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A Comparison of Western and Emirati Culture

August 23, 2019
For those living in Westernised civilization, such as America and Europe, the Middle Eastern cultures are often a mystery. Even the word “Arab” can create confusion, because there is just not a single race of Arabians but a broad spectrum of humans. Just as Europeans and Americans are a mix of races and ethnic backgrounds, so are the people of Dubai. That is why it’s a smart move to become familiar with the differences and similarities in Arabian culture if you plan on travelling or emigrating to Dubai, UAE.

Dubai is fast becoming an extremely desirable city for travel and emigration, because it is an international powerhouse. The rich local culture is blending dynamically with the international populations that have relocated to Dubai for the opportunities. Thus, a truly unique metropolis has been created.

Stricter Lifestyle

Though we will be mentioning religious influences a little later in the article, it is important to mention now that because most Arabic culture has been heavily interwoven with abrahamic religions, like Islam, it has become very conservative and strict. This means that purchasing alcohol and other drugs in the UAE is much more difficult than it is in the UK or US. Hotels and restaurants do offer a selection of alcohol though.

Despite the lack of alcohol, nightlife in Dubai is surprisingly vibrant and entertaining. Music and dancing is everywhere. Keep the volume controlled, though. 

Dress codes vary, with Dubai being the most liberal of areas in the Middle East; but you can still expect to see hijabs and modest clothing choices. To be respectful, never wear short, tight skirts or shorts or bare your shoulders.

Other ways this stricter lifestyle might affect you:

Public Displays of Affection

There are 11 words for “love” in the Arabic language. This translates into Emiratis being romantic with words and gestures; but public displays of affection are considered very rude. Only married couples are allowed to hold hands in public, while kissing and cuddling is absolutely forbidden.

Save all your love for the hotel room!

Swearing

Again, you are free to verbally express yourself as much as you like, but swearing in public is illegal. And since almost everyone can speak English, don’t think you can hide your bad-mouthing. Also, never talk badly about an organization, as you could get fined for slander.

Pork Products

If you love bacon, you might struggle to satisfy your cravings in Dubai. Yes, pork is still on the menu at many hotels and restaurants, and it will be labeled as non-Halal. Some international grocery stores also carry pork in the non-Muslim sections, but it may not be what you are looking for.  

Religious Influences

When understanding Arabic culture differences, you need to remember the impact of Islam on Arabic society. Islamic law, also known as Sharia law, is used in many regions for jurisprudence. Sharia law is also the basis for many Arabic values and is divided into five sections:
  • Educating the individuality
  • Establishment of justice
  • Upholding public and private morality
  • Preventing hardship on society and individuals
  • Preventing oppression

Do note that corporal punishment, which is often sensationalized by Western cultures, is not the norm in Sharia law.

Other things to keep in mind are how citizens of Dubai practice their faith. Muslims will pray 5 times a day, and all obligations and responsibilities are scheduled around these prayer times. You cannot expect the Emirati to disregard prayer time. Nor should you expect them to be available on Friday or the weekends, as most Arabians will be spending time with their family.

Hospitality

Arabic generosity and hospitality is known throughout the world. In order to keep a good relationship, be sure to adhere to following customs:
  • Stand when someone enters a room
  • Respect the home you are invited into
  • Never shake hands with an Arabic woman unless she offers first
  • Don’t speak to Arabic women until you are introduced
  • Don’t ask about wives or daughters
  • Accept the gifts that are provided. This includes snacks. However, with snacks, you are expected to first decline and then accept.
  • Never refuse a beverage. It’s impolite.
  • Always use your right hand for eating, drinking, and passing food and drink.
  • Leave after eating. There is no lingering once a meal is finished.
  • Never show the bottom of your feet. Ever. It’s considered rude. 

Conclusion

In short, Arabic culture and Western culture are different in many ways. Arabics value family over individuality and independence. The lifestyle is much stricter, and generosity is tied into honour. Where many European cultures have separate values based on religion, Arabic culture itself has blended in with abrahamic religion aspects. When travelling to Dubai, keep these things in mind. If you do, you will have a marvellous time.  

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