of refreshments, although the essence of hospitality remains.

- Tea is actually more popular than coffee, although both are a prominent part of society.

Finally, the dallah makes a great memento of your trip to the UAE. You can get some great intricate designs, both for use and as an ornament, from the souks and the superstores. Shop around for one that you like.


From the Right


From the right? No we're not talking about giving way to traffic. We refer to courtesy when approaching a door or a lift. The tradition is that the person on the right should enter the door first, but this can become tricky. Since an Arab expects the person of more importance to go through the door first, he may respect you to move to your left, to let you go though the door first. Therein begins the game of courtesy, because you must appear that you respect him to let him go through first. This often causes delays while smiles are exchanged, as he may believe that you don't understand the concept. He may even consider that as you are a guest in his country that you should go first.

Throwing in a simple "Min Yameen" will alert him to your knowledge of the concept. This means "from the right". Don't be afraid to actually go through first though or it may end up as offense that you don't accept his gesturing! Just don't come across that you know of the concept and expect to go through the door first. That would be considered rude.

The little courtesies sometimes make a difference. This will happen not just only from the Locals but all Arabs, but from the Gulf and otherwise, so it is a little trick to help in gaining those brownie point in the quest to establish a business relationship.

However, this doesn't apply on the roads! On the roads, it is every man for himself, whichever side you are coming from!

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