Whether it’s the 163-story Burj Khalifa, which can almost place a visitor on the clouds, or the rolling, heart-melting sand dunes that afford visitors the opportunity for thrilling dune bashing adventures, Dubai continues to be a travelers’ magnet. According to the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index 2019, Dubai ranked as the fourth most visited city on the planet. The 2019 travel data put the number of international visitors at an impressive 15.9 million.
While Dubai is a travelers’ paradise, many prospective international visitors are uncertain about the expected etiquette. For starters, Dubai is a conservative Arabic city in a predominantly Muslim country. The traditions and teachings of Islam are held in reverential regard by the city’s 3.49 million inhabitants. Some things are frowned upon in Dubai that would not raise any eyebrows in the western world.
But there are also many misconceptions. That’s the reason we’ve compiled this Guide so travelers can be informed about what to expect.
Etiquette On Public Display Of Affection (PDA)
Human beings like to hold hands. To some people, holding hands is a sign of affection and warmth; comfort, or empathy. Holding hands might even confer important medicinal benefits. The good news is that it’s absolutely fine to hold hands in Dubai. However, a traveler should be keen on the “how” and the “where.” One should particularly be careful not to hold hands with a person of the opposite gender in a manner that’s suggestive. While one may not be called out by security officers, he or she might attract unnecessary public attention.
In case both are men, however, holding hands is commonplace. In fact, it’s a bit more common than in other places. The Emirati culture views it as a sign of brotherhood and kinship. Holding the waist of a partner of the opposite gender is definitely out of bounds. And kissing, unlike what many people think, is not illegal. According to Emirati culture, a son can kiss the mother, most usually, on her forehead. A mother can also kiss her son. Married couples can peck without any problem. The rule also applies to those who are engaged.
However, it should be a brief peck on the cheek, like one would when saying 'goodbye.' Travelers can get away with this type of kiss, especially in places uncrowded or not having a sizable presence of locals. If a cop sees you, he will probably just warn you. Kissing in any spot in the Old Town is a no-no. And don’t ever try any form of kissing near a mosque whether you’re married or not, regardless of whether it'll take a nano-second. French kissing or any form of deep kissing, anywhere in Dubai, whether you’re married or not, is like playing Russian roulette. It may land you in serious trouble with the law. One can be deported, or worse still, imprisoned. A piece of ever-green advice is to err on the side of caution.
Like kissing, hugging belongs to the list of things generally not allowed in Dubai. Yet like kissing, there are places you can get away with a hug—and where you can walk arm-in-arm—especially if it’s only a romantic, platonic hug or touch. For instance, It's a fairly common sight to see couples holding hands and hugging on the beach or in parks. Hugging that’s sexualized, or that looks like groping, should never appear on your to-do list. As they say, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.
Dress Etiquette In Dubai
On dress and attire, don’t fret or be hypersensitive, or start shopping for a hijab or a burqa. In most cases, a dress that would pass as modest in downtown New York will most likely be approved or tolerated in Dubai. So long as the dress is not transparent, or displays offensive pictures or slogans, there shouldn’t be any problem. That aside, many malls have dress guidelines that are publicly posted on entrances. Most of these guidelines and notices recommend the covering of the shoulders and knees. However, in most cases, the orderlies and the guards—just turn their eyes.
However, a traveler visiting a government office should cover his shoulders and knees. When visiting a mosque, this advice goes without saying. Keep the shoulder and knee rule also if you’re visiting the famous Global Village. In high-end restaurants, men should be in long trousers and closed shoes. For women, sandals are usually OK. When visiting the world-renowned Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark, the beach, or any other pools and waterparks, any beachwear will do.
Language Etiquette In Dubai
Dubai is conservative. As a rule, travelers shouldn’t swear, curse in public, or use any other obscene or inappropriate language. If they do, they’ll needlessly cause attention or even a police arrest. Also, travelers should not give anyone the middle finger or stick out their tongue, however, offended they might feel. For needful, polite gestures, visitors should use their whole hand, and not their fingers. Remember to always stay calm.
Aside from these, there are other things that are considered rude or offensive in Dubai. For instance, travelers should be careful with taking pictures. They should avoid taking random pictures of people, public buildings, or planes, particularly without permission. If before an important guest, crossing legs is a no-no as it’s considered rude.
At the end of the day, and regardless of the culture, manners mean a lot. Like Wolfgang von Goethe would say, “A man’s manners are a mirror in which he shows his portrait.”