Dubai is an incredible and unique place – a sparkling ultra-modern metropolis built literally out of the desert sands, with towering skyscrapers, distinctive architecture, and unique attractions that has earned it the nickname ‘The City of Superlatives’. But it is easy to forget that beneath the glitz and the gleam, there still lies a conservative country. This Emirati state has a rich culture and deeply rooted traditions, so visitors need to be aware of certain rules and cultural expectations that should be respected.
1. Cross-dressing can land you in jail with heavy fines leveid.
Some chaps enjoy dressing like a woman – and vice versa for ladies – which for open-minded individuals can be a fun and liberating experience; you should try it sometime. Just not in the United Arab Emirates, never in the UAE, where cross-dressing will likely land you in the slammer – and you really don’t want to be dressed like a woman in a men’s prison in Dubai.
2. It is illegal for unmarried couples to stay together in a hotel.
Cohabitation can result in a fine, imprisonment and deportation.
3. Drinking in public is not allowed and neither is being drunk in public.
Public intoxication is a big no-no in the UAE, though alcohol is available at licensed venues; non-Muslim residents can also get a liquor licence that permits them to drink alcohol at home.
4. Possession of drugs can land you in jail for the entire life or even put to death.
Few nations trust their citizens enough to decide for themselves whether or not to take drugs; consequently narcotics remain illegal in most countries. However, few countries have quite such severe laws as the UAE for people caught taking, trafficking or dealing drugs. Worst case scenario? The death penalty, which is about as bad as a worst case scenario gets.
5. Don’t carry pork or… Wait, what are you even thinking?
importing pork and porn is illegal in the UAE, according to the Foreign Office.
6. Public display of affection or even hugging in public is not acceptable.
Caught snogging in the park? Then you may face a short stretch in the slammer in the UAE, which takes a dim view of public displays of affection. There have been several arrests in recent years for kissing and petting in public, which is considered a violation of the country’s decency laws.
7. Hurling obscenities will get you fined or worse.
Dubai is very conservative when it comes to bad language. In 2016, a court ordered the retrial of a man who was convicted of swearing at a colleague in a WhatsApp message.
8. Dancing in public is forbidden and classified as indecent and provocative.
Dancing is allowed only in the privacy of licensed clubs or at home. Listening to loud music is also prohibited in Dubai.
9. Using the left hand to eat or to accept refreshments is considered as unclean.
The left hand is considered unclean in all Arab cultures as the left hand is used for cleaning oneself after going to the bathroom. If you are a left-handed person, you might want to awaken your ambidextrous self.
10. Eating in public during Ramadan can land you in jail for up to a month.
During the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim population of Dubai fasts from sunrise to sunset every day. As a sign of respect, most restaurants close doors or cover their windows during those hours. It’s strictly forbidden for anyone to eat, drink, chew gum and even smoke in public places during those hours as it is seen as extremely disrespectful and can get the eater in trouble. This rule does not apply to small children and pregnant women.
11. Criticizing Islam or the ruling families is punishable by law.
Thou shalt not criticize the religion of a land thou art visiting, ‘cuz that is insensitive and foolish at the same time.
12. Pointing the sole of your shoe in the direction of an Arab is viewed as an insult.
The shoe is considered dirty because it is on the ground and associated with the foot, the lowest part of the body. So make sure that when you sit with your legs crossed, your soles do not point towards an Arab.
13. Thumbs up is the Western equivalent of the middle finger.
What you think you’re saying: “Eyyy good job!”
What you’re actually saying: “Eyyy I’m going to jam my thumb up your anus!”
14. Showing the OK sign is considered offensive as it denotes the evil eye.
You may want to show the ‘OK sign’ to the chef after he feeds you the best kebabs of your life, but don’t. Licking the plate clean, literally, would be a better option. Okay?
15. Obscene hand gestures can attract jail time or a heavy fine.
If someone overtakes you in the highway just breathe in and out and keep that bird locked up in a pocket.
16. Taking photos of other people without their consent is illegal and you can be fined for doing so.
Taking pictures of people without consent is seen as a crime in the UAE under the country’s cyber crime laws. This means that taking pictures of strangers without them openly allowing can lead to a fine of 500,000 AED and six months in prison. This especially applies to pictures that are posted on social media, as residents can file a case against the photographer. Taking such unsolicited photographs is aggravated when they are of women.