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.