Business etiquette for expats

How to address a new client and more in multicultural Dubai

Area Guides

You’ve been in Dubai for a while now, but you’re not entirely sure whether to address your host by his first name or surname, you’re still dithering over the dates whenever he offers them, and if you’re a woman you’re wondering whether a handshake is going to risk offending someone. Sound familiar?

This is where the advice of UAE-based cultural consultant Amal Loring comes in. Having been based in Dubai for the past 15 years, since moving from the UK, Amal has a better understanding than most expats of the local social nuances that everyone should try to understand. A highly successful IT sales manager when she arrived in the city, she has since converted to Islam, married an Emirati and established MindBody Dynamixs, a company that aims to help bridge the gap between international companies and Emirati culture.

The most commonly asked questions usually involve how to deal with delays and get orders confirmed, whether it’s appropriate to bring gifts back to clients from travels abroad, and how to appeal to an Emirati’s sense of humour. Amal gives an example of how to handle the latter. ‘It’s a Mr Bean-type humour. Islamically, it’s wrong to laugh at somebody else, as an American or Brit might laugh at someone falling over, but with Mr Bean it’s harmless, not harmful,’ she explains. ‘It’s not degrading or subjugating or pitying. And very rarely will you see an Emirati throw his head back and laugh loudly, because it’s not fitting to do that – you should never do things overtly to draw attention to yourself.’

Amal willingly shares tales of her own mistakes when she first moved to the UAE, such as becoming offended when one local male client refused to shake her hand, and feeling suspicious when another perpetually broke eye contact during a meeting. Today, she knows both these behaviours stem from respect, according to the teachings of the Qur’an, and this is what she teaches her clients during her sessions. ‘Over the past 18 months, I’ve been talking to organisations such as hotels, oil firms, communications companies, retail – all to talk about the problems that their customer-facing staff, salespeople or senior management have,’ she explains. ‘At the start of my programme we have a meal, whether it’s breakfast of lunch, during which I’ll begin by explaining the etiquette of coffee, for example, which is to offer it with the right hand.’ The reason for this is that the left hand is used for things that are unclean.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of the intricacies of interacting with the Emirati people in the most respectful way possible. If you’re stuck, don’t be afraid to ask – and failing that, give Amal a call.
For enquiries or to book a session with Amal Loring’s MindBody Dynamix, email or visit

Unusual etiquette

Amal Loring reveals which unusual practices befuddle her expat clients the most

‘Respectful dressing for both men and women – includes not wearing lots of jewellery, nose rings, earrings, lip piercings, and anything that’s too in-your-face, such as lime green, or anything that shows off lots of chest hair. Men’s shorts need to be below the knee, and ladies should cover the chest, down to the elbows and below the knee.’

Licking hands
‘I think this is the most unusual custom. Emirati Muslims will lick their hands or fingers once they’ve finished eating. This is because you don’t know what part of ‘baraka’ (the blessing or reward from Allah) is held on which fingers. You could wipe your hands off, and there could be some baraka or reward held in that piece of rice that you’ve just thrown away.’

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