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10 culture tips for living in the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates’ major cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are some of Teach Away’s most popular teaching destinations. Education and English fluency are highly valued and teachers from all over the globe are being recruited to teach abroad in the UAE.

High volumes of teachers heading overseas to instruct in the Middle East means that plenty of people need to learn the region’s distinct set of cultural practices. Here are some taboos we think anyone relocating to the UAE should be aware of:

  1. Nobody should ever see the soles of your feet or shoes. Beware of how you sit – especially when crossing one leg over the other. Revealing the underside of your foot to someone is viewed as a rude and disrespectful gesture.

  2. Shake hands, make gestures, and eat with your right hand only. Your left is considered unclean and should not be used interpersonally or if it might come in contact with your mouth or food.

  3. Don’t point. Finger-pointing is considered rude in certain situations in Western culture, but in the UAE, it is something that should always be avoided.

  4. No swearing. Emiratis value speaking with respect.

  5. Refrain from spitting. Spitting may be interpreted as a very offensive gesture to people in the UAE.

  6. During Ramadan, Emiratis do not eat, smoke, or drink during daylight hours. Even if you are not a Muslim, it is important to follow suit and break your fast only after the sun has set.  

  7. If you are not a Muslim person, mosques and the Qur’an are off limits. You may come across some mosques that are open to the public, but if you choose to visit, dress respectfully. The Qur’an however should not be touched.

  8. Drinking alcohol should only occur in licensed spaces or in the privacy of your own home.

  9. “For Ladies Only” signage is used to designate areas that are reserved for women only. Men should always abide by these signs.

  10. Handshakes follow a unique protocol in the UAE. A man can shake hands with a man to greet one another, however a man should only shake hands with a woman when she extends her hand first.


We also published an interesting article on dress code in Abu Dhabi you can check out here: Dress for success in Abu Dhabi

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