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Emirati Customs and Etiquette: A Guide for Expats

A complete guide to Emirati etiquette for expats, from how to greet a UAE local to ensuring you're being respectful while in an Emirati's home

Posted on

24 December 2019

Last updated on 16 November 2020
Emirati Customs and Etiquette: A Guide for Expats

Every country, including the UAE, has its own fair share of unique local etiquette that visitors need to be mindful of

Whether you're travelling to the UAE for business, a new lifestyle, or pleasure, it's important to be well prepared. We don't just mean making sure you have your passport, an extra pair of walking shoes, and a decent grasp of Arabic phrases.

It's important to familiarise yourself with the local customs and etiquette to help you make the most of your stay and interaction with any Nationals, all without unknowingly offending anyone or getting yourself into a sticky situation. There are small things that are common in both Western and Eastern cultures that can be perceived as offensive when done near or to an Emirati person.

SEE ALSO: Understanding the Emirati Culture

To help you avoid making any cultural faux pas while interacting with a UAE citizen or visiting as a guest in their home, here is your complete guide to Emirati etiquette.

Emirati greetings

Emirati people are extremely friendly so whenever they greet friends and family members, the greetings become quite long. Between men, a respectful greeting will include praises to god, a handshake, nose-to-nose greeting, hugs, and kissing the top of a person's head.

If an Emirati man is fasting, such as during the holy month of Ramadan, women - whether expat or UAE National - should not try to shake their hand.

When greeting an Emirati woman, try not to shake their hand unless she puts out her hand first. Expat men must definitely avoid greeting Emirati women with hugs and kisses as any unwelcome or strong skinship is frowned upon.

Upon entering a majlis (social and cultural spaces), expats must start shaking the hands of guests starting from the right to the left. However, if there is a well-known person or an elderly person in the majlis, they take firs priority for greetings.

Visiting an Emirati home

Citizens and residents of the UAE are big on hospitality. Emiratis are generally very welcoming, friendly, and hospitable people, and it's important to return the respect by being familiar with home etiquette.

Arriving and departing the host's house or majlis

Guests must remove their shoes when entering an Emirati home, and make sure to shake the host's hands when you arrive.

Before leaving a UAE local's home or majlis, guests must shake hands with the host to show that you have appreciated their kind hospitality.

Respecting the home and majlis

Avoid squatting when sitting on the floor, or crossing your knees when sitting up in a majlis - these can be seen as a sign of arrogance.

Politely accept an Emirati host's offer to serve coffee

Eating and drinking

Emirati coffee customs

To showcase just how extremely hospitable UAE locals tend to be, when having visitors they always offer to serve coffee as well as dates and other traditional snacks as a way of welcome. Refusing a drink or snack may be seen as offensive, so it's best to politely accept a drink (coffee, tea, juice, or water), unless you have medical-related reasons explaining why you cannot accept. If you don't want any more drinks, you can shake your cup from side to side to show you don't want a refill.

Less than half the cup will usually be filled with coffee. The person who is serving coffee to guests must not interrupt any ongoing conversation

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The host will offer to serve local coffee to the person starting from the right to the left. If there is an important figure or elderly person present, they are to be served first.

If you're in a gathering of Emirati women, the woman who serves coffee can remain sitting while offering coffee to others. If a man is the one offering coffee, he should remain standing while serving guests a drink.

Having a meal

When dining at an Emirati's home, it's polite to show great appreciation for the meals prepared and served.

If you're offering food, do not use your left hand, and guests must take a cup using their right hand then return it using the right hand - both of which also apply to meals outside of a host's house.

Don't wait for the Emirati host to start eating, as the local host typically should wait until the guest starts eating before they can also eat. An Emirati host will also not leave the dining table before the guest does.

Body language around an Emirati

Body language among Emiratis is rather different from Western and Eastern equivalents, as there are certain acts we do in our everyday life we must be mindful of.

When interacting with an Emirati or if you're a guest, it's polite to stand up when someone enters the room, regardless if they need help with something.

Guide to Emirati etiquette

Sitting with the sole of your feet facing a UAE local is also a disrespectful gesture.

Unwelcome or intended public displays of affection around an Emirati won't just be rude, but can also land you in hot water.

Dressing around an Emirati

Outside of desert safaris and occasions where residents and visitors are invited to try on the cultural UAE dress, it's usually seen as disrespectful and offensive for foreigners to wear the Emirati national clothes. Foreign men are advised not to wear the Emirati national dress in public.

Expat and tourist women are also advised to be mindful of how their wardrobe around Emiratis. While some Emiratis are more relaxed when it comes to the local dress code, women are advised to dress modestly and in ways that are not provocative.

 
 

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