There are generally two completely contradicting opinions regarding its culture when it comes to Dubai. On the one hand, there is the camp that argues that the city is clinical, cultureless, and artificial. The contradicting argument is that the city is a cultural hotspot simultaneously embracing new and old cultures.
First-time visitors to Dubai exploring only the new, flashy attractions may think of the city as cultureless. However, Dubai is rich in culture and local tradition that one needs only to do a small amount of searching to find. Dubai is steeped in Islamic culture rooted in the nomadic Bedouin tribes.
To experience the real culture of Dubai, you may need to move away from the typical tourist destinations and immersive yourself in local traditions. Bear in mind, however, that Dubai is extremely young as far as cities go, and it is a fascinating melting pot of cultures coming together to form a new identity.
Is Dubai Really “Cultureless”?
Like any other global city globally, Dubai is an amalgamation of several cultures due to its cosmopolitan mix of people. Generally speaking, the city’s culture is dominated by that of traditional Islamic and Arabian culture. It presents itself in the food, lifestyle, attire, and architecture that permeates the area.
It may be true that the city’s recent success – thanks in large part to the oil boom – has led to a pervasive culture of luxury, opulence, and extravagance in every form.
Enormous wealth is displayed in many ways, and several forms of infrastructure have been developed with the sole focus of catering to the whims of self-indulgence and leisure-related extravagance.
With such a high standard of living, there is a certain tendency toward the idea of “living the high life,” which is what appeals to many wealthy visitors and locals alike.
Suppose you cannot see past the opulence that defines Dubai in the media. In that case, you may think of it as a superficial, cultureless, and pretentious tourist trap.
However, anybody who has spent a significant amount of time exploring Dubai and looking past the golden curtain will find a rich culture rooted in Islam and the formation of a new, cosmopolitan culture that can be seen as the melting pot of the East and the West.
Nomadic Bedouin Culture
Visitors to Dubai might argue that there is little to be seen in Dubai in terms of so-called “traditional” architecture and that all of the buildings are large glitzy skyscrapers. The argument for this viewpoint is two-fold. Firstly, the skyscrapers only make up a small footprint of the city, outside of which is an array of magnificent buildings built in a range of traditional styles.
Secondly, and possibly the most important fact to remember is that the history of the Emirati lies in Bedouin culture. The Bedouins were a nomadic people and left very little behind in terms of permanent structures.
The culture of this fascinating population lies in traditions that are meant to be passed down from one generation to the next. This includes food, art, song, poetry, dance, and sports traditions. Many of the traditions associated with the culture find their roots in survival in harsh landscapes.
So while you may not find much in terms of physical representations of the history of Dubai, you need only to look a little further to find the culture in everyday life.
Much of Emirati culture lies in their written and spoken word in the form of poetry and storytelling. It is also seen in their traditional music and dance. Again with its roots in nomadic Bedouin culture, the traditional dance forms are a spectacular expression of culture that can be exceptionally fun to watch and partake in.
Poetry was used as a form of storytelling and a way to deal with issues in society. Poetry was also used to welcome guests and entertain fellow travelers on long journeys.
While Dubai is known for its endless array of culinary delights, traditional Emirati food is in a league of its own. The food selection is nothing short of spectacular, and locals take enormous pride in the flavors and preparation of their cuisine.
To experience real Emirati cuisine, steer away from the tourist-type restaurants and search for the local spots where you will be warmly welcomed by local restauranteurs eager to share their traditional fare.
Camel meat is often served as part of traditional Emirati food. It can be found served with rice, turned into burger patties, or served in various manners.
Dates are an Emirati staple, and these are often served with coffee and stuffed with nuts and other treats. The coffee is of the traditional Arabic variety, served from a ‘dallah’ pot.
Ramadan is observed across Dubai and the rest of the UAE. It is an Islamic tradition that is similar across the world. Because those who observe this tradition begin fasting at dawn and end at dusk, food outlets are closed during this part of the day.
At dusk, friends and family gather for a meal called iftar.
Emiratis are known for their warm hospitality, and guests are often welcomed with traditional coffee, often served with dates. This is a particularly common leisurely social activity where individuals can simply relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Art & Crafts
In Dubai, traditional arts and crafts place a major emphasis on the art form of calligraphy present in much of its architecture. Henna, perfumery, pottery, and weaving are other traditional art forms found throughout Dubai.
Traditional sports in Dubai stem from Bedouin culture and are rooted in survival tactics. These sports include falconry, camel racing, and equestrian sports.
Dubai Heritage District
The heritage district of Dubai gives visitors a taste of what life was like in this Emirate before the oil boom. Visiting the Dubai Creek and Heritage District, tourists can experience the traditional neighborhoods with their wind towers and picturesque courtyards built in the traditional style.
While contemporary Dubai might have the reputation of being a sterile, cultureless city with no soul, you need only to look past the commercial glitz and glamour to find a genuine melting pot of rich culture. Hospitality is rooted in the place’s culture to a large degree, and you need only befriend a local to experience what Dubai is really about.