How can I avoid being an idiot in Dubai?
March 4, 2017 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I'll soon be in Dubai for a week on business. I've traveled plenty, but never to an Arab country. What basic things do I need to know to be respectful of the culture and not look like an idiot American?

I'm a 37yo white male, hoping to explore a bit when I'm not working, but would like to avoid obviously appearing like an ignorant tourist.

Tips for neat things to see (especially visual art) would be welcome, too.

(Relevant/similar question, but ten years ago, so.)
posted by endquote to Travel & Transportation around Dubai, UAE (7 answers total)
Best answer: Have lived and worked for 18months in the Gulf. Dubai is one of the most western places and could be a little disappointing. But things I recommend as no brainers in non purely western areas:

- Not mandatory but recommend wearing trousers/pants not shorts
- Don't point
- Don't sit so that the soles of your shoes are pointed at someone or too obvious
- Don't eat with your left hand
- Don't get in women only train carriages
- Learn how to say hello, thank you, left and right
- If you get to the doorway at the same time as someone else yield to the person on the right and say 'yarmin' (right)
- Don't take photos of locals without permission
- Don't touch female cashier's hands etc
- No PDA
- Don't push people on timings

Things to do:
- Go 4WD with a guide and do a gimmicky but fun desert camp dinner
- Aquaventure Waterpark
- Go skiing at Mall of Emirates
- Cocktail at Burj Khalifa
- Catch a boat across Dubai Creek
posted by gongnomore at 8:26 PM on March 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

The Jumeirah mosque is one of the few in the Arab states open to non-Muslims, and when I was there (some years ago now) they had a scheduled short Informative presentation about the mosque and Islamic traditions associated with it (ablutions, call to prayer etc).
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2017

They can be super generous, and there can a lot of back and forth, like "but i insist!"-type of stuff (e.g. someone is offering you food, and you're full, declining once won't stop them from offering food again..and again..). We also found out, that if you invite someone over for coffee, they def. will want you to come over for a cup of joe at theirs and its not cool to refuse. if in doubt, just err on the side of really, really polite.
I used to pretty much get pulled out of the window of my van every morning by an arab security guard offering me coffee at his little guard hut thingy. That coffee was strong. and good. its like analogous for an arabs temperament, i suppose. its been years, and i still miss his crazy ass.
posted by speakeasy at 12:45 AM on March 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of foreigners in Dubai, so the range of accepted behavior is actually fairly wide. The advise so far is good.

As for things to do, I got done great advice here previously-
posted by JMOZ at 3:56 AM on March 5, 2017

Best answer: I've been to Dubai about 7 times and there is a wide range of foreign tourists/workers/whatever from every region. The primary no-no's that seem to be a staple is wear covering clothing, be respectful to people you meet, and don't engage in PDA.

It's Dubai, not a rainforest tribe.
posted by Lewnatic at 9:49 AM on March 5, 2017

I've read in cultural etiquette books that admiring the possessions of superstitious Middle Easterners will make them feel obligated to give them to you in order to ward off the evil eye.
posted by brujita at 5:54 PM on March 5, 2017

I spent 3 days there while working in the Gulf a few years ago. gongnomore gave great information above, especially with regard to customs and culture. I just have a few things to add.

Dubai is indeed very Western. I was living abroad in another Western country but working on secondment in Qatar at the time, and I found myself feeling very homesick for the US while in Dubai, because I was surrounded by so many American restaurants, stores, music, etc. That made me feel a little ashamed of myself.

I went skiing in the Mall of Emirates for the novelty. The "snow" wasn't bad, you'll likely be surrounded by a bunch of teenagers.

If you're wanting to go to the top of the Burj, make a reservation more than 72 hours in advance online. Otherwise it's literally 3x as expensive. I really wished I had done this on my trip, the cost was too outrageous for me to justify once I was there.

I also highly recommend the 4WD desert trip experience. Those guys go nuts in their Land Cruisers on the sand dunes, and the meals they serve you are surprisingly good.
posted by hootenatty at 1:02 PM on March 6, 2017

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