As in many foreign countries, the Emirates have a beautiful and unique culture. Understanding this culture is crucial to ensuring successful connections with the Emirati people. Therefore, if you consider traveling to the Emirates or wish to do business with Emirati people, you might wonder what Emirati culture is.
Emirati culture focuses extensively on family and religion. Men and women have separate and specific social roles, which should be respected and maintained. Furthermore, religion also plays a significant role in the lives of the Emirates. You should respect and adapt to Emirati culture and customs if you intend spending time in the region.
Describing an entire culture is near impossible. Therefore, this article will focus on the Emirati cultural aspects that either different from Western culture or those aspects that foreigners should be aware of and respect. As a foreigner in an Emirati country, you are expected to show understanding and respect for the Emirati culture, or else offense may be taken.
Key Aspects of the Emirati Culture
The Emirati culture does not only pertain to people living in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but represents the whole of UAE. Although many foreigners have established themselves in the UAE, and many Asians and Africans now call this place home, Islam is the primary state religion in the Emirates.
The Muslim religion plays a significant role in the Emirate culture, and you should be aware of certain aspects of this religion before visiting the Emirates. For example, smoking and alcohol are prohibited in the Muslim faith. Therefore, it is seen as offensive when you drink alcohol in certain instances or when you are drunk in public.
Eating in public during the Ramadan (fasting) period is also frowned upon, as is staring at Emiratis in their national dress. These are merely some examples of things you should know about the Emirati culture when visiting the Emirates.
In addition, we will discuss Emirati culture regarding gender roles, greetings and receiving guests, the family structure, and social standings. We will also share some other tips and things you should know about Emirati culture.
Gender Roles in the Emirati Culture
There are specific roles assigned to men and women in the Emirates. Men take the position of head of the household. They go out to work and are more involved with their city and country’s political and social situation.
Women, on the contrary, are charged with caring for the home and children. Although women are allowed to work by law, many prefer to stay at home and rear the children. This is an advantageous position in society and women take great pride in caring for their household. Those who do work don’t pursue careers where they would mix with men or where they would have to travel far away from home.
The UAE respects and values widowed and abandoned women who manage a household with a social grant paid on a monthly basis for unpaid domestic work. This grant is also available to Emirati women who have expatriate husbands that cannot earn a living (under certain circumstances).
Many Emiratis still have arranged marriages, even though this is not mandated by law. In addition, marrying in your class is extremely important. There is a financial benefit for a man who marries a national Emirati woman. However, this will be discussed in more detail a bit later.
Emirati Culture When Greeting And Receiving Guests
When visiting the Emirates, you will likely be invited to someone’s house at one stage or another. Therefore, knowing how to act is essential to ensure you appear respectful and knowledgeable of the Emirati culture.
When greeting, Emirati men often shake hands and touch their noses against each other. An embrace among family is also accepted. Women will mostly shake hands or kiss on the cheek. It is not common for Emirati women to embrace each other, and public displays of affection are generally frowned upon.
When invited to someone’s home, you are expected to remove your shoes before entering their house. Once inside, you will likely be offered coffee and fresh dates. It would be offensive not to accept this offer.
Men usually entertain their friends in the home’s living quarters, while women will converse inside. It is customary to serve food and drink with your right hand and return it with your right hand.
Emirati Culture And Family Structure
As mentioned before, the Emirati culture is highly family orientated. This is true for the nuclear family and extends to both distant and extended family members. As a result, families will often reside in the same neighborhood and operate as closely knit units.
During family gatherings, the elderly are revered, and one stands when an elder enters the room. Families are encouraged to grow and prosper. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a couple to have as many as seven children. There will usually be one or two house servants to help raise and care for the children.
As mentioned before, arranged marriages are not uncommon in the Emirates. It is also acceptable for a Muslim man to have four wives. However, most men only take one wife, as they must care equally for all their wives and children.
Emirati Culture And Social Standing
Because there are so many foreigners in the Emirates, nationals have developed a type of privileged minority. The National Emiratis are seen as superior to foreign incomers, no matter how long those foreigners have resided in the Emirates.
Within Emirati nationals, there are various social classes. The highest rank comes from sheiks and wealthy landowners with vast estates or mines. The second-class Emiratis are mostly pearling merchants and international merchants. Then there is the middle class, who have gained benefits from free education. Finally, the lowest rank among the Emirati nationals are the Bedouin nomads, pearl divers, and farmers.
Immigrants are always regarded as having a lower standing than Emirati nationals. However, they also have different social classes. The highest class consists of wealthy business owners with foreign contracts. Then, there are the middle-class professionals, such as teachers, salesmen, and technicians. Finally, those with the lowest social class are the unskilled or semi-skilled laborers, such as house servants.
Social Taboos According To Emirati Culture
Apart from knowing how to greet Emirati people and how to act when visiting them, there are also specific social taboos in the Emirati culture. Some of these, as discussed below, are merely discouraged, while others are criminal offenses. Here are some social taboos in the Emirati Culture:
- You are not allowed to photograph Emirati women. This is a criminal offense for which you can be arrested.
- Public displays of affection, such as intimate embraces or kisses, are also not acceptable.
- You are not allowed to eat, drink, or smoke in public during Ramadan. This is also a criminal offense for which you can be punished.
- Public drunkenness is another criminal offense, and drinking in public is discouraged.
- You are expected to show respect and tolerance for the Muslim faith and those who practice their religion.
Emirati Culture differs from many western cultures. Religion is a critical component of the Emirati culture. So is social class and family standing. When visiting the Emirates, knowing how to act towards Emirati people will benefit you greatly, especially when you enter their homes.
Be considerate of Emirati culture when you visit the Emirates. For example, never photograph Emirati women, or stare at Emirates dressed in their national dress.