So Ali, you’ve just released a new guidebook about Dubai. How is this different from other guides?
The whole Ask Ali brand is based on the idea of an Emirati filling you in on the UAE’s language, culture, heritage, history, dos and don’ts and all that stuff. There is no other mini guide written by an Emirati about Dubai.
Are there any new revelations?
Oh yeah. There are sections which look at areas many other books have neglected, for example, the fact the UAE is not in the Persian Gulf, but the Arabian Gulf. There is also advice for foreign women in Dubai – because having men stare at you and follow you isn’t always because of the way you’re dressed. I’m trying to write about things that I see every day, and I’ve written this book for all expats who come to live in the UAE. But it’s also a tool for Emirati people who communicate with expats on a daily basis.
What do you think are the most common cultural faux pas made by expats here?
There are two main mistakes that are made most often. Some people have a perception that this region is all desert. Of course, in reality a lot of it is, but there is more to it. Other people arrive and go, ‘Wow, everybody is so open here. Everybody goes to the beach wearing very little and they don’t dress particularly modestly.’ From there they think, if no-one else is respecting the law, why should I? People don’t understand that they are in a Muslim nation so they must do things to help us and support us, in order for Emiratis to maintain whatever is left of our culture. It is sad that today we have to beg people, ‘Please dress modestly when you go to a mall; please understand that you are in a Muslim country.’ It breaks my heart, honestly.
What do you think is an appropriate dress code for the mall?
Anything that you would feel comfortable wearing in front of the Queen. You have a dress code when you’re meeting her – you don’t wear anything above the knee, you don’t show cleavage. I just came back from France and I didn’t see as relaxed a dress code over there as I’ve seen in Mall of the Emirates. The appropriate way to dress would be to wear something that doesn’t show cleavage and covers your shoulders, and don’t wear anything that finishes above your knee.
You’ve made a career from being the man with an answer for everything. What happens when you don’t know the answer?
I like to think that everything has an answer. Even if you ask me about things I have no personal connection with, such as questions about Christianity, Judaism or Buddhism, or about science, or the moon, I would go and search for the answer. Sometimes when I’m asked a difficult question, I go home to my library, or I ask my mentors or sheikhs, imams, masjids, and I will get the answer. If I can’t find the answer, it’s not a question.
Ali Al Saloom’s book, Ask Ali: Guide to Dubai, is on sale now at all good bookshops.