Culture and Business Etiquette in the United Arab Emirates

Term Paper, 2019

25 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Table of Contents

Table of figures

1 Introduction

2 Demographic review
2.1 Age and Urbanisation
2.2 Educational system
2.3 Traditional Markets & Souks in Abu Dhabi
2.4 Dubai mall
2.5 Economic sectors

3 Business Etiquette
3.1 Salutation
3.2 Relationships and private area
3.3 Negotiations

4 Cultural Differences
4.1 Culture in the UAE
4.2 Hofstede Scale
4.3 Comparex Countries UAE and Germany

5 Summary


Table of figures

Figure 1 Demographic tree of UAE 2018

Figure 2 Hofstede Scale comparison

1 Introduction

During the semester break I went to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where I learnt a lot about the culture of the people/inhabitants. Based on my experiences from this time, I would like to learn more about their business etiquette, as well as the culture and similar­ities between the UAE and the German culture. The comparison is based on the findings of previous research and scientific work or general secondary research.

Due to the increasing attractiveness of the UAE as a tourist destination, as well as its growing economic importance, it is essential to deal with the deeply rooted traditions in the Arab culture and their customs in business life. This paper aims to provide an over­view of the UAE. The awareness of different cultures shall be awakened and used to avoid cultural misunderstandings in business and tourism, while promoting long-term relation­ships.2

2 Demographic review

2.1 Age and Urbanisation

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 Demographic tree of UAE 2018

The population pyramid shows the age and gender of the country's population while providing insights about social stability and political stability, as well as economic devel­opment. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, males shown on the left and females on the right side. The populations are broken down into four-year age groups. On the bottom, the youngest age group and the oldest at the top.

- total land area is about 83.600km2
- median age is 32,6 years
- life expectancy is 78,5 years
- population in 2019 is about 9,827,654 million 2
- GDP 414,2 billion $

2.2 Educational system

Since the founding of the UAE there has been school attendance. The education system in the United Arab Emirates is very good and free for all citizens. While girls and boys still attend preschool together, primary school is divided, as in most of the Arab states. There is a compulsory school attendance up to the ninth grade. On average, one teacher usually teaches about 15 students.

Education policy has the highest priority and is one of the largest items in the government budget. The UAE has been investing consistently for many years in the development and transformation of the education sector. The Ministry of Education has implemented the "Education 2020" programs, which aim to introduce progressive teaching methods. Scholarships are also awarded generously to Emirati students. In addition to the univer­sities in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there are around 17 universities of applied sci­ences and one university sponsored by the state oil company. Private universities with an international focus and branches of foreign universities offer foreign and Emirati students the opportunity to study at a high level. Since 2012, three German Universities of Applied Sciences offer a four-year course of study with a Bachelor's degree in logistics. 2014 the number of enrolled students in the UAE was about 143,060, in Germany there are about 2,912,203 students enrolled in university.

In the school sector, the aim is to improve the level of education through a mixture of privatization, increased competition and the integration of Emirati children in interna­tional schools.3

2.3 Traditional Markets & Souks in Abu Dhabi

Souk is a word from Arabic for “marketplace”. In the past, India unloaded their cargo and the goods, which were sold in the nearby souks. Over the years, the range of merchandise has dramatically diversified. Today you can find spices, silks and perfumes, electronic goods, souvenirs, clothing and household items. It is worth to visit the souks because auf the bustling atmosphere and the variety of goods. Also observing the traditional way of doing business is possible. A famous Souk is the Spice Souk.4

2.4 Dubai mall

The Dubai mall has over 1,200 shops, it is one of the largest shopping centers in the world. The mall is spread over four floors and is as big as about 49 football fields, there is much to see and to discover in this huge shopping center. The mall is located in Downtown Dubai. Some activities you can do there include:

- Shopping an hanging out,
- Enjoying the view from Burj Khalifa,
- Admiring the fountain show,
- Visiting the Dubai Aquarium, or/and
- Experiencing the large indoor waterfall5

2.5 Economic sectors

Oil and gas

The UAE is one of the ten most oil and gas rich countries in the world. Both raw materials are the economic basis of the country. The verified oil reserves in January 2017 amounted to 97,8 billion barrels or 5.9% of the world reserves (= rank 7), which is a production rate of 3,4 million barrels/day (September 2017). These resources would last for about 115 - 120 years. In the same year, the secured reserves of natural gases amounted to 6,09 billion m3 or 3.5% of the world reserves (= rank of 7) and would last the country for about 122 years.6


Dubai is the most important city in the tourism sector. In 2012 around 10 million tourists visited Dubai, in 2016 Dubai almost had 16 million visitors.

The huge building boom, an expanding manufacturing economy, a booming trade and service sector (especially in Dubai) are expected to further diversify the entire economy in the UAE. Construction projects with a total value of approx. 350 billion USD are cur­rently being realized.

The many new attractions play a huge role for the tourism: from the Buij Khalifa to the artificial palm island and a ski hall in the middle of the desert. In addition, there always perfect weather conditions and numerous modern hotel buildings.

3 Business Etiquette

3.1 Salutation


In the Arab Gulf States a formal salutation is very common. Hierarchies, social status and professional position are essential. It is recommended to avoid using an informal form of address. Also, you have to research the title, position and name (especially the correct pronunciation and spelling) in advance. The form of address with first names (Mr. Hans, Mr. Ahmed), which is usual in the Arab Gulf States, is not the same as an informal ad­dress, which corresponds to our "duzen". It is advisable to put the educational title (e.g. doctorate) before the first name (Dr. Ahmed). In the case of high-ranking personalities, it is strongly recommended to address them with their appropriate title, e.g. Shaikh Ahmed, his/your Highness (ruler) or his/your Excellency (members of ruling families, ambassa­dors, ministers and high political dignitaries) followed by their first name .

An example: The correct address of the leader of Dubai is: Your Highness Shaikh Mo­hamed. The Arabic word shaikh can be translated as " the elder", "the most revered", and is used for persons who have a special social or religious position. In addition to the term for religious figures, the tribal elder and/or the head of the family is traditionally ad­dressed as "Shaikh". In Saudi Arabia, the term "Shaikh" is also commonly used. In the other Gulf States, however, the term "Shaikh" is only used to address rulers and high dignitaries. In correspondence, the full name should always be written with the title (title, first name, surname). Pay attention to the correct spelling of Arabic names and the correct order of the individual parts of the name. In case of uncertainty, it is helpful to enquire prior to the meeting of that person (business cards, secretary, etc.). Names).7

Welcome (men): The welcome ceremony occupies a central place in communication in the Gulf region. There are an endless number of greeting phrases, which vary slightly from country to country. It is recommended that you know the standard greeting phrases used in each country. With as-salâmu alaykum (integrity be upon you/peace be upon you). The greeting is usually followed by the question of how you feel. With the answer "bi- khayr" (good) or "al-hamdu-li-llâh" (thank God) you are also correct in all cases. Your Arabic counterpart will be happy in any case about your Arabic greeting. If you enter a room with several persons it is common to greet first the host, then the elder, and finally the others who are present, unless you are introduced to them by your host. Then, of course, he will determine the order for greeting All those who attend/in attendance (except the staff) are welcomed. A gentle, not too strong handshake and intensive eye contact are common at first meetings among men. The strong handshake which is typical/common in Germany is often perceived as strange by many Arabs. Only when they know each other better, the repeated the gesture with cheek kisses, which is common in the Arab world among relatives and friends. Some tribes in the Gulf region greet each other by touching the tips of their noses.

Greeting (women) Avoid direct physical contact or hugs with men in any case! A formal, short handshake takes place when you are offered a hand. In Saudi Arabia and in the Gulf States shaking hands is sometimes avoided. In this case a short, not too intensive eye contact and a short polite head nod are enough. It's advisable to wait and see what the opponent is doing especially at the first meeting.

If Arab men in a traditional environment do not greet women, ignore this and do not include women in the conversation. This is shows respect and is not at all seen as an insult. However, a business partner will always be taken seriously the role as a business­woman. '

3.2 Relationships and private area

Building Relationships: A solid relationship is of higher importance than business! The Arab culture is a relationship-oriented culture. A long-term successful business relation­ship with Arab partners requires a solid relationship level. It is therefore essential to es­tablish and maintain a solid relationship with the Arab business partner. Several business meetings per year are a must, even if they strain travel budgets and schedules. They are an important investment for success in the UAE. At first is the personal meeting with the Arab business partner, afterwards the contact by phone, fax or email should be kept con­sistently. Anniversaries, birthdays, turn of a year national and Islamic holidays (Rama­dan) are suitable occasions for a short meeting. Especially greeting cards on Ramadan are a good welcoming gesture. Always give business correspondence a personal touch. In the Arab world it is quite common to combine business with private matters/topics, this will strengthen the relationship.

It is central to build up appropriate networks on the local level. This is the only way to do business successfully (insider knowledge, dealing with authorities, "small official chan­nels" etc.). People from less objective cultures are very much interested in good results and business deals. They just don't see any possibility to get a good result when social relationships are disturbed.

Invitations: An essential aspect of relationship building is to spend leisure time together. Sport and cultural events are particularly suitable. Professional and private dinner invita­tions are just as common. Professional invitations are usually made for a restaurant. In the Arab Gulf States, private invitations are only common after a longer period of know­ing each other and represent a special distinction of the existing relationship. Anyone who receives a private invitation is part of the "ingroup", the "family" in the transferred sense. Private invitations are a special honor and should therefore not be declined. But attention! In the Arab world, it is considered good manners to reject friendly offer twice before accepting it, because only the third offer is really meant seriously. The requirement of hospitality in the Arab world can also lead to invitations being issued out of a sense of duty. Only if the inviting person extends an invitation several times, it is really meant seriously.

Invitation in a private home: sweets or small gifts, the gifts mentioned under the key­word gifts are suitable. Flowers are unusual, perfume is not usual. It is best to bring gifts for the children. As a rule, the man should hand over the gifts, which are usually received by the head of the house and then put by the side unopened. Especially in traditional families it is not proper for a man to give the hosts a gift. Most drinks are served in the salon before the meal are tea or coffee. Only afterwards the meal begins. Before the meal, a bowl of water and a towel are usually handed out to clean the hands. Every traditional Arabic meal is served with bread, which (traditionally) serves as a substitute for knife and fork. One forms small pieces (shovels) with the bread, picks up the food with it and brings both to the mouth. The bread is always eaten with the food and not dipped into it a second time.

Seating arrangement: In general, the male guest should sit on the right side of the host. In traditional families, men and women eat separately. In Western families the "colourful row" is also common, i.e.: host, guest (w.), guest (m.), hostess. As a guest you are always asked to start with the meal. As a sign of appreciation, you should eat a lot. It is common for the host to repeatedly ask you to eat even more.

If you really can't go on with eating, refuse politely three times, then your counterpart will know that you are full and cannot continue to eat. It is common to always leave a small rest on the plate. This signals that there was plenty of food available and that you are full. If you are the host, always ask your Arab guests several times (at least three times!) to serve themselves. If necessary, ask your guests to serve themselves without being asked, otherwise your Arab guests will not eat anything. Also point out that the food is without pork and alcohol. If you are a believing Muslim, you should also make sure that meat is butchered according to Islamic rules. The reference: "This is halal" (i.e. it corresponds to Islamic regulations) is helpful for your guests. By the way: guests always start with the meal. Also, at the buffet you wait until the guest has taken something. Of course, every host likes to hear praise for the meal. In homes of the upper middle and upper class, the food is usually prepared by the staff of the household. One therefore thanks the hosts for the beautiful evening and rather praises casually the wonderful food. After the coffee it is customary to say goodbye politely. Repeated requests to stay are part of the usual host ritual and should not be considered as actual requests to stay. A counter invitation is expected in any case. If you do not have a place to stay in town, an invitation to a restaurant are common. Preference is given to restaurants that offer a buffet. Many golfers appreciate the opportunity to choose from several dishes.

Many Arabs are very spontaneous. They will visit you unannounced and are also happy about a surprise visit in return. However, never place such visits in the period from 1 to 4 pm (in some places 12 to 3 pm), as this is the time of the "siesta". Unless you are explicitly invited to do so.


1 graph_2018.jpg

2 Statista (2017) Hotelübernachtung in Dubai

3 Vgl. Auswärtiges Amt,

4 Sarah (2018) Blog über Souks

5 Unaufschiebbar (2018) Dubai Mall

6 Helner,W (2018) Aktuelle Daten zur wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung der VAE

7 Katz,L (2017) Negotiating International Business - UAE(A)

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Culture and Business Etiquette in the United Arab Emirates
Nürtingen University; Geislingen  (AUW)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
culture, business, etiquette, united, arab, emirates
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2019, Culture and Business Etiquette in the United Arab Emirates, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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