What pops into your head the minute you hear the name “Dubai”?
Every time I hear someone say “Dubai”, a rush of memories fill my head. Photos with camels, road trips from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, luxury and memories of a line of stores flood my mind. I spent around five years living in the UAE, but the Dubai I remember is a mere skeleton in comparison to its current extravaganza. Dubai has turned into a tourist's playground, with millions of visitors from all over the world. Turning a city into a global melting pot comes with its problems. At the heart of Dubai's modern, tourist friendly exterior is an interior deeply tied to culture, family and tradition.
Donning my visitors lens on my last trip to Dubai, I was more mindful of the various laws and cultural values that lingered in the background. Even though Dubai is far more tolerant compared to the rest of the UAE, bear in mind that Dubai is influenced and governed by religious (Sharia) law. The rule is to keep your behaviour and physical appearance under constant check. Modesty is a strongly upheld value, and what counts as moral and immoral varies by culture.
Owing to the possibility of misinterpretation, here's are some tips that you need to be aware of when travelling to Dubai:
Avoid revealing or form fitting clothes; keep your décolletage, shoulders and your knees covered. You too men - short shorts and tank tops aren't considered appropriate attire in Dubai. This rule however, isn't set in stone; clothing laws are far more relaxed at private events and locations. Wear beachwear only at the beach or at poolside - and don’t be taking your string bikini with you because that will turn heads! You can often get by wearing a tight, short dress if you're at a party or a nightclub. The biggest issue with attire when there movement between environments. Anticipate walking to the nearest metro or mall? Consider carrying around a cover up like a sweater, a long wraparound skirt or a pashmina shaw. These are dual purpose items because the air conditioners are set at unreasonably temperatures! Jessica at She Dreams of Travel does a great job of talking about this issue in more detail.
Dubai may be very tourist friendly, but it remains a conservative city. There are a few things to keep in mind here:
b. b. *LGBTQ rights do not hold any significance in the UAE, unfortunately. Model Gigi Gorgeous, who is transgender, was denied entry into Dubai. Please exercise caution when entering the UAE as a member of the LGBTQ community. Exercise caution when communicating with members of the same sex. The rules around greeting etiquettes are ambiguous because I’ve seen Emiratis greeting the same sex with cheek kisses and hugs. It is still better to be safe than sorry. Remember that any sort of action can be misinterpreted as a sexual advance - including an accidental touch with the same sex.
c. Public displays of affection are a taboo. I haven't seen many couples holding hands, so unless you need to hold someone's hand (to cross a street, or to assist someone), don't.
The bottom line is that if a local complains because they think you're being offensive, you'll have to deal with the authorities.
Not a lot of people talk about gender segregation in Dubai, because it rarely becomes an issue. Since I had a little issue crop up during my visit, it's an important matter to address. The Dubai metro has a designated zone for women and children, separated by a bright pink line. If you're a man (alone or accompanying a woman) and authorities find you in the ladies only section, you'll be fined. During my visit, my husband and I caught the train in the last minute. We weren't paying attention to our surroundings - turned out, we were in the ladies compartment. Lucky for us, a woman warned us about the fines and we walked over to the neutral zone. This system isn't exclusive to Dubai though. Indian transit systems have designated zones for women too. Be aware of where you are standing and who you're next to!
The rules about consumption of alcohol are a little complicated. Consumption of alcohol and signs of intoxication in public punishable offence. In short, don’t get caught with an alcoholic drink anywhere but in a hotel that has a license to serve you.
Suppress the urge to talk about pigs and pork consumption. I may or may not be exaggerating this, and I believe it depends heavily on where and who you’re having this conversation with, but pork is an off-limits substance for Muslims, who consider it a pollutant. Do not parade your pork products in public, and do not offer just anyone pork. While Dubai is a lot more relaxed than the rest of the Emirates, and supermarkets sell pork products, I clearly remember using textbooks in school with pigs or any mention of pork being blacked out. You certainly will not find any pork on the menu in restaurants.
Drugs are a HUGE no no. If you ever get caught with even the smallest amount of any drug (even cannabis), you’re looking at serious jail time and worse. Clean out all your belongings before taking a trip to the UAE to avoid trouble. If you're carrying prescription drugs, make sure to take a good, hard look at the controlled and banned substances list for the UAE. What is legal in one country may not be legal in another. Your Indian cough syrup loaded with codeine certainly isn't legal in the UAE.
Religious observance and modesty are heavily emphasized during the holy month of Ramadan. In addition to the above, the following rules kick in effect:
a. Consumption of food or drink in public or in non designated areas is strictly forbidden. If you are hungry/thirsty, find yourself a spot in private. Here’s more information on places that are closed/open during Ramadan
b. Mind your actions and behaviour. I’ve had Muslim friends who restrict themselves to religious media on TV and the radio. Out of respect for people observing Ramadan, keep the volume down on conversations and entertainment.
Despite the list of restrictions, Dubai is a great place to visit. Respect the cultural values of the city, and you won't find yourself in a pickle!
Have you been to Dubai? What have been some of the traditions you've noticed in the city?
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