Tipping taxi drivers is fine, but not obligatory

Opinions vary on tipping in general, and tipping taxi drivers is no exception.

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Dear Ali: I use taxis as my main source of transportation and I always feel that I have to tip the driver. However, some friends are saying that I don’t have to. Can you please explain if I should or not? BG, Sharjah

Dear BG: As you know, opinions on this vary, so you should tip if you want to but, of course, you are not obliged to do so.

Some people may appreciate the taxi driver’s efficiency and good manners – or if they offered up good conversation or made you laugh or smile, or even played your favourite song.

If the taxi driver opens the door for you, helps with luggage or shopping bags, gets you to your destination quickly (but not by speeding), or was simply polite and chatted to you, then tipping is a nice gesture.

As for how much? I say: don’t tip and tell. Give as much as you want to. When I tip, I seek God’s blessing, barakah, and I think the recipient should appreciate Dh1 or Dh100 if they are also grateful to God.

When you give something to somebody, you should not seek anything in return except, perhaps, a smile and a thank you.

Dear Ali: I’m an Arab female working and living in the UAE and I always wonder about the abaya and whether it is OK to wear it or not. Is it restricted to Emirati ladies only? I’m a bit confused as to whether it is considered disrespectful to wear it. HK, Dubai

Dear HK: Yes, you can wear the abaya. It is not limited to only Emiratis or Arabs, but intended for all Muslims. Muslim women dress conservatively, and the abaya is a way to ensure that their bodies are covered. It is not always black, as many Muslim women around the world wear different colours, depending on where they are from.

However, it is important to recognise that if you dress like a local, you should behave accordingly. The national dress needs to be respected – don’t let the customised Versace abaya fool you. Even though women often look fashionable, the truth is that the abaya is there for a purpose: to cover the body (and hair with the hijab), which helps women achieve maturity and respect. They want to be modest and conservative when they pray and visit the mosque.

I always try to remind my Muslim sisters that wearing the abaya is not about the colour or where it is made; it’s about how they behave. A woman wearing an abaya while drinking a cocktail at a club is unacceptable. I always give this example in my workshops: Imagine me wearing a Scottish kilt (which, by the way, I have). If I started doing something unethical, people would associate my behaviour with the Scots in general. Unfortunately, we often judge each other based on what we wear and how we look.

Others are OK with non-Muslims wearing the abaya and encourage tourists to have their picture taken in national dress. If you ask me, the tourists are often wearing the dress for the wrong reason – to display an exotic “Arabian” image of themselves while doing something unacceptable, like hugging or kissing. Then, inevitably, it’s posted on Facebook. But public displays of affection are not part of our religion or traditions, so we prefer not to have them associated with our national dress.

My advice is it’s best to wear the abaya for good reasons. Think more about why you feel comfortable wearing it, and what it offers you, on the inside and outside. I’m sure people from any culture will appreciate others wearing their national dress if it is for the right reasons.

Wearing the abaya during the day then switching to a short skirt and tight top in the evening doesn’t send the right message about the intention of the person wearing the abaya in the first place.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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