The rules apply… even to foreigners.

This being our first visit to an Islamic country, we’ve certainly been on a learning curve with appropriate etiquette. The difference here though is that breaches in etiquette, unintentional or not, can have some real consequences beyond causing offense. When you read about some of the very big differences in social protocol in a place like, say, Japan, explanations are often followed by a qualifier that “these rules don’t apply to foreigners” (tattoos, business card etiquette, bowing, Japanese language pleasantries). It doesn’t mean that attempting to follow local protocol isn’t good form, but it would seem that foreigners often get a pass for breaches. Not here though.

A cursory reading of some basic social no-nos, including body language and gestures, demonstrated some mutual knowledge deficits, to say the least. Normally, Martha can quickly provide some subtle correction for my screw-ups, but here we’re both in the same boat. That’s how, after a brief interaction for some directions with a bit of a language barrier, I could give the thumbs up out of habit and be on my way. Looking that up…. it’s like, “oh great, I totally flipped that nice guy the finger.” And forget about handing stuff to people with your right hand. I can do the whole reverent passing of money through intermediate objects with both hands in Asia, but the right hand deal with everything isn’t a habit formed overnight. Anyhow, seeing as how we won’t be talking politics or religion with anyone, or doing any binge drinking or club hopping, I really don’t think things like this, or this, will likely apply to us. Nevertheless, I can see how people (foreigners) can run afoul of the law here. There is a Miami-esque display of decadence and hedonism perpetually on display that clashes quite dramatically with the backdrop of Islamic fundamentalism and religious reverence. A group of foreigners in front of us on the Dubai metro was carrying on and I noticed a gentleman in traditional Islamic attire really scowling in their direction, very specifically and very intently. The focus of his glare seemed to be on some pretty harmless PDA (shoulder being rubbed, hand holding) from a couple in the group. Duly noted. We’re being careful, maybe not North Korea careful, but pretty careful nonetheless.

Soooo….. other than a bit of sober reflection on social protocol, we’ve been having a great time so far! The weather is wonderful, the food has been interesting and delicious, the people have been friendly, service has been phenomenal, and we’ve already decided this is a city that demands a repeat visit. As a stopover hub, this beats Kuala Lumpur handily.

Today we went for a little day trip to go “dune bashing” outside the city, which provided a nice contrast in scenery. Points to note: you, and everything with you, will leave completely saturated with very, very, fine sand. Driving at a high rate of speed, launching over sand dunes, fishtailing and sliding down dunes, and flirting with flipping the SUV over are all a recipe for motion sickness. Just FYI. I personally feel validated because even Martha was a little green afterwards. Oh, and she was also terrified, so maybe my driving will get a pass for a while after all that. In the evening we did “high tea” at the Burj al Arab, which we enjoyed greatly, pictures below in the gallery. As you will read all over, a visit to the Burj al Arab is definitely on the must-do list for a Dubai visit.

12 thoughts on “The rules apply… even to foreigners.

  1. Well mike good luck not flipping ppl off again with your thumbs up! Emma made me go through all the pictures with her and it’s funny trying to hear her say Burj al Arab lol anyways have fun!

  2. Que rico se ven los pastelitos del cafe. Y que no se da nada con la mano derecha? Sera porque cuando no habia agua y jabon se limpiaban con la mano derecha y no la lavabsn y era muy sucio dar cosas con esa mano. Jejeje a lo mejor todavia no se la lavan. Lol. No agarres nada que hayan tocado con esa mano taca no te me vayas a enfermar por alla. Jejejeje

  3. Beautiful pictures! The Burj al Arab looks like it deserves all seven stars. Martha you look gorgeous, love your fascinator. Remember don’t go making any inappropriate youtube videos while you’re there, didn’t bode well for the last guy! Have fun!!

  4. Are you provided with a list of social no no’s or is it a study at will subject? Pictures are great, high tea looks fantastic. I can almost taste the raw sugar cube and smell the camel and sand through the screen. Are you able to snap any of the locals or is this #1 on the list?

    1. Grace, believe it or not this isn’t mentioned… Unike in India, where it’s kind of a racket for locals to try and bait tourists to take pics of them or their kids and then hit them up for money. It does seem intuitively kind of rude, so I’m avoiding it, although it’s tempting as some of the outfits and people watching here is another facet of the entertainment.

    2. Actually… they did specifically mention taking pictures of UAE nationals on TV here as being “highly offensive” so we won’t be doing any of that

  5. Looks fabulous!!! There would need to be MUCH bigger servings at high tea to satisfy my appetite!!!! One of the chandeliers “looks like snot bubbles” says my 12 year old son. Glad u guys are good…. Please keep the right-handed thumbs up to a minimum so you can return safely and give us more details!!!!

    1. Thanks Julie! You’re definitely right on the portion sizes… don’t come hungry for sure. That’s why we hit up “cocktail hour” at the hotel for a few bites before getting ready. Kind of like a pre-high tea high tea lol.

  6. This is fascinating, Mike! I’m really enjoying your blog and pictures. The “thumbs up” gesture being rude cracks me up. You really need to think before you do anything there.

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