When it comes to Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates there are more rules and courtesies that need to be remembered. As one of the biggest business hubs, you’ll find that different forms of etiquette apply in different professional and social situations. So carry this etiquette and culture toolkit with you next time you’re out in the UAE.

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General Etiquette Tips:

  • Holding hands in public is really only allowed if you’re married.
  • Foreign men should not shake hands with local women unless the woman offers her hand and foreign women should do likewise with men. So, not a lot of hand shaking!
  • People often communicate with a vocal emphasis, volume and body language that others may interpret as being angry or aggressive. Responding to anger or seriousness with light laughter or a smile is common and not to be taken as a sign that they are not taking you seriously. If you really can’t keep it together then shoot off expletives in your head instead – a much more agreeable option.
  • Insulting Islam or the prophets is a serious offence. They follow the doctrines of the Koran which forbids the consumption of alcohol, pork and shellfish. Importantly, drinking in public is prohibited.
  • Also remember not to show the soles of your feet or take photos of people praying.


Gender & Attire:

  • Men should avoid touching and holding prolonged eye contact with Muslim women.
  • It is considered improper to enquire about a man’s wife or daughter but it is polite to ask about their family or health.
  • Always be modestly dressed – both men and women should wear non-revealing clothes that cover the shoulders, arms and legs, as well as closed-toe shoes. Women should also cover their heads when visiting religious sites and shoes should be removed by both men and women.


Business Etiquette Tips:

Meeting & Greeting:

  • Sheikh is a chief (Sheikha for a woman), Sayed (Mr) / Sayeda (Mrs).   Address people by their surname (eg. John Smith would be Sayed Smith).
  • It is important to greet the most senior or eldest person in the room first.
  • Handshakes are always used when greeting and can be held for a long time. Etiquette recommends that you wait until the other person withdraws their hand first before doing the same. Don’t forget to use the right hand as the left is considered unclean. If it was us we’d take some tissues too, our hands can get sweaty.
  • Do not be surprised if your hand is held as you’re being led somewhere – holding hands among men is common. Also worth noting that many people have a more modest view of personal space so it can seem rude if you step away if someone moves closer. There goes the maintaining of all of your personal space issues.


Doing Business:

  • Put an emphasis on personal relationships, family ties, trust and honour.  The system works on the basis that favours are reciprocated and never forgotten.
  • Who you are is usually more important than what you have achieved and so it is not uncommon to find many members of one family working for the same company.
  • The working week is Sunday to Thursday.
  • Meetings are always accompanied by coffee and pastries – hospitality is held in high regard and to refuse can cause offence. Just think of all the delicious food you’re allowed to consume.
  • Never show the soles of your shoes when sitting in a meeting as this is a sign of disrespect.
  • It’s key to practise patience as meetings can be chaotic with phone calls and emails often taken and people entering unannounced.
  • Remember, the Arabs were traditionally a trading people and are excellent negotiators.


For great service and help with culture and etiquette you can stay at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi. Prices start from £105 per room per night. Business facilities and services include: six meeting rooms and four executive boardrooms; unique event venues around the hotel; secretarial and translation services; latest media equipment and full office services; concierge team. This is the perfect place to stay during a business trip or professional getaway.

BOE Magazine