DUBAI // What do you do if an Emirati woman's abaya is on fire? Well, you could do a lot worse than ask Ali al Saloom.
And if you happen to live in Dubai, doing so has just become easier. The popular columnist and cultural expert's guide to living in the UAE is now available for the nation's largest city.
Ask Ali - Dubai is the follow-up to the hugely successful Ask Ali - Abu Dhabi, the humorous culture guide for expatriate visitors and residents of the capital. It sold 15,000 copies in six months and is being translated into Chinese, Korean, German and Arabic. The second edition of the English-language Abu Dhabi guide will be published in a couple of weeks.
"The question people ask me most is what is the difference between the Abu Dhabi and Dubai guide," says Ali, 32.
"Geographically Dubai and Abu Dhabi are different. As an example, Dubai has a creek where Abu Dhabi does not. The creek was the soul of Dubai's trade bringing traders from Bur Dubai, Deira and other areas close by.
"Abu Dhabi has the sea and the Empty Quarter and that's where traders came from Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other countries. These have influenced people differently."
Ali says he learnt a great deal from publishing the Abu Dhabi guide and has incorporated it into the Dubai version.
"Ask Ali - Dubai is a cultural travel guide that invites readers to explore Dubai with a lot of cultural insights from an Emirati perspective," he says. "It's not an explore-Dubai kind of guide. It is the only one of its kind written by an Emirati conveying a knowledge and understanding of the UAE's heritage and culture.
"I wanted to educate people in this guide, not just tell them 'Here, go discover Dubai'. I wanted to direct them to where they can find Emirati products and Emirati businesses and an Emirati perspective."
Ali says most visitors to Dubai are guided to landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Dubai Mall, but rarely get a chance to come into contact with an Emirati to ask questions about the culture.
"Most people, most tourists. really want to meet Emiratis but they don't get a chance to," he says. "From the time they arrive, tourists get into a taxi driven by another expat, at the hotel the staff are expats, even the tour operators are all expats.
"Most visitors leave Dubai without even having a photo taken with an Emirati. I want to be the first to greet a visitor to the UAE."
An animal lover, Ali is joined in his guidebook by his pets, a cat named Mau and his dog Saluki, who was featured in the Abu Dhabi book. In Ask Ali - Dubai he introduces Mau, named after a breed native to the Arabian Peninsula.
All through the guide, Ali, Mau and Saluki offer special advice in sidebars marked "Psst …", with cartoon drawings of a secret being whispered.
The book is also culturally educational. In the section entitled "Attitudes towards women", he writes that Emirati women are taking on more leadership roles in society and government, quoting as an example Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the Minister for Foreign Trade.
Ali also writes that Emirati women value their privacy. He advises that most prefer not to shake hands with men, and that men should not approach them - which is where the flaming abaya comes in.
"Without permission from an Emirati woman it would be impolite and inappropriate to approach her to talk, but if there is a reason for your interaction - her abaya is on fire, or she left her cell phone in a cafe - then that's fine," Ali writes.
Other topics covered include faith, national dress, the expat dress code and starting a business and there are Emirati Arabic phrases and a map of the UAE.
Ask Ali - Dubai is on sale in bookshops, hotels and airports for Dh50.