Local traditions and culture in Dubai

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Most Viewed Local Customs in Dubai

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    UAE currency

    by Escadora7 Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The local currency is DIRHAM (Dhs.), which is divided into 100 FILS. It is also referred to as AED (Arab Emirate Dirham).
    Bills come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 1000 units.
    Coins are in 1 Dhs, 50 fils, 25 fils. Because 5 and 10 fils coins are not widely available, you often will not receive the exact change.

    The Dirham has been stable at an exchange rate of apprx. Dhs. 3.67 to US $ 1.--.

    Exchange rates of all major currencies are published in newspapers daily. You can exchange money at banks, hotels, and at exchange places. Exchange places have often the best rate, while hotels are the worst. You can also withdraw money from ATMs - most ATMs accept international cards.

    We found the best rates at the little forex offices near Al Fahidi Street. Al Fahidi and the inside road parallel to it are filled with exchange places.

    Related to:
    • Business Travel

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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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    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 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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    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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    "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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    by ludogatto Written Jan 1, 2006

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    Majlis is a meeting place for the man where they play domino, drink togheter coffe of tea, smoking shisa, talking and mantein the trditions alive.
    In Bastakia area there is still one of this, before was only a tent, now is a big room with carpet and pillows, but also a wooden and tent veranda.
    We hade the chance to occasionaly know a eau citizen in the Bastakia area thet invited me and my partner to stay with them in the Majlis....we were sitted near an ex Eau ambassador, a petroleum producer and the major eau date producer! simply people in the traditional withe cafetano asking about Switzerland, their next vacation
    This is a good place to maintain alive the tradition and to get involved the tourist in the true arab culture.
    A lot of them borned and grow up here but now they live in other residential area...Majlis is the way to stay togheter.

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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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    do's and don'ts

    by jivanne96 Updated Nov 5, 2007

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    1. Public Displays of affection are frowned upon.
    2. Don't drink alcohol in public places.
    3. Obscene gestures could land you in jail.
    4. Don't take pictures of Emirates especially women and government buildings.
    5. Some medications are illegal in the UAE. Check with the local authorities if the medications you have are legal.

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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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    Coffee / Gahwa

    by Cielo_Algaeed Written Oct 13, 2007

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    Arab traditions also play an important role in Emirati people's life. These age-old traditions have evolved over the past years and are highly regarded. They include generosity and hospitality, which every Saudi family offers to strangers, friends, and family. The simplest expression of hospitality is coffee – its preparation alone is an intricate cultural tradition, and it is often served in small cups along with dates and sweets.

    Arabic Coffee or Gahwa is a special mixture of Arabic Coffee and Cardamom. Cardamon is always added to Saudi coffee, either crushed or whole pods, giving it a distinctive flavour, and aiding digestion. A pinch of saffron may be added on special occasions, or by the wealthy.

    The coffee is poured from a long-spouted pot called a dallah. The greeny-yellow coffee is drunk without milk or sugar from small handleless cups, which are only half filled.

    Guests should accept no more than three cups unless with close friends. It is courteous to accept one cup, although not essential to drink it. Always hold the cup in your right hand.

    To signal that no more coffee is required, wobble the cup from side to side (or in some areas cover it with the palm of the hand).

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    ~ The Holy Month of Ramadan ~

    by Heavens-Mirror Written Sep 15, 2007

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    Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar and the holiest of the four holy months. It begins with the sighting of the new moon after which all physically mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food, drink, gum chewing, any kind of tobacco use, and any kind of sexual contact between dawn and sunset.

    Bars and clubs are closed until around 7pm and live music is not allowed as well as dance clubs being closed throughout the month of Ramadan. Some restaurants do not serve alcohol and places with a liquor license can still sell alcohol to people but only to drink at home. Everyone is required to not eat or drink in public during Ramadan or even smoke in the streets. Also some hotels will still serve food but there is curtains or blinds up in the room to avoid people in the streets seeing.

    ~ A baby during Ramadan ~

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