10 social customs to respect when moving to Dubai

When moving to a new country, one of the important steps of settling in is to familiarise yourself with its cultural norms and traditions. Failure to do this results in ineffective communication. If you’re planning for a company setup in Dubai and have not made the effort to learn about UAE’s social customs, you will encounter difficulties in cultivating fruitful relationships. 

For entrepreneurs who are starting a business in Dubai, here are 10 social norms you should know about:

  • Greetings: Emiratis may greet you with the Islamic greeting ‘Assalamu Alaikum’, which is Arabic for ‘peace be upon you’. The appropriate response is ‘Wa alaikum assalam’, meaning ‘peace be upon you, too’. It is also common to hear the word ‘Marhaba’ as a form of greeting, which translates to ‘Hello’ or ‘Welcome’.
  • Emirati names: Emirati names may be confusing to newcomers to the UAE. If you have recently set up a business in Dubai, you will be making lots of new contacts and will need to memorise their names. Here’s what you need to know: The first name is a person’s given name and is usually followed by ibn or bin (meaning son of) or bint (daughter of) and the name of the person’s father. This is followed by another ibn or bin and the person’s grandfather’s name. This is then followed by the family name. Women generally do not change their surnames after marriage, whilst her children take the name of her husband.
  • Interaction with women: Internationally, the standard form of greeting between professionals is a crisp shake of hands. Whilst local men do shake hands as a formal way of greeting each other, physical contact between men and women is limited. When interacting with women, especially locals, men should wait for the women to initiate a handshake.
  • Respect for elders: Emiratis display a lot of respect towards their elders. It is customary to greet elders first and stand up when speaking to an elder. Similar rules apply to individuals who have seniority over you. So make sure you show respect by standing up when you greet elderly people.
  • Prayer timings: One of the requirements of starting a business in Dubai is to adjust to the daily routine of locals, which is punctuated with breaks for Muslim prayers. In the Emirates, work meetings tend to be scheduled around these breaks, which take place close to lunchtime, early evening and sundown. It is also worth your while to familiarise yourself with the Ramadan schedule, where work timings are reduced by at least two hours.  
  • Body language: If you’ve recently set up a business in Dubai and are new to the country, Emirati mannerisms may appear different to what you are used to. However, there’s no actual cause for alarm if a local uses a loud voice or very expressive gestures during conversation. Also, light laughter or a smile during an argument is a polite way to diffuse stress, not a sign of not being taken seriously.
  • Sitting posture:  When seated, you should make sure you’re not showing the soles of your shoes or feet to another person, as this is considered quite offensive. It is recommended to avoid crossing your legs and keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Dining out: If you’ve recently started a business in Dubai, you will be taking new business connections out for lunch or dinner fairly regularly. It’s important to remember that observant Muslims do not consume alcohol or pork, so it’s advised to skip those items during business meet-ups at restaurants.
  • Attire: There is an emphasis on modest dressing in the UAE. This means arms, legs, shoulders should be covered, and closed-toed shoes are preferred. When going out in the mall, or anywhere outside make sure you dress appropriately especially when going to places where locals are present.
  • Gift giving: When you open a company in Dubai, you’ll realise that gift giving is an important part of Emirati culture. Accept the generosity with a smile. It is customary to bring a gift when meeting someone socially for the first time. Our experts at Decisive Zone recommend personalised gifts and advise against alcohol and pork or pig skin products. 

It is important to know the customs and traditions of a country before you move into a new country. Now that you know the social customs in the United Arab Emirates, you are well acquainted with the country, its people and the traditions.

Do you have more questions before you start your business in Dubai? Experts at Decisive Zone can answer them all.