The word ‘etiquette’ might date back to the court of Louis XIV, but it remains as relevant today as it was 300 years ago. In the days of the French king the term evolved quickly from its original meaning, ‘keep off the grass’, to represent the combination of good manners, careful grooming and a regard for others’ beliefs and values that we still recognise today. Qualities which if anything are more important in today’s globalised world than ever – especially in a city as cosmopolitan as Dubai.
‘In both business and social occasions a gentleman with etiquette and manners definitely stands out from the rest,’ says Penny Edge, of Dubai-based image consultants SO Famous. ‘He would be the gentleman talking, laughing with a group of people, the man who everyone would like to speak to, with a genuine, unassuming concern for others. A man who to respect and admire, a well-groomed, articulate and awe inspiring individual – the man in tune with the world and its people.’
However Dubai’s healthy mix of an estimated 200 nationalities make adopting the correct etiquette for any given situation a social minefield. While British etiquette is generally seen as the international benchmark, however well-bred one might feel in their own country, today a true man of the world will be judged by their ability to adapt effortlessly to different nationalities and environments. The most important thing to get right is the first meeting. Penny adds: ‘Problems occur with people who are not sure how to handshake, or even if to handshake or to hug or kiss – and they end up doing a little dance with feet and hands.’ But she adds these embarrassing encounters can be avoided with just some basic cultural research.
In Dubai, the most common etiquette blunders occur in relation to gender. What is seen as being polite and respectful to women in Arabic culture can appear rude to their Western counterparts. Nasif Kayed, general manager at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, said: ‘[Men] accommodate and elevate women by giving them their space or comfort zone, they don’t approach you unless they know you, and they usually don’t extend their hand to greet you first, or sit right beside you on the metro, and may even pass up the elevator if a women is the only one on it to give [them] space. Men don’t shake hands with women out of respect for their comfort zone, not disrespect.’
The same applies to men discussing women. While it is considered good etiquette in the Western world to make polite enquires about a man’s wife, the same is not true in the Arab world. Asked what actions by Western men are frequently misinterpreted, Nasif added: ‘Asking personal questions: like how is your wife doing? I like her, she is a great woman.’
Thankfully, manners and respect are something that are easily learned. ‘Doing the right thing is not always easy, but with a small amount of practice it can become second nature,’ added Penny. ‘Etiquette will open doors, take you around the world and be admired by many people. It is within everyone’s reach and available to everyone who wishes to improve themselves.’
Find out more about the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding at www.cultures.ae