Local traditions and culture in Dubai

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Most Viewed Local Customs in Dubai

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    "Tsching tsching? WHO THERE???"

    by Escadora7 Written Sep 7, 2005

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    Think retro .. and the images of Jim Morrison crooning 'Break on through to the other side' smack bang centre into your head. And all along the little tambourine 'tsching' 'tsching-ing' away crazily. Well the Arabs have their own lil mojo right in the middle of Dubai.

    Daff, or oriental tambourine:

    Called Riq or Duff in certain places. It is impressive to see a good riq player, and to see the range of sounds and rhythm patterns that they can play. The riq is a small (approx 20cm diameter) circular percussion instrument, with an animal skin head, and many small cymbals on the sides.

    Not to forget Lars Ulrich (Metallica) and Ringo Starr smashing away at their drumkits .. Here's another arabic percussion instrument designed to get your butts jiggling.


    Also called Dumbek in certain places. It is a drum shaped like an hour glass. Traditionally made of clay, more recently it has been made of metal. The head is made of fish, goat or other animal skins, and has also largely been replaced by a plastic substitute. The derbakkeh provides the basic rhythm in an arabic orchestra.


    Percussion melodies
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    Kenny G serenades his belly dancers

    by Escadora7 Written Sep 7, 2005

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    Well if Elvis could have his turn at playing arabic instruments, why not Kenny G. Let's just substitute the stringed instruments for wind instruments here and voila .. this is what we have -

    The Nay:

    Bamboo flute, made of an open piece of bamboo, with seven holes (one for the thumb, and 6 for other fingers). Can also come with a mouthpiece made of goat horn. Professional Nays come in sets; for example, a professional nay player will have a case full of different instruments which are tuned to play different maqams.

    The Mejwiz:

    Made of two "twin" pipes, with a stopper going through them. The Mejwiz is a folk instrument that is often used in weddings and other social gatherings. The whole end is inserted into the mouth, and the musician uses circular breathing, in order to achieve a continuous sound. The instrument sounds very nasal, and is quite loud.


    Blow harder, come on!
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    The Arabian Elvis

    by Escadora7 Written Sep 7, 2005

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    So now probably you're wondering if Elvis was born Arab, what kind of stringed instruments he would be using - yes? Well go on reading then ...

    The Oud:

    The Oud's rich low tone makes it the ideal instrument for long Tarab evenings. It is a pear-shaped lute with a short fretless neck. It can be plucked with the fingers or with a feather. The Oud is essential to small ensembles, as well as to the classical "takht". It is also the instrument of choice to accompany male soloists.

    The Qanoun:

    The word "Qanun" translates to "law". The instrument however consists of 50(?) strings strung on a metallic table, in a way reminescent of the Santour in Iranian music. The strings however, are plucked instead of "hammered", in a way that produces a very nasal sound. The musician straps metal plucks onto his/her left and right indexes, and sits the instrument on their lap or on a small table. The Qanoun provides the fast attack as well as some of the high harmonics in an orchestra.

    The Saz (turkish instrument) or Buzuk:

    A "saz" is a lute with a long neck. There are different sizes of it. Largest is the divan sazi. Smallest is cura sazi. The instrument has a pear shaped body. Sometimes saz is refered as 'baglama'. This name is more descriptive. It literally means 'to tie'; referring to the instrument's tied frets. The istrument is tuned in many different ways depending on region or mood/occasion. There are many situations for saz playing. Usually, a poet-musician will sing while playing it. There are also duo performances where each musician will take turn playing and singing. This is improvisonal. It is also an instrument that is commonly used to back up folk singers. You might actually see about a dozen players playing at the same time.


    Plucked Strings - (click to enlarge)
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    by Escadora7 Written Aug 26, 2005

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    One thing that amazes most people coming to Dubai is just how many roundabouts there are - it seems like every corner is one.

    The thing about UAE-roundabouts is that they are really nicely decorated - each having a theme, with a statue or some sort of structure in the middle.

    Roundabouts can be scary for people who are not used to them - here are some basic tips:
    - Traffic in the roundabout has the right of way. Incoming vehicles have to yield.
    - While driving within the circle, leave the left signal on. Only when exiting put on the right signal, so that incoming traffic knows what your intentions are.
    - Theoreticallly, pedestrians have the right of way, but this is Dubai, and pedestrians are usually aware that they have to fend for their own life.

    UAE roundabout

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    The Music and Dance of the Emirates

    by Escadora7 Updated Aug 17, 2005

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    Music and dance play an important role in every society - this holds true for the UAE: the most famous dance is Al Ayaala, a war dance which praises the virues of courage and bravery in battle. It is performed to a drumbeat and the men carry swords.

    Al Nahma is a famous song of the sea, sung without musical instruments. It is performed on board ships to encourage pearl divers and express their longing and compassion for their families.

    Local traders brought the Lewa dance back from Africa. This dance has a fast tempo, which is provided by large drums.

    Folklore dances were performed on special occasions such as weddings, when pearl diving boats set out or returned, and at religious festivals. The biography of the Prophet Mohammed is narrated in the Al Maalid, which is accompanied by drumbeats and movement.

    We learned all this at a special cultural exhibit in the Wafi mall, but more information and exhibits are in the Dubai museum.

    On a visit to the Global Village, Ash was lucky to observe a dance performance, in which the men carried some sort of walking sticks or old wooden rifles over their heads and twirled them around while they skipped in circles or long lines.

    The women performed in traditional garments and wore their hair long (no covering) and kept tirelessly twisting and twirling their necks around, so that their hair flowed towards the ground and spun around at the same time.

    Sometimes there were little girls and boys who also participated in the dance, and sometimes it included a few youngsters out to impress some local and expat women folk who were watching from the sides, always smiling and twirling to the tune.

    Music of the UAE

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    The Weapons of the Emirates

    by Escadora7 Updated Aug 17, 2005

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    The Bedouin admire, above all, courage, strength, and bravery. A man would wear his dagger at all times and keep his rifle beside him while he slept.

    There were several types of traditional weaponry, which included swords such as the Bu Falaj and Al Kattara, daggers with handles of animal horn or ivory, an Al Bishek (a sharp steel knife) and Al Yazer (a strong stick with an iron axe mounted on the end). Swords and daggers were greatly valued and were often decorated with engraved silver or gold.

    Rifles (including Umm Fatila and Samaa) were used for defence and hunting and at the end of the Nineteenth century; Dubai was famous for manufacturing daggers, swords, gunpowder, bullets and the trade of weapons.

    We learned all this at a special cultural exhibit in the Wafi mall, but more information and exhibits are in the Dubai museum.

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    A little lesson in language!

    by Escadora7 Written Aug 17, 2005

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    If you are worried about not speaking Arabic - don't fret! Everything in Dubai is in both English and Arabic - from traffic-signs to restaurant menus. Everybody also speaks English - more or less....

    Here are the a few Arabic phrases that might come in handy:

    Sabah el khair - sabah el noor / Good morning, good evening

    shukran - Thank you!

    yaallla yaallla!! -- lets go lets go!!!!! (said to a camel when trying to get him to overtake a ferari)

     ana bahebek habibti - i love u dear (said to the women found in Thank God Its Thursday (TGIT) - if you're a man that is )

    KEM FILOOS (at all the malls when u wanna know the price of something) .. and if he answers with a barrage of words .. then give back MAIIFHAM ARABI or MAFI ARABI ( I dont understand Arabic) ..

    inta fi magnoon - u are CRAZY !!! (not to be said to anyone .. this is just for knowledge)

    yaaa salaam .... (grinning with all ur teeth at this moment like the arabs do - when seeing a good looking woman .. then run and hide before the cops come!)

    in the cab:
    alatoool - straight
    AIWA .. or NAAAM .. yes

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    Modesty works best here

    by sugar74 Updated Apr 18, 2005

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    Dubai is one of the most liberal cities in the Middle East but I still think it's good to respect the customs of the locals.

    For women :swim suits are allowed on beaches and skimpy clothes in night clubs but it would be best not to flaunt in places such as shopping malls, restaurants or even while just walking around.

    For men: shorts are allowed but do refrain from going without a shirt in public.

    I personally feel that it is best to blend in a crowd than have people stare at you.

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    What arabian women wear...

    by cooltrudy Written Feb 8, 2005

    According to CIA data in United Arabic Emirates the 96% of population is muslim. So it is easy find women wear with the classic muslim clothes called Abaya.
    In particular abaya is a loose, usually black robe worn by Muslim women, especially in Arabic-speaking regions, covering the body from head to toe and often worn with a headscarf and veil.
    Then you can often find islamic boutique full of abaya.

    Islamic boutique
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    What you wear

    by morninglory Updated Jan 3, 2005

    This is a Muslim country.Even though you are free to wear what you want here. The government is very flexible on wha religion you are practicing. One thing do keep in mind to wear modestly when you are out of the city. Especially when you visit the countryside and montains. Respect the locals as you how you want to be respected. We are in their land, okay..
    And if you wish to visit the mosque, you should cover hour head.

    Liisa-->visiting the Jumeirah Mosque

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    Heads up! A few "do's"

    by Quero Written May 15, 2004

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    1) Keep the soles of your feet/shoes tucked away or aimed downwards. It is considered offensive to expose the bottoms of your feet to another person.

    2) Stay indoors while drinking any alcoholic beverage. In addition to being a serious sin in Islam to drink alcohol, it is also unlawful to drink in public, such as on a beach or in the street.

    3) If your visit coincides with Ramadhan, smoke, drink (even water) and eat only in private or enclosed areas, and never in the presence of someone who is fasting. Once the sun sets, you may indulge. This also includes gum chewing and chewing tobacco. All restaurants are closed in the daytime hours.

    4) Be careful of where you aim your camera. You must not take photos of government installations, military or otherwise; and avoid taking pictures of local Arab women unless you have thier consent.

    5) Use only your right hand to greet people, hand money to a merchant, or eat. The left hand is reserved for cleansing the private parts and is considered unsanitary.

    A woman in a cultural event: permission granted

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    by Quero Updated May 14, 2004

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    Coffee and hospitality are inseparable in Arabian culture. There is a ritualistic aspect to the serving and drinking of coffee. This tent may appear to be a display, but in fact it is the coffee lounge outside of the cafeteria at a local university.

    If you are offered coffee as a gesture of hospitality at the home or office of an Arab collegue or acquaintance, you will make your host most comfortable if you accept it. You may be offered a second cup, which you should also accept.

    Meet me for coffee?

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    Wedding lights

    by colin_bramso Updated Feb 11, 2004

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    Parents of couples getting married often cover their houses with thousands of lights, which is a stunning sight after dark. I've most often seen it in the residential area around Jumairah Beach and it really is worth a visit to see.

    Celebration lights cover a villa.

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    Keep your shirt on

    by CliffClaven Written Sep 9, 2003

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    It is better to ignore the acres of pink flesh parading the resort hotels and shopping malls and to remember that Dubai is an Islamic society with a more conservative dress code. Old Cliffie trudges through the arid sands of Arizona in shorts and a tee-shirt, but in the deserts of Dubai he wears smart but casual slacks and a freshly-laundered shirt. And no, it's not the one he bought in Hawaii.....

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  • Life in the Desert

    by amna_alshamsi Written Jul 11, 2003

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    The Desert is the traditional habitat of people throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Bedouin, who were the earliest inhabitants of the region, once lived in strong tribal communities and roamed the blazing sands with their camels, in search of food, grazing and trade. Sheep and goad herders scratched a living on the arid mountainsides.

    Cultivators tended date palms wherever the merest trace of water could be found. The camel, the ship of the desert, was then the primary mode of transportation and the Bedouin's main source of milk, meat and wool. For accommodation, these proud nomadic people erected tents made chiefly of wool and animal hide.

    Clothing was simple and utilitarian, consisting of a flowing garment and a headscarf that offered protection against harsh desert sun and fine grains of blowing sand. Jewellery, consisting mostly of bead necklaces and silver ornaments, was favoured by the Bedouin woman, while the male costume was used both as a weapon and a traditional fashion accessory.

    Now adays due to the discovery of oil the bedouin life changed. how ever, you can see a section in Dubai museum devoted to the Bedouin lifestyle. This offers an interesting insight into the habitat, life and customs of the desert people. It is really intersting to see how our grandparents used to live more than 30 years ago.

    Also, a visit to see a real bedouin life can be arranged too during one of the safari visits.

    © Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing.

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