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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- Pig and all pig products, such as pork, bacon etc,
as well as gelatine
- 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
- Do not shake hands with a UAE National female, unless
- 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
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.
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
- 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
- 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
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.
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
Allah? - Allah, the Muslim deity, was well known in
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
Egypt, Iraq, Jordan,
Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya,
Morocco, Mauritania, Oman,
Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan,
Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen. The GCC which is the Gulf
Cooperation Council consists of
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
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,
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
to which the reply is:
This is probably the equivalent of saying hi in the
al khair - good morning
To which the reply is:
Masah al khair
-good afternoon / evening
To which the reply is:
Masah al noor
-thank you (very much)
To which the reply is:
An alternative to Shukran is Mushkoor
Ahlan wa sahlan
To which the reply is:
- welcome to you (to a male)
(to a female)
(to a group)
This is usually used in introductions
Keef haluk? -How are
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
- Literally, where are you?, but probably equivalent to Long
time no see
Occasionally you will hear:
-what's your news? - which you would reply to in the
Aysh ismuk -what is
-my name is Jason
-do you speak English?
Ana la atakellem al arabi
-I don't speak Arabic
-do you know Arabic
-I speak English
Inta min weyn?
-where are you from?
min ingliterra -I'm from
To which the reply is:
Fi aman allah or Maasalaamah
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?
-What Allah wishes
This is used when complimenting something, usually in the
context of family or health.
This is used in any congratulatory context, more so than you
would use in English.
-what's up? or what's the matter?
hada? - what is this?
-by my guest / my pleasure
When you sneeze you say
Al hamdu lillah
To which someone will say
And you will say again
Yer hamna wa yer humkum
- see you tomorrow
- it's normal
- bring me some tea
- call me/talk to me
- I dont know
- its not my problem
kida - thumbs up
areef - i want to know
asaduq - can i help you
- of course
- i have
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
21 -wahid wa ishrin
22 -ithain wa ishrin
23 -thalatha wa ishrin
24 -arbaa wa ishrin etc
30 -thalath een
40 -arba een
251 -thalatha miyaa
400 -arba miyya etc
2510 -thalaathat aalaf
4000 -arbaat aalaf
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
- 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
Touch - You will often see Arab Nationals touch noses
three times as they shake hands. This is a traditional
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.
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
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
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
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
- Only use your right hand when drinking, eating or
- 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
- Sometimes, but not always, dates will be offered with
- You will sometime be given a glass of water with your
- Increasingly companies are starting to offer Western type
of refreshments, although the essence of hospitality
- 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!