Culture Shock in Dubai
There are dozens of nationalities living and working side by side. Over 80 percent of people in the city are expatriates; the majority are from Asia, particularly India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, while Westerners, those from the US, Europe and the UK, account for around a tenth of inhabitants.
Arabic is the official language of the UAE and English is spoken everywhere, but out and about in Dubai, it is not unusual to hear Farsi, Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam and Bengali.
Islam is the official state religion of the UAE, and those considering a move to Dubai should bear in mind that the emirate operates according to Muslim traditions. While it is the most liberal of all the Gulf states, and other religions are tolerated, there are strict rules that apply and non-adherence will not be tolerated.
The first few weeks in Dubai can be extremely frustrating since there is endless paperwork to be filled in, and real life can’t begin until the presentation of the residence permit, which is required to open accounts and rent property.
More frustrating can be the seeming non-urgency of many agencies, and questions are often answered with 'Insha’Allah', meaning ‘God willing’. The Emiratis do not respond to shouting and swearing, so it is always best to remain calm in any dispute.
On the upside, once settled in, expats can look forward to a pleasant lifestyle. Most people have access to their own swimming pool, there are endless places to eat out, countless activities to get involved in (the legendary expat Friday brunch), and it won't be long before the Dubai social calendar is packed.
Marriage and co-habitation in Dubai
It is illegal for a man and woman who are not married to cohabit in the UAE. However, it is clear, given the number of unmarried Western couples living in Dubai, that this law is neither adhered to, nor enforced with any vigour. Many unwed couples give the illusion of being married by referring to each other as husband and wife and wearing ‘wedding’ rings. The general rule is to keep a low profile; the police do not actively seek out cohabiting couples (although they are more vigilant during the holy month of Ramadan) but it should be remembered that it is illegal and lawbreakers can be punished with a prison term, deportation or both.
Alcohol in Dubai
It's a myth that Dubai is a ‘dry’ emirate. Alcohol can be bought and consumed here depending on various factors. Firstly, it is only sold in restaurants and pubs belonging to a hotel. There are plenty of places to enjoy a drink since most of the shopping malls and entertainment centres are attached to a hotel. Alternatively, alcohol can be purchased for private consumption at selected liquor stores by those in possession of a liquor license. For this, a letter from the employer is needed, plus a copy of the residence permit and passport. Women also need to have permission from their husbands.
Medical exam and HIV in Dubai
Foreign employees are required to undergo a medical examination on arrival. This includes a tuberculosis, hepatitis B and HIV test, which if positive, will result in the worker being denied a residence permit and being forced to leave the country at once.
Ramadan in Dubai
Each year Muslims recognise the Holy Month of Ramadan with a period of fasting. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims are forbidden from eating, drinking, smoking and even chewing gum, during daylight hours. At this time, it is imperative that all Dubai residents remember the importance of adhering to the relevant laws. During Ramadan it is a good idea to be particularly vigilant regarding public displays of affection, modest dressing and public drinking. Police tend to be less lenient during these times.
Working conditions during Ramadan may vary, with some workplaces adopting a traditional approach, forbidding any eating, drinking or smoking, to other more relaxed environments where designated rooms are allocated for non-Muslims to eat and drink. Muslims break the day’s fast at sundown with water and dates, and then enjoy the Iftar feast.
General cultural matters in Dubai
There is no way for a non-Emirati to ever achieve citizenship in the UAE. It is irrelevant how long a person has been a resident in the country; citizen status is never granted to foreigners.
Persons holding an Israeli passport will not be granted access to the UAE.
Never take pictures of government buildings or personnel, or Emiratis (particularly women). Men should be careful not to stare at or be unaccompanied with local women.
Nudity is not an option. There are no public beaches/parks where nudity is acceptable. The same applies to being drunk in public.
In most cases, the law will favour the local.
Dubai prides itself on being tolerant of other religions and there are several churches in the city, the largest of which are St Mary’s Church and Holy Trinity Church, both in Oud Metha.