Dear Ali: I’m so excited as I have been invited to a local wedding next week, but I’m really wondering what to wear, what is the protocol and whether to bring a gift? RY, Abu Dhabi
Dear RY: For an expat, going to a wedding here can feel like going to Disneyland for the first time. The dress code for women is simple: look beautiful, just like everyone else. Women celebrate in a separate room from men, so don’t worry too much about revealing clothing. Of course, there is a limit. Remember that there will be older women to whom you should act more respectfully when talking, walking and mingling with. This includes making sure your clothes don’t show too much skin.
Still, don’t be surprised if you meet some local women who are very open in their dress code, because they wear the black abaya to cover up in public and reveal more when inside the wedding hall.
You can kiss, hug, laugh (decently) and chitchat. You can even dance, though there will be no classic Lady Gaga tracks; instead you will hear mainly Arabic music.
The gift you give depends on how close you are to your friend. You are not asked to bring a gift, but doing so would not hurt and the family will, of course, appreciate it.
Gifts can range from a nice watch to a unique product from your homeland or a box of perfumes. Just make sure it is in nice packaging with a greeting card, so your friend knows who brought the gift and has the chance to thank you later. That is all you need to know to have a wonderful wedding experience.
You are also welcome to bring a friend with you in case you are not comfortable going alone. It’s acceptable to come with a friend or a member of your family, because in our culture even if we send out one invitation to a person, we do know that they could be coming with an extra person. This happens a lot when it comes to wedding events or dinner gatherings.
Dear Ali: Just came back from a round trip between some GCC countries and my last destination was in Kuwait and I was amazed by their majlis style which they refer to as deewaneyah. How different is this gathering place from the majlis in the UAE? Are they used for different purposes and should we bring food or a gift when visiting? SD, Abu Dhabi
Dear SD: The diwaniyah or deewaniyah is what our brothers in Kuwait call their majlis area, where they get together. In Arabian houses, especially in the Gulf, the diwaniyah room is where male visitors gather. The majlis and diwaniyah serve the exact same purpose.
In Kuwait, the room is called a diwaniyah because it comes from the word diwan, which means a councillor chamber. A council is usually occupied by men and authorities. These men gather in the evening to relax and discuss less serious matters, so this is how the word diwan led to diwaniyah.
If you say diwaniyah, an Arab will automatically think of a place where men play cards, chat about life and so on. But if you say diwan to the same man, he will immediately think about a sheikh’s, prince’s or king’s room or chamber.
The majlis is usually located away from the house, somewhere close to the entrance so visitors can enter and exit easily. It is a great place where men communicate with family, friends, friends of friends and invited guests. You are not expected to bring food or gifts. You are only asked to make sure there are sandals outside the door before entering, which means there are other guests inside. Say “As-salamu alaykum”, shake hands starting from the right and join the club. A majlis does not necessarily need to be in a house; it can be anywhere people gather regularly to meet.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.