1. Don’t use expletives in general.
While it’s at the discretion of where you are and who is around you, shouting expletives in a relatively conservative Muslim country is offensive. I would place this under common sense, but it’s official as well. This goes for using expletives towards another person. While tourists may not be aware, I would place long-term residents as those more likely to commit this offense. It’s not to say I don’t curse (if you know me, you know I love a good f-bomb), but I choose where and when I say it, based on my audience.
If you choose to use bad words in public, know that the maximum sentence can be detention for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding 10,000 AED. The fines escalate should you insult a public official. (Article 373 of the Penal Code).
2. And don’t use expletives online either.
In 2015, the Federal Supreme Court overturned two lower court sentences and convicted a person of swearing at another on WhatsApp. The new laws can include a penalty of up to 250,000 AED or imprisonment, and deportation from the country.
3. Don’t insult the ruling family or Islam.
Again, rules might be different where you come from, but the above are strictly not done. This also goes for touching a Qur’an if you are not Muslim. As religious values are widely respected in the UAE, offense to any religion is considered deeply offensive.
4. Avoid embracing in public.
Dubai made the news a few years ago for two British expats being arrested for having sex in public (on a beach). Guess what? They’d be arrested for that where I’m from too. While this law has any number of interpretations, again, simply take a moment to remind yourself where you are, and of the local customs and culture. As a visitor to any country, it is best to respect the people who are kind enough to open their borders for you to visit. So, keep your kissing (and other amorous activities) behind closed doors. Or, choose another country to visit.
5. Make sure to cover your shoulders.
While not specifically against the law, I’ll include clothing in this article because it’s a form of expression, at least for me. While bathing suits and tank tops are fine for the beach, it’s best to keep shoulders covered in the mall. I’ve grown so accustomed to more conservative clothing that going home to the States is usually a shock for the first few days. Honestly, I’m happy people are (a bit) more covered in the UAE — I really don’t need to see someone’s ass hanging out of their shorts.
6. Don’t make any rude gestures.
Yes, ‘speaking’ with your hands is also up for interpretation here. Related to an immature decision I made when I first arrived in 2007, I can tell you first hand that certain rude gestures are a one-way ticket to the police station. While I was lucky and left with a warning, this could have gone as far as imprisonment.
7. During Ramadan, eating or drinking in public is not allowed.
Ramadan is the holy month and while there tend to be dedicated restaurants and venues open during the day for dining (located behind covered walls or partitions), if walking through a mall or in public, know that eating, drinking, or chewing gum will most likely end up in someone telling you not to. The timing of Ramadan changes every year, so if planning a visit to the Middle East during the month, know that this will be in effect.
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