Business Etiquette in Dubai: 7 Things You Need to Know

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Dubai is one of the most visited destinations in the world with many attractions such as the world’s tallest tower and the uber exuberant luxury on display. The city is the centre of trade and commerce in the Middle East and is home to over 20,000 international companies, including offices of 124 of the Fortune 500 companies. Dubai’s economic performance is improving year after year due to their innovative business strategies. It’s no surprise that Dubai has exponentially transformed itself to a leading trade and tourist hub over the years.

The first week of our tri-city journey in Dubai introduced us to a new routine and a new culture. The orientation week involved an introduction to the business and cultural landscape of Dubai. This included thinking about how a diverse set of businesses from varying cultures set up in Dubai and stood out in a competitive market; what makes Dubai a hub for business in the region; as a newcomer, how can one equip themselves with the cultural intelligence to excel?

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To answer these questions as part of our global learning, we had two key interactions lined up. The first was a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) that helped us get a better understanding of the customs and culture of the UAE. The second was a workshop with Arab culturalist, Nasif Kayed – an Emirati business entrepreneur, who has established over 45 business ventures. He strives to promote the region, building peaceful co-existence and understanding through education and training & development programs that focus on cultural intelligence. Here are some of my key takeaways from the session:

  • Respect the culture and law of the land: Always be aware of the customs and culture of the place when you are in a new country. Being an Islamic nation, the local traditions and sensitivities in the UAE are different from those in India, Singapore or Australia. However, there’s no doubt that it is a culturally rich country. The people of UAE are welcoming and friendly. Although the national culture revolves around the religion of Islam, other religions are equally respected, and churches & temples can be found alongside mosques.
  • Dress modestly: Most Emirati males wear a kandura, an ankle length white shirt and most Emirati women wear an abaya, a black flowing-over garment covering most of the body. Expats can wear the local or their own traditional attire but a business suit for men and modest dress/suit, covering the arms, legs and shoulders, for women are considered professional. Avoid wearing open-toed sandals.
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  • Language: Arabic is the most commonly spoken language, followed by English, French, Russian, Hindi and more. Most of the public sector proceedings and official paperwork are in Arabic. If you intend to have a long stay or work commitment in the UAE, it will be helpful to learn the language. Having said that, English is also widely spoken across the country.
  • Greetings: The customary greeting in Dubai is “As-salam alaikum” (peace be upon you), to which the reply is “Wa alaikum as-salam” (and upon you be peace). When entering a meeting, general introductions begin with a handshake. You should greet each of your Emirati counterparts individually. After the handshake, you will want to place you right hand on your heart or chest as a token of respect. If you’re a man, avoid shaking hands with a woman unless they extend their hand first. Protocol allows for little or no touching between men and women in public. A woman may, however, choose to hold out a sleeve-covered hand for you to shake.
  • Exchanging business cards: It is recommended that you print one side of your business card in Arabic. Bear in mind that during meetings, you should exchange business cards immediately after introductions, presenting it with both hands or with the right. Never offer or receive anything with your left hand. On receiving the cards, do not keep them away immediately; keep them on the table instead.
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  • Business meetings: Personal relationships are key to doing business in the UAE. Face-to-face meetings are preferred as phone calls and emails are sometimes seen as impersonal. Appointments should be made not less than two weeks in advance and confirmed a few days before the actual meeting. The working week within the private sector is Sunday to Thursday from 9 am to 5 pm and in the public sector between Sunday to Thursday from 7.30 am to 2.30 pm (some offices remain open until 4 pm). Try to avoid meetings/events on Thursday evenings and Fridays since these are days of prayer. Friday and Saturday are the official days of rest though some people work on Saturdays.
  • A land of opportunities: UAE is an established economy. Its fast, multicultural and luxurious lifestyle is quite an experience. Every day in the UAE is a new and dynamic one. What is important is to let it all sink in and not get overwhelmed. A vital lesson I learnt from the session, as an upcoming global leader, is that the UAE is a phenomenal country to work in. So, take risks, be dynamic and never give up!

About the author:

Raj Shekhar Chouksey is a Master of Global Business student from the intake of May 2019. He has worked with Byju’s and Wildcraft Ltd. A successful sportsman to the core, Raj is a state level badminton player and a zonal level footballer; he has also won many national level fests. He is an avid reader and fitness enthusiast, who is crazy about books, business ideas and clubbing. This article includes the experience of and insights from Kushagra Kashyap (MGB May 2019 intake).