In first appearances I thought Dubai must be a very Western city in terms of business culture. This is a destination made of glass skyscrapers and towering hotels, joined by wide roads crammed with the latest prestige vehicles. I soon learned, however, that appearances can be deceptive, and despite a very modern appearance, Dubai is traditional at heart, even when it comes to business.
In this post I’ll look at some of the key aspects of business etiquette in Dubai. If you’re moving there soon, you might also find it useful to read more about becoming an Expat in our free eBook The New Expat.
Business and religion
The most important influence on business etiquette in Dubai is religion. By Western standards locals are very devout in their practices, and this includes city workers who opt for designer suits rather than traditional garb. Regular daily prayer and observation of religious festivals is standard, so be prepared for how this might impact on business dealings. Visitors should be aware that Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, so scheduling meetings, lunches or even casual drinks for this holy day is a no-no.
Likewise, the holy festival of Ramadan requires devotees to undergo a strict fast during daylight hours. So during this month not only would suggesting a meal be out of the question, but eating, drinking or smoking openly during this time could potentially cause offence.
Alcohol is also generally frowned upon, although some locals do indulge. If you’re used to making connections over a few glasses of wine you’d be advised to think of an alternative entertainment for business colleagues. Traditional informal venues are shisha bars, where conversations can continue long into the night over multiple cups of mint tea and fruit-scented tobacco pipes.
Religion also affects the typical ‘weekend’ in Dubai. The business week runs from Saturday through to Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday the rest days. So prepare for requests sent on a Thursday to be left unmet until you get back to work on Monday if you’re working a Western week.
The extreme heat also makes a long afternoon break common – although this is being phased out in many offices as air conditioning makes it unnecessary.
Dress and business etiquette in Dubai
If you’re working in Dubai you’ll soon get used to the elegant white Kandura, or flowing robes of Arabic men. This attire is commonly worn in business settings, and helps keep the wearer cool and crisp despite the sweltering heat. For business dealings Westerners are expected to meet the same high standards of smart dress, which includes impeccably neat attire and sufficiently modest clothing. They’ll be very few occasions where business dealings are not conducted in clement air con, so you may find you’ll want to wear more rather than less in any case – ironically Dubai business premises can be quite chilly.
Women in particular should pay attention to modest dress. Culture in Dubai is such that females tend to stay in the home or at the sidelines. Although this attitude is nowhere near as strict as in neighbouring UAE nations, and women are now seen in positions of authority, but it is best to meet the culture halfway with covered arms, legs and by avoiding low cut or excessively tight clothing.
A final thought on business etiquette in Dubai
With a little preparation and forethought Westerners can easily navigate business etiquette in Dubai, and you’ll soon find it a supremely professional destination and a joy to do business in.
For more on making the move abroad, don’t forget to download our free eBook The New Expat which covers family matters, accommodation issues, financial arrangements, medical considerations and much more.