Ask Ali: What’s the culture of eating in public in the UAE?

Dear Ali: What's the culture of eating in public in the UAE and is it important for people to follow? IS, USA

Dear IS: The UAE is growing its international standards in everything, although it's very important to follow some cultural norms and etiquettes that are still applied in any public place. For Arabs, it's critical to maintain a good image and reputation in public, so that's why anything done in public has to follow certain rules.

There’s a formal structure to full meals, similar to how you would present an international menu, beginning with starters (salads, soups, fresh vegetables) and ending with tea or fresh juices. In between comes one or two main courses, with a dish of fish, chicken or meat served with rice or fried potatoes.

Alcohol is never served. It would be bad to offer it to Arab Muslim guests while at a public dinner.

Everything that happens when eating in public has to be delicate, with prestige and etiquette. It’s inappropriate to slurp, loudly chomp or splatter food around when eating. Eating too fast is also considered to be improper.

When eating in public, Arabs don’t use their hands, unless it’s a very traditional restaurant – or if they’re feeling really comfortable when out with friends.

While using cutlery, Muslims might use a fork with their right hand and a knife with the left (the opposite to the western standards), as Islam advises to eat with the right hand only.

An image of a person eating in public should be as well-mannered as possible, though inside our houses, the tradition of eating with hands (which has its own etiquette) would be followed by all generations.

While working outside of my home country, I got into a medical issue that cost me all of the money that I earned there. Now, I'm moving to work in Abu Dhabi. Should I expect the same risk of spending cash if anything happens? GB, Lithuania

Dear GB: First of all, I wish you good health.

Certainly, this is one of the most risky things when working or living abroad. But when travelling to the UAE, you should stay in a relaxed mood.

The UAE has highly developed health-care services. It has a good level of hygiene, maintained by high living standards – this is something that’s even more culturally important to Arabs than living the luxury lifestyle.

Apart from the federal health-care policy of free emergency treatment for all nationalities, Abu Dhabi offers a compulsory health-insurance scheme that covers all residents.

It’s mandatory in Abu Dhabi for a company to get health insurance for every employee. The insurance covers multiple expenses, from regular visits to a doctor or buying prescribed drugs in a pharmacy, to high-tech health check-ups if needed.

There are different types of insurance. All are designed to either completely avoid the resident paying health-care expenses or to minimise the costs when certain treatments are required.

You can find out more online by visiting one of the websites of the many companies that provide health insurance in the UAE.

I hope that this information will keep you in a positive mood when you make your move to Abu Dhabi.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question.


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