Embracing Emirati Traditions as an Expat

UAE Culture and Traditions

The fusion of Arabian, Islamic, and Persian cultures has significantly influenced the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This rich cultural blend is evident in the lifestyle, culinary traditions, customs, music, dance, and various other aspects of the nation. Continue reading to delve deeper into the UAE culture and traditions.

UAE Culture and Traditions

UAE Culture and Traditions

UAE culture and traditions are as follows….

Cultural Arts in the UAE

The UAE’s rich cultural tapestry finds vibrant expression in its diverse art scene. The nation’s deep appreciation for the arts is conveyed through its poetic language, the vivid hues of traditional artwork, distinctive gestures, and the enthusiasm of its people. From the intricate designs of Arabic henna, symbolizing good fortune and marital prosperity, to the exceptional art of Sadu weaving, recognized on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the UAE is a hub of authentic creativity. The country also boasts a variety of performing arts, including evocative poetry and the spirited traditional dance known as ‘Al Ayala,’ embodying a captivating fusion of tradition and modernity that mirrors the UAE’s rich historical roots and its cosmopolitan spirit.

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Emirati Cuisine

The culinary landscape of the UAE is a vivid reflection of its diverse culture, infused with an array of aromatic spices and ingredients, including dates, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron. One of the nation’s signature dishes is a Bedouin recipe, featuring a cooked camel stuffed with goats, sheep, and chickens, although camel meat is generally reserved for special occasions due to its expense. The UAE offers a variety of delectable dishes, including:

  1. Harees: A dish prepared by slow-cooking cracked wheat and meat, typically served in modest portions during Eid and Ramadan.
  2. Kabsa: A medley of rice dishes combined with vegetables and meat.
  3. Maqluba: A popular dish created by layering and cooking meat, rice, and vegetables in a pot, then inverting it so the bottom layer becomes the top. It’s often served with a simple salad, yogurt, or sauce.

Whether you’re captivated by the stunning architectural wonders of Dubai and Abu Dhabi or savoring the exquisite seafood offerings, the UAE promises a delightful journey into its rich heritage and culture

UAE Culture and Traditions

Traditional Sports

The traditional sports of the UAE have played a pivotal role in the lives of Emiratis, serving as both a means of survival and a source of recreation. Activities like falconry and the racing of horses, camels, salukis, and dhows have deep-rooted cultural and historical significance. Falconry, an ancient art involving the training and hunting with falcons, has been a cherished pastime in the UAE for centuries and continues to be enthusiastically embraced by many Emiratis today. These traditional sports not only offer entertainment but also serve as vital tools in preserving and promoting the UAE’s rich cultural heritage and history.

Cultural Institutions

Dubai Museum, situated within al-Fahīdī Fort, offers engaging exhibits on Bedouin life, local history, traditional dances, and musical instruments. The fort also houses a military museum. Al-Ain is home to a museum dedicated to Bedouin culture and the pre-oil history of the emirates. In Sharjah city, you’ll discover a renowned natural history museum. Dubai city is emerging as a hub for regional film, television, and music production, with the prestigious Dubai Opera House at its heart. Abu Dhabi proudly hosts the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum that proudly draws its name, collection, and expertise from the world-famous Louvre in Paris.

Emirati Greetings and Social Norms

Emiratis have unique and culturally specific ways of greeting one another. Among men, there’s the traditional ‘Emirati kiss,’ or Khusmak, which involves touching each other’s noses. A firm handshake using the right hand and warm embraces between individuals of the same gender are also common forms of greeting. However, due to religious considerations, handshakes and hugs are generally not used as greetings between individuals of the opposite gender. As an alternative, a brief nod accompanied by a hand placed on the heart and a smile is often employed.

In the UAE, certain actions are considered impolite and are best avoided. These include taking photographs of people, particularly women, without their consent, staring or making unsolicited compliments to women, making derogatory remarks about Islam, and dressing inappropriately in public. Additionally, any form of public display of affection, regardless of its scale, is strictly prohibited by law and is subject to penalties

UAE Culture and Traditions

Incredible Architecture

Influenced by Persian, Arabian, and Islamic architectural styles, UAE’s architecture reflects the age-old customs, traditions, lifestyle, and the rich Emirati culture. Local architects employ a diverse range of materials and carefully consider climatic conditions to ensure adequate ventilation and privacy. A distinctive Iranian architectural feature known as ‘Barjeel’ or ‘Windtower’ is frequently used to facilitate natural ventilation. The malls and hotels in the UAE boast remarkable architecture, catering to the influx of tourists.

Some notable buildings celebrated for their exceptional architecture in the UAE include:

  1. Souk Madinat, Dubai
  2. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
  3. The Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi
  4. The Burj Khalifa, Dubai
  5. The Dubai Mall, Dubai
  6. Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi”

Festivals and Celebrations

In the UAE, there are many cultural festivals and events celebrated all year round. From the traditional joy of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, signaling the end of Ramadan and a time of sacrifice, to national festivities like UAE National Day, these events offer a peek into the diverse heritage and unity of the Emirati people.


Religion holds a significant place in the cities of the UAE, where all religious practices are respected and embraced across diverse cultures. The majority of the population, around 76%, follows Islam, with a larger proportion identifying as Sunni Muslims. In addition to Islam, the UAE is home to minority religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism.

The UAE boasts some of the world’s most beautiful mosques, and specific laws are in place to facilitate the practice of Islam. For instance, during Ramadan, working hours are reduced by two hours, and the official working days are Sunday to Thursday to accommodate Friday prayers for Muslims. While the country upholds the principle of religious equality, any form of encouragement for Muslims to convert their faith is considered a serious offense. There have been instances where individuals were deported for distributing religious materials like Bibles to Muslims.

UAE Culture and Traditions

Emirati Dress and Attire

Emirati clothing is deeply influenced by Islamic principles that advocate modesty and conservatism. As a result, both men and women dress in garments that cover most parts of their bodies. Women in the UAE traditionally wear the ‘abaya,’ a long black cloak that covers the entire body except for the feet, hands, and face. It is often complemented with the ‘niqab’ and ‘gafaaz’ to conceal the hands and face. Additionally, women may wear the ‘burqa,’ an outer garment that covers the entire body and face when venturing out in public to maintain modesty.

Men typically wear the ‘kandura,’ a long, loose-fitting robe, often white in color. It is commonly paired with the ‘ghutrah,’ a traditional headscarf that can be styled in various ways. The length of the kandura can signify the individual’s social status, with longer robes indicating greater wealth. However, in urban areas like Dubai, it is not uncommon to see younger individuals and expatriates embracing Western clothing styles, such as jeans and t-shirts.

Traditional Dance

The traditional dance of the UAE is called Al-Ayyala, or yowalah. It originated as a victory dance after tribal wars or successful pearl diving. Nowadays, it’s performed at weddings and special events. Also known as the stick dance, 20 men and women (always separately) participate, accompanied by lively Arabic music with large and small drums, brass cymbals, and tambourines. The energetic dance steps and delightful music make Al-Ayyala a joy to watch. This traditional dance is even recognized on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List.

Using the Right Body Language

When interacting with Emirati locals, a foreigner’s connection can be influenced by their body language. Pay attention to small things, like standing when someone enters the room, especially if they’re not a staff member. Also, avoid sitting with your feet pointing towards them, as it’s considered very disrespectful. Remember not to use your left hand to serve food, and be aware that public displays of affection are against the law.

Rules for Taking Photos

In the UAE, there are rules about taking pictures to protect privacy, security, and cultural values. While it’s usually okay to take photos in public, certain places like government buildings, military areas, and religious sites may have restrictions.

It’s important to respect people’s privacy, especially Emirati women and families. Always ask for permission before taking their picture. Also, try not to take photos of sensitive subjects or be too intrusive.

Following these rules shows respect for the local customs and helps maintain a harmonious and culturally sensitive environment in the UAE.

Emirati Customs and Traditions

The people of the UAE observe a tapestry of customs and traditions that are both unique and intrinsic to their culture. One such tradition is the serving of Arab coffee in a ‘Dallah,’ the traditional Arabic coffee pot, to guests. This gesture symbolizes hospitality, and it is considered impolite to decline this welcoming offer.

Falconry, deeply rooted in Bedouin culture and dating back centuries, is another cherished tradition in the UAE. The falcon, known as ‘Saqr,’ represents attributes like bravery, determination, strength, grace, and contentment. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is a renowned destination for falconry, famous for its desert safaris that allow visitors to engage with these magnificent birds.

Marriage holds a significant place in Emirati tradition, encompassing various rituals, customs, and a grand feast. Marrying outside one’s kinship is discouraged and disapproved of in the UAE, and marriages are often arranged by parents. The ‘Laylat Al Henna’ or ‘Henna Night’ is a pivotal custom in Arab weddings, an intimate gathering reserved for the bride and her close female relatives and friends. During this event, the bride’s hands are adorned with intricate henna designs by a skilled artist, and the choice of henna often reflects her family’s financial status