UAE – United Arab Amirates
Tami Lancut Leibovitz
The United Arab Emirates is a union of seven sovereign sheiks that was established when the British left the Persian Gulf in 1971. In this relatively small region there are mountains, beaches, desert, oasis, camel races, Bedouins, and duty-free shopping area in Dubai which already became a household name.
Full name: The United Arab Emirates
Land: 83,600 square kilometers
Population: 2.4 million people
Capital city: Abu Dhabi (about half a million people)
Residents: 61% Arabs; 22% South Asians; 8% Iranians; 9% foreign residents
Language: Arabic, English, Persian, Urdu, Hindi
Religion: 96% Muslims; 4% Hindus, Christians and others
Sovereignty: Federation, when certain authorities are at the federal regime's hands and others are in the hands of each of the Emirates
Lifestyle and Culture
The Persian Gulf States share a regional culture that is sometimes called "the Gulf culture." There are different dialects of the Arabic language in all of the Gulf States, there is similar music (Sawt, Fijiri, Ardha, Liwa), similar cuisines, they share the same type of clothing and so on. Many of the Arabs that live near the Persian Gulf States consider their dynasty as having its roots in the tribes.
Most of the Emirates citizens belong to the Malachi and Hanbali movement (the law system) of the Sunni Islam. Many of the last movement members are Wahhabis (cult of the 18th century that supports in sticking only to the Qur'an), but they are not religious and strict as the Saudi Wahhabis. The united Emirates is the most lenient country in the Gulf, but still very conservative in comparison to the West countries. There are also small communities of Shiites and Ibadis (the most ancient cult in Islam that supports equal concepts), and the strangest fact about the union population is that only a quarter are citizens of the union, and the rest are foreign residents from other countries in the Gulf and yes, Iranians, Indians and Pakistanis.
The official language is Arabic, yet English is pretty common as well. In Dubai they also speak Persian, and big communities of foreign residents from Pakistan that live in Abu Dhabi and Dubai speak Urdu. The Emirates Union cuisine includes the common Middle Eastern dishes: Ful, Falafel, Humus and Shawarma. Light soda can be found anywhere, but alcoholic liquor is sold only in hotels' restaurants and bars in a scale of three stars and up and in outrageous prices. In Sharjah you cannot get any alcohol beverages at all.
Holidays and Special Occasions
The religious holidays are celebrated per the lunar calendar, withdraws every year 11 days as opposed to the civilian calendar. Eid ul-Fitr (breaking the fast holiday at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (sacrifice feast at the end of Hajj, Mecca's Pilgrimage), Lailat ul-Isra and Miraj (Muhammad's "night of journey and ascension"), Moulid el-Nabi (Muhammad's birthday) and Ras as-Sanah (Muslim New Year's) are the main holidays. The public holidays are the Silvester (January 1st) and Independence Day (December 1st).
The Islamic calendar is the official calendar of the Persian Gulf States (especially Saudi Arabia), and the Muslims around the world use it for religious proposes. The Islamic calendar, which is also called the Hijri Calendar, is based on the moon cycle alone. There are always 12 months a year with 29.5 days on average, which means – just a little over 354 days. The Islamic year is shorter than the Christian year, which is a little over 356 days. Each month begins as the moon is first spotted, and that is why the exact date is affected by different factors (weather, viewer location and more). This method makes it difficult to know in advance the date of a certain months' beginning, and it is possible that in different places the month will begin on different days.
While calendars are printed in advance they are strictly estimates, and the dates change according to observations, which are done at the same day.
The Islamic New Year begins at the 1st of the Muharram month at the Hijri year. It takes place every year in a different time as per the Islamic calendar principles. Muhammad the prophet's birthday starts at the month Rabi ul-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. The prophet's birthday is commemorated with teens parading and reading the story of the prophet's life, which is written in the Book Al-Sira.
- Most businesses work seven days a week. They are open as of 9 a.m., closed for most of the afternoon and open again late afternoon till 8 p.m.
- Government offices are open from 8 a.m., but do not open again in the evening. Working days are Saturday to Wednesday.
- It is customary to set an appointment to a general hour during the day: noon, evening and so on.
- Note the prayer hours as you set an appointment. The prayers are held five times a day and change according to the seasons. Prayer times are published in the newspaper.
- Sometimes, if you already know the person you want to meet with, you can "pop in" when you are around and notify before arriving by phone. In this case you are to be prepared for the option that they too will "pop" to see you when they are at your area. In any way, you should leave a note in case you could not fit in with the day's schedule.
- Unlike personal assistants in the West, here they are not authorized to make appointments for their employers.
Addressing by Name:
- Using first name indicates a closer friendship than in the Western society. There is no actual equivalent to titles such as Mr. and Mrs., but the title Sa'id is used in correspondents.
- There are some words to be used a head of the name such as ibn/bin to indicate son of, or when it comes to women bint to indicate daughter of.
- You know you have become close to someone when you got to know his special nickname which is called Kunya in Arabic: Abu/Abi followed by the older son's name. We will usually hear the nickname umm for women, but it is rare. If you do not know, it is OK to ask acquaintances for the name of the host.
- Members of noble families are called Your Highness, and ministers or ambassadors are called Excellency.
- The titles doctor, engineer, professor are used as both academic title but also as a symbol of respect.
- Sheikh is used as a knighthood title and it is only used as addition to the first name, not the last name.
Business Dress Code:
- It is inappropriate and in some of the states it is also illegal for strangers to wear the local national outfit, for fear of impersonating.
- Man, clothing will include shirt, pants and a tie for the evening. Suits that are suitable for the warm climate will also be welcomed.
- Women are asked to dress humbly with no cleavages, although the dress code here is less strict than in other Arab states.
- While business cards are common, they are not necessary.
- If you are going to use them make sure they are written in Arabic or one side Arabic and the other English as to not offend the Arabic language dignity.
- Any other correspondence for purposes of publicity should be in Arabic.
During the Meeting:
- Generally speaking, foreign businesses are welcome if they have a monetary base. Most businesses in the Gulf are foreign.
- Although you can find women in all positions, their social conduct is different than the men's. Handshakes are acceptable with any man, but not with women. If a man knows the woman well enough to touch her – he is probably a relative and will kiss her on the cheeks.
- When women get together, the atmosphere is pleasant and less formal than in the West.
- The standard greeting is Salaam aleikum and the answer is Aleikum salaam. The guest arrives at the reception room, stands at the door and greets. Only after receiving an answer to his greeting may he enter the room. If his greeting was not answered he may repeat it, but if for several times he was not answered, he needs to understand he is not welcome.
- If there is a carpet on the floor of the room, you must take of your shoes and enter.
- One must shake hands with the eldest in the room first. It is usually the host but not always. Then you must shake hands with everyone else anticlockwise. Only after shaking hands with everyone in the room you may sit and join in on the conversation. If there are over 50 people or the sitting is not comfortable, you may shakehands with the host and greet the rest with a wave.
- After the meeting you may sit with your legs crossed as long as the foot is not pointing at someone – a gesture that means "go away."
- The guest is not supposed to change the conversation topic, unless there are opportunities, or it makes sense.
- It is the host's job to select the conversation topic. He will start with "How are you? How are you enjoying your visit?" and so on, and then he will continue. If you joined in on the conversation, the host will fill you in and invite you to join the discussion.
- If you are alone with the host, the conversation can go a little longer and include more topics. If the host honors and values you, a conversation on your homeland will also include controversial issues. You are not expected to agree to everything – it will make you seem unreliable. On the other hand, remember to also leave room for the host to respond and do not argue just to win. The purpose of the conversation is to learn about each other, and it might be used as a diving board later on.
- The population in the Gulf States is pretty thin, and there is a large presence of businesspeople from around the world. The rules here are true for every Muslim state, but if you met other citizens, it will only be appropriate to work as per their code of manners.
- Be prepared to state your positions. A considerate polite practical argument is usually welcomed as long as it is not a fight and will show you appreciation.
The Gift Protocol
When it comes to these states, gifts are a problematic issue given that first of all, the cost of a present here is cheaper than in any other place in the world. Second, most Westerners are having difficulties distinguishing between the different citizens you can find here, and each one has different priorities. Following are a few valid rules to serve everyone:
- Each gift has to be the best quality you can afford. If you choose a carpet, it needs to be handmade. Platinum will be appreciated, but silver with high standard conspicuous seal is better, so it will not be confused with white gold. Remember, due to religion restrictions, you must not bring personal items made of gold or silk to men. Know that the gift will be opened in front of the giver and the host will look for quality tag.
- While the Western man is measured by the quality of his suit, the Arabic man is measured by his scent. So perfumes should make a preferable gift. The chosen perfume must be of excellent quality, and you must notice the receiver's preferable scent. Women will only receive perfumes from other women or a close relative.