Emirati wedding etiquette

Cultural tips and advice for attending an Emirati wedding

The Knowledge

An Emirati colleague of mine is getting married and she’s invited me to the wedding. Is there any essential etiquette I need to be aware of to avoid making an idiot of myself or coming across as disrespectful? Am I expected to buy a wedding gift? Can I bring my husband? Help!

First of all, since Emirati weddings involve separate ceremonies for men and women, you won’t be able to bring your husband. However, local couples are generally happy to accommodate as many wedding guests as physically possible (typically upwards of 300), so bringing a female friend shouldn’t be a problem. If possible, try to confirm this in advance with the bride’s father or another senior member of the wedding party.

Though modest attire is expected when you arrive at the venue, once guests are assembled abayas and shaylas will be removed, revealing glitzy designer dresses and decadent jewellery. Sometimes this even culminates in a fashion show, with guests taking it in turns to slink along a specially erected catwalk. If this happens, do your best to get involved and follow the lead of the local women. Leave your camera at home, though – despite the opulent clothes and decor, taking pictures at an Emirati wedding is usually forbidden, and is more than likely to cause offence.

Food will be served up in vast quantities (usually after coffee and dates), so it’s best to arrive on an empty stomach, else you’ll risk appearing discourteous. You won’t be expected to clear your plate entirely, but as long as you try a bit of everything you should escape any accusatory looks. Also, remember to keep your scarf to hand once the plates are cleared, since this is usually when the groom will be arriving, meaning the women will be required to cover up.

Gifts aren’t expected on the day, but if you’re particularly close to the bride or groom, feel free to send something before or after the ceremony. Most weddings are preceded by a similar gathering at the bride’s house the day before the main reception, which is the perfect opportunity to hand over your offerings. As with most cultures, gifts of food, clothing, ornaments or domestic items are all considered appropriate.

Of course, not all of the aforementioned points are set in stone, and you’ll find that traditions vary depending on a family’s background. Therefore, the best way to clarify any concerns is to approach a member of the organising party. It is far more likely they’ll appreciate the effort you’ve gone to than take offence at your ignorance.

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