x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ask Ali: Etiquette and currency

Ali Al Saloom on basic etiquette guidelines for GCC visitors and on exchanging currency.

Dear Ali: What guidelines on cultural etiquette would you give to someone who is visiting the UAE and some other GCC countries on business? AA, UK

Dear AA: Regardless of whether you are here as a tourist, on business or as a resident, the following guidelines should help you in terms of cultural etiquette in the Gulf region and the Arab world in general.

Greetings: Arabs will greet you with "Assalamu alaykum". It is our way of saying hello and it means "Peace be with you". The appropriate reply is "Wa alaykum al salam" which means "And peace be with you, too".

Handshake: Arabs like to bond, and this is why our handshakes are strong and long. Don't release your hand from a shake until your host releases it first. If you are a male meeting an Emirati women, wait for her to extend her hand. If she does not, then do not offer your hand, as many women don't shake hands with men.

Prayer: Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day, so be understanding if one has to take a prayer break during work hours.

Appointments: Be wary of when you schedule meetings here. Try to avoid the weekends - especially Friday - as they are regarded as family days.

Negotiating: There is no certain pace of negotiations with us, so be prepared to listen and keep in mind that you may have to bargain for a good deal.

Personal space: Keep a slight distance when talking to a person, especially if you have never met him or her before and if the two of you are of different genders.

Hospitality: Arabs take great pride in showing hospitality, never failing to at least serve coffee and dates, but preferring to present guests with a lavish choice of expensive delicacies. To refuse such hospitality may cause offence.

Always right: To Muslims, the left hand is mainly used for bodily hygiene and thus is considered unclean. Shaking hands or handing over an item with one's left hand is considered an insult.

Sitting: When sitting cross-legged, be careful not to display the sole of your foot or touch somebody with your shoe, as it is considered rude and disrespectful.

Personal appearance: Arabs believe in being clean and well groomed, and so should you. Dress depends on the context, but it is mainly suits for men and women, and it is always respected and appreciated if women cover their shoulders and their knees.


Dear Ali: I'm relocating to the UAE soon, and want to know about the currency value. Is it safe to exchange currency there or should I get dirhams from my country? BN, Arizona

Dear BN: It is totally safe to exchange money here and is probably better for you. It also is fine to come with some dirhams from overseas since you might need to pay cash for a taxi on your way to your hotel.

Our currency is the UAE dirham - Dh or AED for short. One dirham can be broken down to 100 fils, and our coins come in denominations of five, 10 (coppers), 25 and 50 fils and Dh1. Paper notes are Dh5, Dh10, Dh20, Dh50, Dh100, Dh200, Dh500 and Dh1,000. One US dollar equals Dh3.673.

To exchange your cash, you can go to many places including your hotel, specialist exchanges and banks. As in most countries, the hotel rate will not be as good as at the exchanges. There are many exchanges on the street and in the malls, it is safe to exchange your money there, and in most cases you do not need any ID.


Language lesson

Arabic: Rutooba

English: Humidity

This is a word you will often hear in the summer. "Oofff rutooba" is how someone will frustratingly describe how humid it is outside.