Dear Ali: What is the protocol for being invited to dine with an Emirati at their home? MS, Al Ain
Dear MS: Hospitality plays a major role in our culture. A good guest usually comes about 10 to 15 minutes later than originally planned. I know in some cultures time is taken more seriously but it's a sign of courtesy if you come a little late. Dining with us Emiratis is traditionally a social matter because it's all about sharing food together no matter where you are and with whom. To some people of our country or the Gulf region in general it's not polite to clear your plate because the host is more than happy to serve you more food. While eating, it is courteous, and a part of our tradition, to eat with your right hand. But of course if you're left-handed then it's totally fine to use a fork or spoon with your left hand. Often, we prefer to eat on the floor without a table and chairs. Don't forget that once you are both finished with eating the food, you will certainly be offered some Arabic coffee (Qahwa) or some tea. If you don't like coffee then ask for tea or something else. Try not to decline. If you simply can't take any more food or beverages, ask for some water and keep it on the table. Most of the time, the Arab coffee is served with some fresh dates and sweets. I am sure you will have a wonderful time with your hosts.
Dear Ali: Why is Al Ain a resort for many people who live in the UAE? JA, Sharjah
Dear JA: From its name Al Ain, which means "the Spring" the city is associated with a refreshing feeling that signifies its worth as a wonderful place to visit.
From its great nature resources to the calmness of its streets and the beautiful sounds of its trees, Al Ain also represents an important era of our beloved leader Sheikh Zayed, who lived in Al Ain and helped its people to overcome all the challenges they faced in the pre-oil era. Even then, Sheikh Zayed welcomed people from different parts of the world to Al Ain, hence the great story of Dr Kennedy who launched the first hospital in the history of Al Ain called "Oasis" hospital.
It was Sheikh Zayed's intention to preserve Al Ain as a traditional home, which is why you don't see high towers, and the houses in Al Ain are still very traditional. You will also find many forts there, such as the Jahili Fort, Murabba Fort, Mujairib Fort, Mazyad Fort, to name a few. They are all worth a visit.
Many years ago, due to its natural spring resources there was a concept of "Estraha", a rest area on the way to Al Ain from Abu Dhabi or from the northern emirates. These rest areas were founded over a spring because of good, fresh water that enabled a farm, which was turned into the public park it is today. Hence, the term "resort" stuck to Al Ain because of the experience of resting, relaxing and enjoying nature. Since Al Ain is surrounded by many beautiful oases and a lot of green parks, it isn't as warm there as it is on the coastline. These aspects make it an attractive and safe "resort" to relax and just enjoy the amazing and calm, natural surroundings. Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority is increasingly promoting tourism in the Al Ain city so that more people can recognise its beauty and uniqueness which cannot be compared with the loud and busy city life of Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Sharjah. Why not take a day trip with your family at the weekend and go and see Al Ain with your own eyes. I am sure you will like it. Have fun! Don't forget to check out the latest re-opened old and traditional "Souq Al Qattara" in Al Ain.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow //www.ask-ali.com">www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.