Whenever you go to a country where the culture is significantly different to your own, it's important to do your research and find out more about what this means for your trip.
A holiday in Dubai can mean just about anything you want it to. From adventure-filled trips for adrenaline junkies to spa-heavy getaways for those who want to relax and unwind, you can find whatever type of break you're after. No matter what sort of holiday you are planning in Dubai, embracing the traditional bedouin culture can help you make the most of your experience.
But what is Bedouin culture?
The word Bedouin refers to a group of nomadic people who mainly travel around desert plains and make their living from herding camel, sheep and goats. With varied origins from across the Arab nations, Bedouin people have a lot of different influences on their culture.
Although the highest numbers of Bedouin people are in North Africa, the beautiful desert landscape in the UAE is home to hundreds of thousands of these traditional nomads. It's thought that the first Bedouins were traversing the Arabian Desert in the seventh century, but they continue to have a significant impact on the culture of present-day Dubai.
If you want to learn more about some of the first inhabitants of Dubai and the UAE, take a trip to Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood to learn about the transformation of the region. Here are some of the ways that you might come across this traditional culture during your holiday in Dubai or other part of the UAE.
Eating the Bedouin way
When eating in large numbers, men will sit together and women will eat as a separate group, usually with any younger children. Things are a lot more relaxed in the home though and it's fairly common that the whole family will eat together from one large tray.
Meals often start with people saying "Bismi’llah Al Rahmaan Al Raheem", which translates as "In the name of God the most merciful, the most compassionate", and ends with "Al Hamduli’llah", meaning "All thanks and praise is due to God alone".
Hygiene is an important thing in Bedouin culture and children will often bring jugs of water and soap to the dinner table for adults to wash their hands with before eating. The right hand is used for eating, and people will only eat the portion of food that is directly in front of them on the large tray. This means guests often eat modestly and without reaching over other people at the table. Licking your fingers is a signal that you've finished eating and helping yourself to more food after doing so is considered rude and unhygienic.
Traditionally, men will eat first and fairly quickly so that women can enjoy their meal, which is often eaten much slower.
For Bedouin people, it's rude to sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards another person, though people who may have physical difficulty doing this can place something over their feet and sit with their legs stretched out.
Instead of knocking, like you would at a person's house in the west, you should make an audible noise when you arrive at someone else's home to draw their attention to you. It's common for people to approach a tent while making a fair bit of noise, as being quiet can seem like you are sneaking up on them. It also gives women a chance to leave the room before you arrive. Shoes are left outside the house or tent where the gathering is taking place with the soles placed down.
Much like many Islamic nations, men and women who are not related do not mix together in Bedouin society. Platonic friendships between genders doesn't happen and when a man meets a woman for the first time, they should not shake hands unless the woman offers her hand first.
A lot of attention is always given to how you should dress in traditional Islamic countries, but it's also important to know how to behave. Both your clothing and actions should reflect the modest nature of society, and any loud behaviour may get you unwanted attention, especially if you are female.
Bedouin culture: Embracing Dubai
Of course, if you stick to the tourist-heavy parts of Dubai, you're unlikely to experience much of the traditional Bedouin culture as this is tailored to Western tourists. However, it's always good to understand the local traditions a little better and you will have the holiday of a lifetime if you want to explore these a little further.