Eating in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
is a long and drawn out event during which the goal is to socialize. This trend
is apparent both when dining at a local's house in a more informal setting as
well as at a formal business dinner at a five star hotel. In addition to long meals,
the Emiratis also have a few general dining rules, but they will rarely to never
demand you follow these rules.
Locals in the U.A.E. don't use their left
hands to eat; neither touching their food with their left hand, nor even placing
their left hand on the table. You will also notice that locals never place their
feet on a foot rest or cross their legs since it's considered rude to show the
bottom of your foot to another person. Also, some locals won't eat with people
of the opposite sex; this is especially true in public restaurants among conservative
families. In fact, it is considered improper for a man to even acknowledge or touch
a woman unless you are introduced by a man and she offers you her hand. Today most
locals are quite liberal in this regard and few will be offended at a foreigner's
mistakes in this regard, but when in doubt ask or follow a local's lead.
Generally speaking, dining in the U.A.E. is
more formal that in many parts of the world, particularly in business situations
and this begins with dress and appearance. Always arrive on time and don't ever
order alcoholic beverages since most Muslims don't drink. Dinners are consumed
using continental manners, meaning their knife is in the right hand and the fork
in the left. Try to avoid the month of Ramadan as well since Muslims don't eat
or drink during the sunlight hours during this month and most people prefer dining
with family each night when the day's fast has finished.
Although the Emiratis are masters at adapting
to their guest's customs and are used to foreigners in the cities of Dubai and
Abu Dhabi, it is still good manners to adjust to their customs. However, as you
will quickly notice, the majority of the people that live in the U.A.E. are not
Emiratis. For this reason, the best advice is to follow the lead of your host. If
you have a European or North American
host they may follow their local dining customs, which is why the default dinning
etiquette is to follow formal protocol.
Tipping in the U.A.E. is common and expected,
especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Rates are roughly equivalent to
Europe at about 5-10% for food service. Since exchange booths are common
in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, tipping in US dollars or Euros is accepted without any fuss,
although tipping in the local currency remains the best option.
Celebrations & Events
There are two major food holidays in the United Arab
Emirates including Eid al Fitr, which takes place after Ramadan,
a religious holiday that requires fasting for 30 days. To celebrate the end of this
fast Eid al Fitr is filled with numerous foods, which differ from Emirate
to Emirate, but these dishes are generally based on lamb and another meat.
The second major food holiday is Eid al Adha, which is only celebrated
after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for every able
Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of rice and
meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.
Perhaps the most authentic of beverages in the United
Arab Emirates is Ayranser, a yogurt-based drink. Coffee, particularly
strong coffee is also growing in popularity.
As a primarily Muslim country, alcohol can only be purchased in hotels or at specialty
stores for foreigners living in the United Arab Emirates.
The tap water is safe to drink in the United Arab Emirates.
However, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will
most certainly be different from what your system is used to.