Dear Ali: I need to buy a present for the newborn baby of an Emirati couple. Coming from Europe this is considered to be a friendly, polite gesture. Is there something I should be aware of, or something special they will be expecting? I am not close to the couple; I know only the father well as he is my client. EE, Dubai
Dear EE: You may buy whatever is suitable for a newborn baby.
Consider a nice greeting card for the parents expressing your wish that their baby will be a good son or daughter and that God blessed him or her for them. If you know the new parents well it's common to ask them what they would like or if there is anything they don't have that you could get for them.
Gold is always appreciated because it has value. While gold is appropriate for a boy or a girl, it's mainly given to girls. But for either, you may purchase a piece of gold that has "Allah" or "Masha'Allah" written on it in Arabic, and the parents may hang it in the room or put it close to the baby's bed in order to protect the baby from the evil eye.
Of course, baby clothes are always appreciated or gift vouchers for baby clothing stores. Or what aout a nice photo album where they can keep their personal pictures, or a scrapbook diary to build memories of the baby's first activities and exciting stories?
Instead of buying something for the child, you may even consider buying the mother a gift, such as some nice perfume, a scarf, a watch or something unique like a special pillow she can rest upon.
Not to say that you should avoid buying something for the father but in these situations we usually focus on the mother or the baby or both.
Dear Ali, I'd like to know how are dogs viewed in your culture. Are they frowned upon? I want to bring my dog but I do not want to offend anyone.
Dear KG: We love dogs! Many Emirati families own dogs but don't necessarily keep them at their homes, preferring farms instead. It's true that some Emirati families might view dogs like any other animal: cows, crocodiles, chickens, ducks, kangaroos or camels. These animals are all beautiful and lovely, but can't really be kept inside our homes, which we keep clean and pure so we can pray. But if any chicken, bird or dog comes inside our home after walking outside on dirt this will make our little majlis (living rooms) impure and therefore unholy so we wouldn't be able to conduct our five daily prayers, which is so essential to us as Muslims. We believe that everything God created has a purpose, and the purpose of dogs, especially our beloved Arabian saluki, is to serve humans by protecting us and hunting our food.
You are welcome to bring your dog and you will find lots of people walking their dogs - we even have some registered breeders - but bear in mind we don't have a big dog culture in the Emirates as of yet, though I am sure that will happen in time.
Two things I would advise you to keep in mind: consider how your dog is going to cope in our hot weather, and when renting an apartment, many landlords won't permit tenants to have dogs.
Make sure that when you invite Muslims to your home your dog is leashed or away from the area where you will be hosting your guests. Then again, there are dog lovers like myself who may forget about the host and simply sit and play with the dog.