Before one even dips a toe into the surreal world of office politics, a newcomer to a foreign workplace must understand the basics of local business etiquette. Here is our guide to getting it right in Dubai.
Fridays and Ramadan: Friday is the Muslim day of prayer and rest and so scheduling meetings or making phone calls to Muslim colleagues or clients on this day should be avoided.
During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke between sunrise and sunset. Muslim hospitality allows that non-Muslims may be invited to eat and drink by their hosts, but this must take place sensitively, and strictly away from public gaze. Bottled-water swiggers be aware: this includes you. Re-hydrate away from the public gaze and with respect for your hosts.
Business hours: Dubai's fierce summer temperatures make taking a siesta a common practice. These breaks are generally taken between 2pm and 5pm. The Arab working week runs from Saturday to Wednesday with the working day running from 8am to 1pm. Business resumes after the temperatures have begun to cool from 4pm and carries on until 7pm. During Ramadan the working day is two hours shorter. Western-run businesses may differ.
Dress conservatively: Though often described as the most cosmopolitan and liberal of the Arab states, Dubai still adheres to an unspoken dress code that is both conservative and modest compared to that experienced in the West. In particular those working in the more rural and therefore traditional areas should take care to wear clothing that covers the body and limbs. Despite the often oppressive heat, those doing business in Dubai are expected to present themselves smartly.
Casually formal: Business meetings with Arab clients or colleagues can seem to begin in a very informal fashion and can often take place in eateries. In the usual extended preamble it is common to ask after family and to make polite chit chat. The true business portion of the meeting can sometimes arrive quickly and unexpectedly and be resolved in a very short time in comparison with Western business practices.
Never cause someone to lose face: Never criticise or correct either a client, or colleague in front of someone else. This public loss of face will be deeply resented by the individual. Keep all such sensitive discussions to private meetings away from the public glare.
Pressing the flesh: Arabic handshakes are different from the Western power-shake in that each is followed by a touching of the heart by the palm of the right hand as a gesture of sincerity. The full polite greeting should include the term ‘Mr' (Sayed) or ‘Mrs' (Sayeda) followed by the FIRST name. Note it is only permissible to shake a woman's hand if she first offers it to you.
Foot conscious: Never sit or lounge in a way that will cause the soles of your feet to point directly at someone else. Pointing the sole of your foot at someone, even by accident is considered extremely offensive in Arab culture.
Business lunches: These can be a lot more formal than Westerners are used to. Don't under any circumstances order alcohol to accompany your meal.
Business cards: It is considered polite to have one side of your card translated into the local language (Arabic), and to present this side of the card face up when passing it on to an Arab colleague or client.
Direct personal taxation is against the law in Dubai, which is one of the reasons why it is so attractive as an overseas base.
What not to do
Working in another country can mean having to adapt to a very different culture. Here is our guide to avoiding those potentially tricky faux pas when in Dubai.
Don't assume your sense of humour will travel: Leave your Fcuking t-shirts at home. Ditto the equally hilarious Aditoff, or any similar items that might include sensitive material. What might be classed as funny, puerile, ironic, satirical or anarchic in Britain might very well be considered deeply offensive in Arabic culture.
Don't drink alcohol in public: While the balmy winter climate in Dubai might make you hanker for an alfresco beer or seven, public consumption will leave you in very hot water. Alcohol is available for non-Muslims with a permit, but you must not be seen to be drunk in public, or offer alcohol to a Muslim. If working or travelling to the Emirate of Sharjah, note that alcohol is forbidden to all.
Don't photograph without thinking: Dubai is an extremely photogenic place, but it is forbidden to photograph women, and that men may only be photographed with their express permission. Do not point a camera at police, state or military personnel or property, or any other structure that might be considered sensitive.
Don't flaunt your sexuality: It is important to dress modestly and with respect to local customs and sensibility in any Arabic country. While there are underground gay communities throughout the Middle East, homosexuality is still officially taboo in Dubai and arrests are not uncommon.
Don't get into heavy discussions: For obvious reasons the Middle East is a sensitive area at present. It is neither polite nor wise to get into heated political or religious debate with your hosts.
Don't forget to haggle: In popular markets across the Arab world it is common practice to engage in bargaining with the stallholder when buying certain goods. Traders expect to drop their prices but the process should remain good natured and respectful at all times.
Don't judge Dubai by its cab drivers: Cab drivers are the same the world over; remember, their manner and viewpoints are rarely characteristic of the population as a whole.