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Emirati Culture: 9 Unique Traditions and Lifestyles 

Welcome to a trip through the rich world of Emirati culture, where traditions rooted in history interlink with the dynamic vitality of modern life. In this exploration, we will explore the core of Emirati customs, uncovering the eternal principles that guide societal norms and individual behaviors. From the cherished values of consultation and agreement represented in Shura to the warmth of hospitality exemplified in Al Majlis gatherings, Emirati culture invites you to start an absorbing experience filled with tradition, diversity, and unparalleled warmth.

Join us as we investigate the active streets of tradition and modernity, hugging the luxurious heritage that defines the United Arab Emirates. Along the way, discover 9 Unique Traditions and Lifestyles that illuminate the unique character of Emirati society, offering an insight into the complexities of daily life and the enduring legacy of cultural practices that shape the Emirati identity.

1. Three Cultural Cities

1. Shura: Consultation and Consensus

In Emirati culture, Shura, emphasizing consultation and agreement building, holds significant importance in governance, community affairs, and business operations. Rooted in Islamic teachings, Shura requires active engagement in decision-making processes, ensuring diverse perspectives and informed decisions reflective of communal wisdom.

It upholds principles of equality, freedom, and justice, promoting dignity and rights for all individuals. Shura extends to organizational contexts, developing dialogue and valuing every member’s input, promoting fairness and equality. Ultimately, Shura reinforces values of equity, cooperation, and communal solidarity, ensuring effective governance and organizational management in Emirati society.

2. Al Majlis: Hospitality and Social Gathering

Photo by Nicholas Green 

In Emirati culture, Al Majlis symbolizes hospitality and communal unity, where individuals gather to connect and share experiences. Rooted in Bedouin traditions, it reflects the region’s nomadic heritage and values of warmth and generosity. Emiratis engage in various activities within the Majlis, fostering community and mutual respect.

Beyond social gatherings, it serves as a space for communal affairs like conflict resolution and celebrations. Respectful of Emirati customs and Islamic traditions, participants promote inclusion and understanding. The Majlis encourages diverse perspectives, promoting dialogue and collaboration. Its design reflects Emirati cultural richness, maintaining the tradition of hospitality and communal unity.

3. Ihsan: Kindness and Generosity

Photo by Toa Heftiba

In Emirati culture, Ihsan emphasizes kindness and generosity, urging individuals to exceed basic acts of kindness. Rooted in society, Ihsan develops compassion and empathy, promoting a culture of altruism. It highlights the importance of excellence and honesty in actions, guided by the belief in divine observation.

Linked to the pursuit of excellence, Ihsan promotes ethical conduct and professionalism, encouraging fairness and clarity in dealings. It reinforces empathy and compassion in leadership, supporting positive impacts within organizations and communities, and guiding individuals toward continuous learning and ethical leadership.

2. Emirati Happiness

Photo by Dibakar Roy 

In the context of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), happiness is not just a personal pursuit but also a national priority, as evidenced by its consistent ranking among the top 25 happiest countries in the world. With a focus on ensuring the happiness and well-being of its citizens and residents, the UAE implements comprehensive plans and services aimed at fostering a culture of happiness and contentment.

This approach covers various sectors, including government entities, to introduce a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction within the community. Dubai, as a prominent city within the UAE, epitomizes the pursuit of happiness with its diverse lifestyle offerings, abundant opportunities, and modern infrastructure. Renowned for its low crime rates, family-friendly environment, and strict safety measures, Dubai provides a sense of security and comfort to its residents and visitors alike.

The city’s commitment to maintaining law and order ensures that crime remains minimal, contributing to its honor as one of the safest destinations in the Middle East for tourists. While adjusting to life in Dubai may require settlers to explore unfamiliar government regulations, the city’s welcoming atmosphere and active culture make it an attractive and fulfilling place to call home. Overall, Dubai’s dedication to promoting happiness and well-being manifests its status as a desirable destination for individuals seeking a fulfilling and enriching lifestyle experience.

3. Emirati Social Life

Photo by Mimi Thian 

Emiratis are renowned for their warmth and hospitality, which are central aspects of their social life. Valuing family, friendship, and community, Emiratis often extend invitations to guests, welcoming them into their homes for gatherings over coffee or tea, accompanied by traditional delicacies like dates, nuts, and sweets. Greetings among Emiratis are marked by gestures of respect, with handshakes or kisses on the cheek, depending on the gender and relationship. These social interactions reflect the deep-rooted cultural norms of Emirati society, where connections and relationships are developed with care and consideration.

Emiratis maintain a lively social life, characterized by regular gatherings at home or social venues, where they continue to forge bonds with friends and family. As hosts, Emiratis treat their guests with the greatest honor and hospitality, exemplifying the values of generosity and friendship. In addition to traditional customs, Emirati social life also emphasizes diversity, influenced by a blend of Arabian, Islamic, Persian, East African, and Indian Subcontinental cultures.

While evenings may see a shift towards entertainment venues such as bars, clubs, and restaurants, Emiratis uphold a culture of tolerance and respect for others’ beliefs and ways of life, making the UAE, particularly Dubai, one of the most moderate and accommodating destinations in the region. Hugging cultural norms such as using the right hand for eating and avoiding gestures that may be considered disrespectful, Emiratis uphold traditions while adopting modernity in their dynamic social interactions.

4. Emirati Food

Photo by Todd Quackenbush 

Emirati cuisine reflects the rich culinary heritage of the UAE, with staple foods such as meat, fish, and rice forming the foundation of traditional dishes. Lamb and mutton are particularly favored meats, often roasted and served atop fragrant rice alongside vegetables and nuts in dishes like Khuzi, considered the national food of the UAE. Harees, another iconic Emirati dish, shows crushed wheat and minced meat, flavored with onions and ground cumin, typically enjoyed during weddings, festivals, and special occasions like Ramadan.

While vegetables play a lesser role in Emirati cuisine due to the desert landscape, chicken, small fowl, goat, and lamb are commonly consumed meats, with fish and seafood featuring prominently due to the country’s proximity to the Persian Gulf.

The culinary travel to the UAE isn’t complete without enjoying Emirati desserts, such as luqaimat, small doughnut-like treats that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, often enjoyed as a sweet ending to a meal. Dates, the national fruit of the UAE, hold a special place in Emirati culture, with the country boasting around 40 million date palms yielding over 150 varieties.

Shawarma, a beloved street food, represents another culinary gem in the UAE, featuring thinly sliced meat roasted on a vertical rotisserie, wrapped in flatbread, and paired with vegetables and spices, epitomizing the fusion of flavors and influences in Emirati cuisine. With spices like saffron, cardamom, turmeric, and thyme enhancing the flavors of Emirati dishes, the cuisine reflects a harmonious blend of tradition, culture, and local ingredients, inviting both residents and visitors to enjoy the authentic flavors of the UAE.

5. Emirati Relationships

Photo by One zone Studio

In the United Arab Emirates, dating and relationships guide a unique blend of traditional values and modern influences, creating a dynamic social landscape for locals. While Emiratis traditionally uphold arranged marriages and conservative dating practices, the expatriate community introduces a diverse array of dating norms and customs. The Emiratis seeking romantic connections in the UAE encounter a melting pot of cultures, where discretion and respect for local customs are principal.

Despite the absence of a formal dating culture among Emiratis, they have various avenues to meet potential partners, from social gatherings to online platforms. However, it’s essential to adhere to local laws and customs, as public displays of affection and premarital intimacy are strictly prohibited. They must also be mindful of the gender dynamics in Emirati society, where men typically take the lead in initiating relationships, while women exercise caution in piloting cultural expectations and familial honor.

Relationship progression in the UAE hinges on a multitude of factors, including cultural backgrounds, mutual understanding, and intentions. While The Emiratis enjoy the liveliness of the international community and opportunities to forge connections, they must investigate the complexities of Emirati family structures and societal norms.

Ultimately, successful relationships in the UAE are characterized by mutual respect, cultural awareness, and a willingness to explore the complexities of a multicultural society.

6. Emirati Parenting

Photo by Mikael Stenberg 

Parenting in Abu Dhabi presents a blend of traditional values and modern conveniences, creating a unique environment for raising children. Expatriate families like Kera Thompson’s experience the benefits of tax-free living, top-notch schools, and access to quality healthcare, making the UAE an attractive destination for family life. Despite initial cultural adjustments, many parents find themselves accepting the opportunities and lifestyle Abu Dhabi offers, from city living to diverse career prospects.

Emirati parenting reflects a laid-back approach compared to Western norms, allowing children more freedom to explore and be independent. Parents in Abu Dhabi seem more inclined to let their children be children, fostering a sense of autonomy and responsibility from a young age. This relaxed attitude is evident in everyday life, where children can be seen playing unsupervised at malls or enjoying outdoor activities with minimal adult intervention.

Welcoming this parenting style can be liberating for families, encouraging trust in their children’s abilities and developing a supportive community where judgment is minimal, allowing children to flourish in their environment.

7. Emirati Work Culture

Photo by Austin Distel

The work culture in the United Arab Emirates, particularly in Dubai, reflects a unique blend of tradition, diversity, and modernity. While Emiratis value punctuality and respect in the workplace, they also prioritize maintaining a healthy work-life balance, with generous annual leave allowances. This balance is further emphasized by the influence of Islamic culture, which promotes harmony between professional and personal life.

Additionally, the multicultural nature of the workforce in the UAE, with a significant expatriate population, contributes to a dynamic and inclusive work environment.

Emirati business culture is characterized by hierarchical structures and a strong emphasis on personal relationships and mutual trust. Decision-making processes may take time as patience is valued, and long-term partnerships are prioritized. Moreover, respect for authority and adherence to protocols, such as proper etiquette in meetings and communication, are essential aspects of conducting business in the UAE.

Accepting diversity and universality, as well as understanding and managing cultural differences, are key strategies for professionals exploring the complex landscape of Emirati work culture. As Dubai continues to evolve as a global business hub, accepting technological advancements, promoting sustainability, and fostering flexibility in work arrangements will be integral to shaping the future of work culture in the city.

8. Traditional Clothing

Traditional clothing in the United Arab Emirates, particularly the Abaya worn by Emirati women, holds significant cultural and religious importance. The Abaya, a long mask traditionally black in color, symbolizes modesty and adherence to Islamic values. It covers the entire body except for the face, feet, and hands, reflecting the cultural norms and expectations surrounding modesty and privacy. Some women choose to pair the Abaya with additional coverings like the niqāb and Gafaaz, further emphasizing the importance of modesty in Emirati society.

Emirati men’s traditional clothes, characterized by white robes, show a blend of cultural heritage and practicality. The predominantly white color of the robes reflects the Bedouin tradition of selecting colors that reflect sunlight, keeping the owner cool in the desert climate. Additionally, the long sleeves and veils worn by both men and women serve to protect against the harsh sun and sand, highlighting the functional aspect of traditional Emirati clothing.

Sandals, a common footwear choice, offer comfort and ventilation, adjusting to the practical considerations of dressing in a hot climate while sticking to cultural norms. Overall, traditional Emirati clothing reflects a balance between cultural heritage, religious values, and practical considerations for comfort and protection in the desert environment.

9. Three Cultural Cities

1. Dubai

Photo by Christoph Schulz

Dubai, renowned for its luxurious lifestyle and futuristic skyline dominated by architectural marvels like the Burj Khalifa, stands as a global hub of commerce and tourism. Beyond its glittering facade, the city accepts its Islamic heritage, reflected in its cuisine, music, and traditional clothes. With zero taxation rates and a plethora of cultural attractions such as the Dubai International Book Festival, Dubai offers a dynamic blend of modernity and tradition, enticing visitors with its golden beaches, extravagant shopping malls, and adventurous pursuits.

2. Sharjah

Photo by Ainur Kamaev 

Sharjah, known as the Arts Capital of the UAE, displays a rich cultural heritage and family-friendly attractions. Its dedication to preserving cultural diversity is evident through designations like UNESCO World Book Capital and UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art. Offering affordable housing options and a convenient geographic location, Sharjah appeals to residents seeking a balance between cultural immersion and modern facilities, making it an ideal place to live and work.

3. Al Ain

Photo by Duminda Perera 

Al Ain, often referred to as the Garden City, stands out for its lush greenery and historical significance. From its busy Camel Souk to ancient archaeological sites like Hili, Al Ain blends ancient heritage with modern development. Named after its abundant springs, Al Ain offers a glance at the region’s past while welcoming its role as Abu Dhabi’s second-largest city. With a unique irrigation system and a rich history dating back to 300 BC, Al Ain continues to flourish as proof of the UAE’s enduring cultural legacy.

Key Takings About Emirati Culture

1. Shura: Shura advances diversity and informed decision-making, reinforcing values of equity and communal solidarity.

2. Al Majlis: Al Majlis promotes connections and cultural richness, maintaining the tradition of Emirati hospitality and unity.

3. Ihsan: Kindness and Generosity: Ihsan encourages kindness and ethical leadership, supporting positive impact within communities.

4. Emirati Happiness: Emiratis prioritize happiness, evident in comprehensive plans developing well-being and contentment.

5. Emirati Social Life: Emirati social life emphasizes warmth and community, contributing to the country’s reputation as an accommodating destination.

6. Emirati Food: Emirati cuisine shows heritage and flavors, offering a taste of Emirati culture and tradition.

7. Emirati Relationships: Relationships in the UAE blend tradition with modernity, emphasizing respect and cultural awareness.

8. Emirati Parenting: Emirati parenting develops autonomy and trust, promoting independence and exploration in children.

9. Emirati Work Culture: Emirati work culture values respect and inclusivity, accepting diversity and technological advancements.

10. Traditional Clothing: Traditional clothing symbolizes cultural heritage, reflecting a balance between tradition and practicality.

11. Three Cultural Cities: Dubai, Sharjah, and Al Ain offer unique cultural experiences, blending heritage with modern developments in the UAE.