Ask Ali: On entry visas and shawarmas

Ali Alsaloom advises on entry visas, shawarma serving hours and Arabic spelling quirks.

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Dear Ali: My wife has a Thai passport and I have a German one. Do we need a visa to visit Dubai? HT, Germany

Dear HT: With your German passport you can get a visa on arrival at immigration. This is basically an entry stamp, free of charge, which allows you to stay for up to 30 days.

It is a bit different for your wife. She needs to arrange a visa before travelling. A tourist visa can be obtained for individuals from various countries, including Thailand. The tourist visa entitles its holder to a 30-day stay, is non-renewable and requires the sponsorship of hotels and tour operators. The fee is Dh100. If you book a hotel or a package holiday via a tour operator, they might be able to arrange this, but check it out before you finalise your plans as not all hotels and operators will do this for you.

If you are staying in Dubai for only a few days before flying on to somewhere else, you might be able to get your wife a so-called stop-over, or transit, visa. Emirates airline issues these free of charge. I hope this helps with your holiday plans. I look forward to welcoming you and your wife to our country.

Dear Ali: My husband and I have just moved to Abu Dhabi and we very much appreciate the advice you offer. My question is about the lovely shawarma that our waiter at the Lebanese Flower restaurant told us is not served until 6pm anywhere in Abu Dhabi. Why is that? PF, Abu Dhabi

Dear PF: I love your question. First of all, marhaba, hello and welcome to Abu Dhabi. Thanks for the kind words - they're much appreciated. In terms of being unable to find shawarma for lunch, the explanation is quite simple: it is partly for the same reason why people in other countries would not find omelettes or waffles served at dinner - it just isn't part of the culture. But shawarma is served in the evening mostly because of the time it takes to cook, be taken off the special grills, and be carved up to serve. It is therefore more practical for restaurants to serve the dish at dinner time and later into the night.

Your waiter at Lebanese Flower is offering a general idea of the approximate time when shawarma would be served around town. Some places might dish it up at 6.15pm and others around 5.30pm - but it is more of a light meal anyway, as we usually have a smaller meal for dinner. Lunch is often the big meal of the day, when we go for a bit more than just a sandwich.

Here's some insider advice: the best tasting shawarma you'll find in the capital is at Al Safadi restaurant located in Al Khalidiyah, Zayed 2nd Street. Its phone number is 02 666 0201, and in my eyes, it serves the best shawarma sandwich in the whole country.

Dear Ali: I have noticed online that Arabs include numbers between words. What does that mean? OM, Bahrain

Dear OM: Because Arabic has letters and pronunciations that are not found in the western alphabet, we have come up with creative ways of using numbers to signify these Arabic letters. Even though some language institutions have their own interpretations of numbers and letters, the ones I recommend are listed below. The numbers correspond to the shapes of certain Arabic letters, so it's easier to understand.

'A = 2 , as in so2al; A = 3, as in Al 3in; gh = '3, as in Al '3arbiya; kh = 5, as in 5halifa;taa = 6, as in 6weelah; h= 7, as in 7abibi; ss = 9, as in a9far; dh = '9, as in Abu '9abi

Language lesson

Arabic: Hakeem


Hakeem is a wordused to describe a wise person. Back in the old days, when education was limited and there were few doctors, a medical practitioner would generally be referred to as "Al Hakeem" because his knowledge was rare. Today, hakeem is used for both senses of the word, but we usually say it when we see a wise act: "Wow, he is really hakeem! He's a really wise man." ("Hakeema" when talking to a woman.) It's also one of Allah's most beautiful, qualitative names and you may meet men named "Abdul Hakeem", the servant of the wisest.