Emirati Traditions and Customs
Abu Dhabi culture is a blend of ancient Islamic traditions and ultra-modern 21st-century norms add to this the Bedouin culture and it may be advised to know a little about acceptable behavior in the Abu Dhabi society.
Of course if you are unaware of certain customs and modern traditions and acceptable etiquette in Abu Dhabi your faux pas will probably be tolerated unless they break the law.
If you are in someone’s home and are offered something to eat or drink it is impolite to refuse. When you are touching food or food dishes pass and serve the food with your right hand as using your left hand is considered impolite. See more about Traditional Arabic Food here
If you want to be really polite greet your Abu Dhabi friends with “assalam alykum” or return their greeting with “alykum assalam”. It is disrespectful to criticize the UAE and generally criticism is disrespectful also avoid touchy subjects like religion.
is important to the Abu Dhabi people so although you can be friendly and inquire about their lives it is disrespectful to ask too many personal questions. Learn more about Arabic language here
Modesty is part of the Islamic culture and although you are not expected to cover yourselves head to foot women should wear dresses/tops with sleeves that cover the shoulders and reach below the knee.
It is acceptable for women to wear pants and even Bermuda shorts but avoid short shorts. Women don’t need to cover their hair (unless entering a mosque) and in hotel pools and private beaches it is ok to wear Western swimwear. Read more!
On public beaches and in public places avoid flaunting your favorite bikini. That said Abu Dhabi is a lot more tolerant than many other Middle Eastern cities but dressing modestly will gain you respect and respect those around you.
During Ramadan it is especially recommended to dress conservatively and when dining out at night dress smartly. If you are in the city for business then men should wear suits and women smart below the knee dresses, skirts or they can opt for tailored pants.
Ramadan is the month long period when Muslims fast during daylight hours and there are a few other restrictions. During Ramadan you should not eat, smoke or drink in public. Read more about Ramadan here
You are not obliged to tip but as in the West it is a way of saying thank you for good service. In restaurants consider leaving a 10% tip and in hotels the service charge is already added.
Love and affection
Pornography is illegal in the UAE so keep your naughty magazines safely tucked away or don’t bring them into the country at all to avoid problems with customs. It is considered immodest to show affection in public, like kissing, making out or hugging this goes for male and females and even more so for homosexual couples as homosexuality is illegal in the UAE. Holding hands is acceptable.
Other signs of respect
If you openly admire or covert something in your host’s home they will feel that it is honorable to give the thing to you as a gift. If they do then you are honor bound in return to give a gift of equal value.
In formal situations, men should not offer their hand to shake when being introduced to a UAE woman although this depends on the people you are with.
If you are invited to an Abu Dhabi household remove your shoes at the entrance and stay within the public areas of the house, don’t go on an uninvited tour of their house.
Alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic faith and so always assess the situation before ordering drinks, some international hotels and some restaurants have no problem with this others may not tolerate it. If you are with Abu Dhabi friends then perhaps follow their lead when it comes to drinking alcohol.