Ask Ali: Food for thought on eating meals with your hands

Ali Al Saloom offers tips and advice for living and working in the UAE.

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Dear Ali: I'm thinking of eating with my hands when I visit my Emirati friend who invited me for dinner at an Emirati restaurant, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Is it healthy? ZA, Ajman

Dear ZA: It's always fine to eat with your hands, as long as you're aware that there's an etiquette. In Islam, Prophet Mohammed has instructions about eating manners: while he was eating with a young man, he asked him to first thank God for what he has, then to eat with his right hand what is offered to his right or near to his dish.

Many Emiratis don't dine at tables but more on the floor, especially male youths. We have majlises, which are mats spread along the sides of the room, and decorated with pillows to rest on while we sit and eat. The main seat is located in the middle of the majlis, and is offered to the head of the family, while all others will be seated to his right or left, according to their age. Food is served on large trays, which are wide enough to serve more than 12 people. We do have forks and spoons, and some people will use them for eating. However, most of the time it's for adding some yogurt or salads.

I know that some people might be thinking "Oh, how disgusting!" But for us, using our hands is healthier and cleaner than using a spoon, simply because no one but myself will be using my hands to eat, but who knows how many people have used the same spoon, and whether it has been cleaned thoroughly?

But I would advise not to just dig in. Your hands should be washed thoroughly before you take your food from the tray. While scooping some rice from the spot just in front of you, move your hand to the edge of the tray into your fist, then to your mouth. Repeat the same, making sure that you're scooping from the spot that you started from. In Islam and Arabic culture, it's preferred to eat with your right hand at the table or when offering any food or drink to someone. The left hand is used for personal hygiene.

Dear Ali: Are there any guidelines that we should follow when creating business cards in the UAE? I heard that if your business card doesn't have Arabic on one side, it might be rejected. PI, Dubai

Dear PI: In the UAE, business cards are not much different from the rest of the world, except that usually one side is in Arabic and the other in English. If you don't have that, it doesn't mean that you or your business will be rejected, but some people could feel less appreciated if they don't see their mother language on a card that relates to a business in their country.

If you want to impress others, the translation should be correct, so have some of your Arabic colleagues review it. Focus on getting your name right, so that nobody looks foolish by saying it incorrectly.

If your company is based overseas, it helps to add a UAE mobile number, if you have one. In Arab culture, most people prefer to see a mobile number rather than an office number, because we believe that we can reach you quicker and at any time. In Asian countries, people often add Ms or Mr in front of their names, because it can be difficult to identify a name as male or female, but it's not important in our region.

Finally, hand your business card to someone with your right hand, which is part of our customs.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow //"> to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.


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