SHARJAH // A group of tourists gathered in the desert to hear about the scary bearded man, the hairy old woman and the wandering camel - regular features in tales told by Emirati grandmothers.
Sharjah celebrated World Tourism Day by holding a "night under the sky" with Abdulaziz AlMusallam, a writer and specialist in UAE folklore who provided an insight into local stories and their links with areas around the country.
The day was established by the UN 31 years ago to bridge cultures through tourism.
"The Gharib, a stranger, this man is used in stories by mothers to scare the children and prevent them from going out at night," Mr AlMusallam told the audience last night. "He resembles the Hunchback of Notre Dame."
Mr AlMusallam, also the director of culture and heritage at the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, spoke about 11 types of fairy tales based on animals, rhymes, comics and poetry. He said a lot of tourism programmes forget or ignore this side of the UAE.
"We have 1,000 tales from ancient Arab and some from before Islam," Mr AlMusallam said. "But guides in the UAE do not provide this spirit of the Emirati culture: that we are the grandsons of sailors."
He said these tales should become a part of sightseeing.
"If you go through the city, some districts are named after some of the oldest fairy tales," he said.
Al Yash area in Sharjah is named after a story about a wife being killed by her husband's sister, he said.
Sharjah is one of the oldest cities and its reference dates back to 1565. The emirate promotes itself as a cultural centre and its heritage sites and Islamic museums attract people from the region and Europe.
Conny Boettger, the destination development manager at the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority, said last night's event was to highlight the country's intangible culture.
"The tangible culture like the monuments are quite apparent but it's the songs and the stories which are often hard to translate and neglected."
Dora Requillart, from France, was fascinated by the "spooky creatures" and resemblance to western fairy-tale characters.
"It's interesting to know about the local legends and what people pass on through word of mouth," Ms Requillart said. "Many characters are similar to Cinderella and Casper the Ghost with a local twist."