Relocating to a new country can be difficult – even more so when your destination is a Middle Eastern country with a completely different culture to get your head around and a new language to try and begin to learn. We’ve put together a complete guide to culture in Dubai to help you with your move to the ‘City of Gold’. Read on to find all of the information you’ll need to help you settle in your new home in the United Arab Emirates.
Official Spoken Language of Dubai
Arabic is the official language which is spoken across the UAE, although various dialects can be spoken and heard in Dubai. However, English is commonly spoken across the city and can be seen on road signs and even on public transport. Despite the prevalence of English, as with all international relocations, it can be beneficial to learn some simple phrases in the local language as a sign of respect.
Some of the basic words you may benefit from are:
- Marhaba – hello
- Ma’ a salama – used to say goodbye (translates directly to ‘with peace’)
- Shukran – thank you
- Na’am – yes
- La – no
The traditional, local cuisine in the United Arab Emirates is also known as Emirati cuisine and often includes fish, lamb, rice, bread, eggs and chickpeas. Each and every dish is packed full of flavour, be it cinnamon, saffron, chilli, dates or cardamom.
Some of the most popular dishes in Dubai include
- Samboosa – a hot pastry containing meat, vegetables, cheese and spices
- Margoogat – a spiced stew made with chicken or lamb
- Machboos – a rice-based dish containing lamb, chicken or shrimp and vegetables
- Chebab – Dubai’s answer to a pancake – warm, sweet and delicious!
- Luqaimat – sweet balls of pastry, served drizzled with syrup
Although Emirati food is plentiful in Dubai, there are also many other different cuisines on offer. You can even find English pubs and a Gordon Ramsay restaurant if you’re feeling homesick!
Emirati National Dress
Traditional outfits in Dubai differ between Emirati men and women. Men typically wear a long white robe called a Kandura, whilst women wear a long cloak, which is usually black, called an Abaya. These outfits are designed for the extremely warm climate you will find in Dubai, as well as to respect Islamic religious beliefs.
Although visitors and expats in Dubai will not be expected to wear traditional outfits, the general rule is that shoulders and knees should be covered at all times when in public. Tight, revealing clothing is likely to be frowned upon, particularly for women.
The warm, Arabic hospitality you can expect in Dubai is welcoming and friendly. Some of the gestures and etiquette to be aware of are:
- Shaking hands – typically men will shake hands with everyone they greet.
- The Arabic welcome, “marhaba”, is usually offered to guests.
- Gahwa – Arabic coffee which tends to be served before a meal. Empty cups should be handed over with your right hand – using your left hand can be seen as rude.
- Sharing food – large, round plates are often used to serve food and eating together is a social opportunity.
Celebrations, Traditions and Holidays in Dubai
The majority of cultural celebrations you will experience in Dubai are related to Islamic traditions. Perhaps the largest feature of the Islamic calendar is Ramadan, also known as the holy month. During Ramadan, Muslims will abstain from food and drink during daylight hours and spend more time than usual in prayer. At the end of the month, friends and family come together to celebrate Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan. The dates of Ramadan change slightly every year, as they are based on the lunar calendar.
Other celebrations in Dubai include the New Year’s Eve fireworks, Ascension day and Dubai National Day.
Alcohol and Drugs in Dubai
Licensed venues such as hotels and restaurants in Dubai are allowed to sell and serve alcohol to visitors and residents. However, liquor licences are required to purchase alcohol anywhere else. It is important to remember that being under the influence of alcohol in a public place is prohibited in Dubai and across the UAE.
Drug-related offences in Dubai can come with severe penalties. Products such as CBD oil, which is legal in the UK, are illegal in the UAE. Information on medicines which can be used in Dubai can be found on the Ministry of Health & Prevention website.