Ask Ali: On walking styles, and respect for animals in the UAE

The pace of life in the desert, the foreign concept of animals as pets and more cultural insight.

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Dear Ali: I am researching Emirati traditions and customs. I have noticed that Emiratis seem to walk slowly and proudly, and that men and women walk differently. Is there a historical reason for this? Also, how do Emiratis greet each other and how do they greet other people? In France, where I come from, when a man meets a woman he often kisses her on both cheeks, but he would not kiss another man. EI, Dubai

Dear EI: Everybody has his or her own style, but I guess your observation is right that we do tend to be a bit laid back. There are two reasons. First, think of our climate - it would be neither smart nor healthy to physically over-stress by moving quickly. Second, consider modesty, which in our culture is a sign of respect and which influences how we present ourselves in public. This includes how we walk, talk and gesture.

As for men and women walking differently, just look at our footwear. I do not know why, but many of our women like to wear something that looks extremely uncomfortable and unpractical - high heels. Men in sandals walk differently than women in these torture instruments.

As in the rest of the world, our greeting rituals are defined by the relationship of the people involved. As a general rule, greetings between persons of the same gender tend to involve body contact, and between opposite genders, usually not, unless they are family members. The greeting can range from a discreet nod of the head to a handshake, a brief kiss on the cheek, a nose-kiss between tribal men or a big hug and three kisses between two women who are good friends. A local woman will in most cases kiss another local woman, but maybe not a European woman unless she knows and respects her.

Dear Ali: Why does no one care about animals in the UAE? I see many pet stores that abuse animals. Why doesn't someone close them? JO, Abu Dhabi

Dear JO: Respect for any living creature is part of humanity. At the same time I am afraid that you are offending thousands of people in the UAE with your statement that nobody cares about animals here.

I agree that not enough is being done on animal care. But I can assure you that we are working on it and that things will improve, most importantly by educating people and raising awareness.

Our ancestors dealt with animals respectfully, and this is a tradition we value, although we might have to remind people of it. Without camels, goats, sheep, rabbits and chickens, people would not have survived.

The concept of pets, however, is not a part of our tradition. When food and water are hardly enough for all members of the family, nobody would even think about "creatures of leisure".

Unfortunately, this sense of respect for other living creatures has become lost today. But there are steps being taken in the right direction: the camel and livestock market in Al Ain, which was disgusting, has relocated to a new and beautiful site; the Arabian Mau cat, previously treated as a burden and a disturbance, now is officially recognised as a unique and ancient breed; and the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, for which I am an environmental ambassador, has invested a lot of money and human capital into protection and educational campaigns about endangered species.

People should refuse to buy cheap pets from questionable pet shops and accept that they have to pay a higher price to get registered animals from respectful owners.

Language lesson

Arabic: Aheb al barr welmazyoon

English: I love the desert and beauty.

This is a common phrase we Emiratis use. It's an expression of the things we love and connect with, the desert being one of them, and of the beauty of nature and, of course, women.