Dubai has a diverse and multi-cultural society. However, Dubai’s culture is shaped by the Islamic traditions of Arabia, with religion touching all aspects of everyday life in the country. Day-to-day activities, festivals, cuisine, dresses, weddings, and other customs are dictated very much by religion. Despite waves of modernity touching Dubai, the emirate remains close to its cultural heritage. Locals still continue to wear their traditional dress even today, which indeed is a symbol of national pride and identity. Arab culture and folklore find expression in music and dance of Dubai. Traditional sports such as Falconry, camel racing and dhow sailing are still popular in Dubai.

Dubai is a tolerant and relaxed society, with local population known for their traditional hospitality and friendliness for foreigners. Unlike other Islamic nations, Dubai also has a liberal attitude towards women. Women are respected and are free to join modern schools, or work in offices in the company of men. What’s more, visitors to Dubai will find world-class hotels, beach resorts, nightclubs and bars and serving alcohol. A high standard international cuisine is available in the city’s many restaurants and if you are looking for lively evening entertainment there are numerous night clubs around the city. Some of the clubs attract international DJs; there are also Middle Eastern, Indian and Asian nightclubs offering entertainment with singers and dancers. Dubai also welcomes international touring singing and entertainment acts which cater to all tastes and ages – from traditional theatre groups to ballet, from opera to international rock and pop bands – all are regular visitors to the United Arab Emirates. All road and shop signs, restaurant menus and tourist information leaflets are both in Arabic and English. Although an Islamic country, the UAE respects other religions and followers are allowed to practice their beliefs. There is a Hindu temple, two Catholic churches, and Anglican and a Protestant church in Dubai.

National Dress

The national dress is designed for the high temperatures and religious beliefs of the region. The men wear an ankle-length, loose fitting garment, known as Kandoura or dishdasha. It is generally made of white cotton. However, the kandoura is also made from darker and heavier material and is worn in the winter months. The headgear for men is called the guthra or sifrah. It is generally white and is held in place by a black cord called adal. Sheikhs and senior business persons also often wear a thin brown or black robe called the bisht over their kandoura. The bisht is typically worn during important functions and events.

Women wear a long-sleeved full-length dress called the Abaya. This is worn over the normal dress, jeans, trousers or the jalabiyas – long dress. in terms of the headgear, women wear a thin scarf called the shayla.

National Flag

The colours of the UAE flag are similar to the ones in most Arab countries – green, white, black and red. The UAE flag comprises three equal horizontal bands: green at the top, white in the middle and black at the bottom. A thicker, vertical band of red runs down the hoist side. The emirate of Dubai has its own flag which is red with a white border at the hoist. It is almost always flown together with the national flag.

Food & Drink

Dubai is a food lover’s delight. Thanks to its visitors from many parts of the world and its multi-ethnic resident community Dubai has developed a sophisticated and innovative food culture. Almost any type of food is available, from classic European to Pacific Rim. You can eat Mexican, Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Italian and French cooking, and more at some of the finest restaurants in the Middle East. International fast-food chains, serving the standard fare of hamburgers, chips, pizzas etc (McDonalds’s, Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Hardee’s, Wimpy, Dunkin’ Donut) are also located in the larger cities. Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be a particular favourite. International theme restaurants such as TGI Friday’s, Planet Hollywood, Fashion Café, Hard Rock Café and Henry J Bean’s are all represented in the Emirates! Gulf and Middle Eastern food is also available in a wide variety of venues, from expensive restaurants to local cafés. Fresh fish from the Arabian Gulf is always good – try lobster, crab, shrimp, or grouper, tuna, kingfish, red snapper, grilled, stuffed, or fried with spices.

If you cannot find anything to suit in that list, small ethnic cafés and corner stalls are ubiquitous. Shisha cafés offer an opportunity to smoke a shisha (hubble-bubble pipe) and serve food, coffee, tea and fruit juices and corner stalls serve shawarmas and other sandwiches.

Muslims are prohibited from eating pork so it is not included in Arab menus. Hotels frequently have substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labelled as such.

Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars. Exceptions are some clubs (e.g. golf clubs) and associations. Restaurants that are not associated with hotels are not permitted to serve alcohol.

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