x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Ask Ali: Giving gifts at dinner and weather warnings

The National's culture columnist offers advice on what to bring when invited to an Emirati dinner gathering, dealing with the summer heat and the UAE's national tree.

Dear Ali: I have been invited for dinner with a local family. What gift should I bring to my hosts? MA, South Africa

Dear MA: When you are invited to dinner here you are not expected to bring gifts with you. However, it always considered a nice gesture to bring something. How you deal with the gift issue depends on the occasion. If it is an informal evening, then bring some homemade sweets or a cake. If it is more formal, some chocolate might be nice, or flowers, as long as they are not romantic red roses.

You are also on the safe side if you were to buy a nice framed picture from back home - something that is related to your country's culture.

Just ensure that whatever you choose as a gift would not be anything a Muslim would not really appreciate, such as anything that contains alcohol or pork products. With personal gifts I would exercise caution. If this invitation includes families, then buying a gift for the male host's wife could be seen as a bit weird, and vice versa. Enjoy your dinner!


Dear Ali: In the UAE, I'm getting my first experience of really hot weather. What tips can you offer to help me deal with it? RL, Abu Dhabi

Dear RL: The hot weather here often comes as a shock to people who are not used to it, especially to those who arrived in our country during the winter and thought the weather then was hot enough. First of all, cover windows in the home by pulling the curtains or blinds down on all those that are in direct sunlight. Keep the air conditioning on, but keep it below 26°C; sometimes it just gets too cold.

If you are walking somewhere, then use an umbrella. Wear light-coloured clothing made from natural fabrics, such as cotton or linen, but try not to wear jeans - they will be heavy and your legs will be very hot. You should also avoid direct sunlight on your head and body, and try to schedule any time out before 11am or after 4pm. Drink plenty of water and use a good sunblock.

Finally, from a traditional point of view, why not try some henna?It is known for its ability to cool the head and hand. Elderly people here still use henna on their hair, hands and the soles of their feet. Enjoy the summer.


Dear Ali: What is the national tree of the UAE? AS, Sharjah

Dear AS: All of God's creations are remarkable, but imagine how special a plant must be to grow in desert conditions. Now that the heat has kicked up a notch, you can imagine how important trees were to our forefathers. They provided shade, food, medicine and shelter, all scarce in the region.

We don't have official national trees, but the two trees most commonly associated with the UAE are the ghaf and the date palm. We hold much passion, respect and care for both. The palm tree, or nakheel, is much celebrated. The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage hosts the annual Liwa Date Festival in the Western Region and the UAE is home to the Date Palm Tissue Culture Laboratory, which has mapped out the tree's gene pool and used the information to propagate date palms. The date is an important part in our Islamic tradition, having been mentioned in the holy Quran. The Prophet was said to have chosen the date to break his fasts during Ramadan.

To cope with the arid surroundings, the ghaf tree has roots that can go as deep as 30 meters to reach groundwater. The wood is still used in construction, but it is also known for its medicinal uses: burning the leaves is supposed to help eye problems. You can find out more at www.savetheghaftree.org

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.