NEED TO KNOW
Language: Officially Arabic
Capital City: Abu Dhabi
Population: Approx 4.2 million
Telephone Calling Code(s): 971
Electricity: 220/240 volts
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 United Arab Emirates Dirhams = $0.27 US Calculate Other Amounts
Citizens of the U.S. are granted a free of charge One Entry Visit visa on arrival in the UAE. The visa enables you to stay for 60 days and can be renewed for a further month for a $135 fee.
GOOD TO KNOW
Overt public displays of affection and inebriation are frowned upon. Clothing-wise, this is a city of contrasts; you will see women in miniskirts and shorts next to someone in an abaya (the traditional black cloak that Arab women wear as an overcoat). It is probably best to dress discreetly in the souks to avoid too much attention, although there are no rules stating that.
Each emirate is given considerable autonomy and laws can be very different; for example, there is no alcohol in Sharjah. Generally speaking, Dubai is considered the most liberal of the Emirates, with Abu Dhabi a close second.
Homosexuality is officially illegal as the country operates under Muslim law, but there is an underground gay scene that is not advertised or discussed openly.
Tipping: Ten percent is the norm at restaurants and hotels. Round up the amount to the nearest five dirhams in a taxi; three dirhams per bag for a bellhop is average. Banks are generally open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturdays to Wednesdays, and until 12 p.m. on Thursdays. They all close on Fridays. Currency exchange banks are open late. ATMs are widely available, and all major international credit and debit cards are accepted.
Shishas or hookahs (water pipes)—an exotic decorative item if you choose not to indulge in actually smoking it, boxes of dates or nuts, caftans, and pashminas. Gold is good value here and is generally 18- or 22-carat; opt for 18 for durability, as purer gold tends to misshapen easily. Shopkeepers will calculate the price depending on the stones and weight of gold, adding on a bit extra for crafting and general shop charges. Beautiful hand-knotted silk Persian carpets and the cheaper but no less beautiful Pakistani and Kashmiri carpets are also a great buy. Purchasing more than one will definitely get you a good discount.
Did You Know?
Less than 20 percent of the population is indigenous Emirati (or "local," as they like to be called). It's good to be "local": You're entitled to free education, health care, and housing, and are even guaranteed a certain percentage of jobs in each sector, known as the Emiratization drive.
By 2010, visitors to Dubai are expected to exceed 15 million a year; oil will then account for less than 1 percent of GDP (it is currently at approximately 5.4 percent).
The Dubai coastline is 42 miles long, but new offshore projects such as the Palm and the World are adding 492 miles.
Books and Movies
Dubai, by Robin Moore (author of The French Connection), is set in the 1970s when the oil dollars had just started flowing in. The Rainbow that Never Was, by Ayadh Farooq, is a family saga set in Dubai and the UAE. Dubai has been used as a backdrop for a number of films, and was one of the locations for Syriana, a political drama about the oil industry.
Local food is very similar to Lebanese food; you tend to order a variety of hot and cold starters (known as mezze) that everyone shares. Particularly delicious are the ubiquitous hummus (a smooth chickpea dip), moutabel (a smoky eggplant dip), fattoush (a local salad with crunchy pita croutons), and fried kibbeh (minced meat and pine nuts encased in a crunchy batter). The main course consists of a variety of grilled meats; lamb and chicken primarily, with a dessert of fresh fruit or bite-sized baklava honey-laden pastries. Shrimp are meaty and huge; be sure to try the local fish hamoor, which tastes a bit like cod. Indian and Pakistani food is also particularly good due to the influx of laborers from those regions; roadside cafés may lack decor, but the food is often excellent and shockingly cheap; you will get change for $10 after a slap-up meal for two.
January: 1, New Year's Day
December: 2, National Day
Spring: Mouloud (Birth of Muhammad, moon-dependent)
Summer: Lailat Al Mi Raj (Muhammad's Ascension, moon-dependent)
Fall: Eid Ul Fitr (End of Ramadan, moon-dependent)
Winter: Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice, moon-dependent); Al Hijra (Islamic New Year, moon-dependent)