Top 10 Cultural Shocks for Newcomers in Dubai

Are you currently in Dubai for business or pleasure? Whatever it is, welcome to the city of Gold! If you’re an avid traveler, dealing with cultural shocks upon visiting a new city can be expected even if you’ve already done your research; it can be a case of expectations vs. reality for newcomers in Dubai.

Also Read: 21 Things First-Time Tourists Should Know When Visiting the UAE

This article will guide you on the top culture shocks you’ll experience during your stay in the city. Don’t worry; you’ll eventually adapt and learn to embrace Dubai’s diverse and exciting atmosphere in no time! Here are the top culture shocks you’ll experience in the city.

1. There are more expats than locals or Emiratis

Yes, you’ll notice the city is brimming with expats than the locals since, according to statistics, there are about 90 million expats in the UAE while 1.17 million Emiratis; this is because of the job opportunities that UAE has in store, which made it a hotspot for expats who are keen to live in the Middle East. You’ll notice countless Gulf Kids or children or second generation expats born and raised in the UAE, making it perfect for expats to raise families in the city.


2. The numerous amount of shopping centres, malls, supermarkets, and sales you’ll see in the UAE

There’s a reason why many people around the world love to go to Dubai to shop until they drop; you’ll also notice why most expats or residents have a habit of retail therapy since it’s hard to resist the discounts or sales many malls or stores are offering. If you’re someone who loves to shop or buy online then Dubai should be your go-to. As a newcomer, you should visit the top malls in the city, from Dubai Mall to Mall of the Emirates, to get a gist of luxurious shopping and hospitality!

3. The daily greeting or pleasantries can be too formal

In Dubai, you’ll notice that people from all walks of life, from taxi drivers to Hotel Managers, can be polite, greeting you and then asking how you are. The UAE is part of the GCC or middle east, and part of their culture is to be respectful and courteous to all. If you’re not used to being too formal in greeting, you’ll eventually adapt since most people here will greet you sometimes in their language, from Arabic to Hindi.

4. Language barriers or differences

Since Dubai is home to numerous expats globally, it’s natural for some to experience language barriers or differences. For example, when you’re buying a tablecloth, when you say yards, others will know meter; if girdle or binder for the stomach, others know it as stomach belt. Other nationalities will talk to you in their language or have nonverbal cultural cues when greeting or conversing with you, and you’ll eventually pick up and learn to adapt.

It’s essential to keep in mind that not everyone in the city is a native English speaker, which is why its best to speak simple or layman English words; it would also be best if you know how to speak Arabic to help you navigate the city, however, many expats who have lived years in the UAE thrived without being fluent in Arabic, but it never hurt to learn a new language especially if you have plans to study or work in the city.

5. Women and men are separated in the metro or bus

Gender segregation can be a tricky issue, but in the UAE or the Middle East, women and men are separated in public commutes like in the metro or bus to respect women’s privacy and avoid sexual harassment. Again, Dubai is an Arab city that values respect, diversity, and Arab cultures and traditions. If you’re a newcomer and notice that women are asking you to move to the men’s cabin to avoid the fines or to respect their privacy do so.

6. WhatsApp is the common communication channel

If you come from the Philippines, Whatsapp is not the main communication channel since there’s messenger or discord. In the UAE, WhatsApp messaging should be your go-to since other communication channels are banned in the UAE for video calls. If you’re someone who is a fan of video calls, you can check out the list of communication channels allowed like Botim or Google Meet.

7. You can’t just take photos or videos of strangers in the street or public

Yes, if street photography is your thing, you might need to reconsider and check out the UAE media laws and social media laws to avoid getting heavily fined or get sued, it’s not allowed to take pictures of people in the UAE without their consent; therefore you must be careful in taking photographs in public, ask for consent if possible and be professional. Aspiring creatives or photographers in the city managed to thrive in the city amidst these strict laws, so don’t fret!

8. PDA is prohibited in public

Public display of affection should be a no-no in the UAE; since its an Arab country that values its tradition and culture, it would be best to keep it formal and be affectionate in private since it’s a way to show respect for Dubai’s laws and culture.

9. It’s disrespectful to eat or drink in public during the Ramadan season

Suppose you came to Dubai before or during the Ramadan season. In that case, you’ll notice that most of the cafeterias, hotels, or restaurants are closed during the day as a sign of respect to locals who are fasting and upholding their religious beliefs. It would be wise not to eat or drink in public as a sign of respect to the locals and to avoid getting in trouble with the authorities or locals.

10. The numerous amount of perfumes or Bakhoors you’ll smell in malls

Perfume or fragrance lovers will love to shop and stay in Dubai since there are plenty of perfumes and bakhoors in-store; at first, you’ll be overwhelmed, but its essential to know that fragrance has a massive part in Arabian culture and beauty treatments.