A note on PDA

When I first came to the UAE, I faced the same issue as every freshman — meeting new people every day and trying to remember their names. We all come ...

Sep 14, 2013

When I first came to the UAE, I faced the same issue as every freshman — meeting new people every day and trying to remember their names. We all come from different countries and thus greet each other in various ways: shake hands, hug, kiss on the cheek once, twice or even three times, rub each others’ noses, fold hands in front, etc. In my home country of Georgia, it is normal to greet anyone with two or three kisses — but would this be appropriate in the UAE?
When one comes to the UAE, he or she may already be influenced by all the stereotypes surrounding Arab culture and Islamic traditions that perforate the press and media. The word that is always on your mind is appropriate. If I go and talk to them, will it be appropriate? If I shake their hands, will they think it’s inappropriate? All these questions bear more significance in such a diverse community.  My suggestion is to try to figure out your own way with each individual. Here are some general tips of what is appropriate and what is not in the UAE:
It is most appropriate to shake hands with a person of your gender. Any man should wait until a woman offers to shake hands and proceed only after that. Kissing cheeks is appropriate among people of the same gender and among people of different gender if they are related by blood. If you are among your expat friends, these rules are different, but it is always good to remember these tips when meeting somebody from the local community.
Holding hands in public
Men and women holding hands in public can attract attention. However, you may see men holding hands quite often. This is a cultural norm that is widely accepted throughout the UAE.
Public displays of affection are strictly prohibited in the UAE. Greeting each other by a kiss on the cheek is fine as long as a passerby does not think it has a sexual connotation. As you may know, anyone in the UAE can contact the police to report what they consider to be examples of inappropriate behavior. As the National reported, this happened on Jan. 10, 2013, to a couple that was allegedly kissing on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. A man was jailed, sentenced to 80 lashes for drunkenly kissing his girlfriend, and both man and woman were deported afterwards.
Keep in mind that there should be appropriate behavior in public transportation, including cabs. The driver of any cab has a right to drive you to the police station if he thinks there is something inappropriate happening in the car. Gulf News reported on May 6, 2012 that an Irish man and a British woman were arrested for having sex in the backseat of a taxi after drinking at The Irish Village in Dubai. The taxi driver was offended when the couple started acting sexually and reported them to police in a patrol car, who then arrested the couple for being drunk in public and having sex outside marriage.
Sexual activity
An age of consent in Abu Dhabi and other emirates in the UAE does not exist since sex outside of marriage is an illegal activity in the UAE, no matter your age. Technically any unmarried, heterosexual couple can be deported in the case of being reported for engaging in sexual activity. Homosexual activity is banned in the UAE: no kissing, no dating and no marriage. What’s more, any phone messages containing sexual content — including text, images and videos — are strictly prohibited. An example of this is an incident that happened on April 5, 2012  when a woman was jailed for sending a nude photo of herself to a man she knew from work. She appeared in the Court of Appeal in Abu Dhabi where, according to The National, the judge said "You've been accused by your sponsor of sending an indecent picture of yourself to another man to push him to having sex ... So you were doing the devil's job basically, then the man sent you an indecent picture of himself.”
Of course, everybody has a different way of expressing his or her affection, and it is up to you to decide how to behave in public. However, it is important to keep in mind the different cultural setting you are in, respect local laws and follow traditions while keeping in mind that we are very welcomed guests in the UAE.
Beso Turäzashvili is a contributing writer. Email him at
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