Advice and tips for living and working in the UAE.
Ask Ali: Tailoring your meals for an Emirati guest
Dear Ali: I would like to invite my Emirati friends to dinner at my place. Which meal would you recommend me to prepare for them? SH, Ras al-Khaimah
Dear SH: I think it's wonderful that you will invite Emiratis to your place for dinner. I am sure they will really appreciate it and will be happy with whatever you serve them. However, some aspects should be considered in order to make it an enjoyable time together.
First of all, you would have to decide what kind of dish you want to serve. If you choose to serve fish with rice and vegetables, for example, then you don't have to worry if they are into meat or not. I can assure you that many Emiratis enjoy eating meat and chicken. However, they might be sensitive to know if you cooked the food well-done, medium or rare, as many Muslims prefer the meat to be well-done or at least medium well. Some of us like the food spicy - personally, I don't - but definitely it should have some spices with the vegetables or curry. It will be delicious, trust me.
Believe me, whatever you are going to cook will be appreciated by your Emirati friends. That is, anything that doesn't include pork or alcohol - not even one per cent. But in terms of the dishes, I can guarantee you all kinds of food are experienced by many of us nowadays since we have lots of global cuisines in our country.
Of course, some basic dishes are always good options to have on the table, such as dates, salads, bread, white rice, curry, and if you're going for mixed grills then having some hummus is always essential to go with that.
Now much depends on your Emirati friends. Are they more into the traditional way of eating with their hands or will simply go for the silverware? Many Emiratis use cutlery now especially if they are invited to other people's houses or a public place.
After the meal, it's always nice to have some tea or coffee and, yes, you've guessed it, sweets. Now, in order for your guests to understand when it's time to leave, you have two options. Either you ask them to leave, which I don't advise, or simply have some bukhoor, which is the burning incense that has always been used before the guests leave the house. We offer this type of gesture so they may use some to smell good after the food and that becomes the sign for them to leave. Unless of course you all have some activities after the meal. Have a lovely dinner with your friends.
Dear Ali: Why don't men sit next to women on the buses? Why can't the women sit anywhere they want to? LT, Sharjah
Dear LT: Our society is, in general, based on gender segregation that is based on respecting the opposite gender by not getting close to them and making them uncomfortable, especially when we live in a respectable,conservative society. Therefore, it is a little different here than what you are probably used to.
On the buses, women usually sit in the front area, while the men sit in the back. I know such a separation appears to be only an obligation for men and that it does not give women their rights. But this gender segregation has a reason and is based on mutual respect. It has more to do with a religious right to protect yourself, no matter if you are a woman or a man. The purpose behind it is to prevent too much flirting - and I mean here the hustling type - that could lead to wrong endings between the sexes.
Besides, not every woman wants to sit next to a man she does not know and she isn't married to. The same goes for men.
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.