The culture in Dubai is very diverse.
You will find people from all over the world, especially today given the economic expansion that calls for more qualified expatriate white-collar employees.
Before its recent 21st century economic expansion, Dubai culture was pretty consistent throughout the Emirate.
There was not much immigrant population other than workers from nearby Middle Eastern and Asian nations like India and Pakistan.
From our research we found that Iranians were the first to migrate to Dubai in masses back in the 1900s, followed by Indians and Pakistanis in the 1960s.
Today however, the culture of Dubai has become much diverse.
Peaceful Coexistence within the Dubai Culture – Or Is It?
What is interesting to note with Dubai culture is that despite the multicultural society, everyone seems to coexist without much conflict. In fact, we can’t remember the last time any religious or ethnical tension was reported. But then again we feel like the media is controlled and not at liberty to really tell the story "as it is". That's a discussion for another day however.
I think one of us mentioned before that a big reason for the safety and peace in Dubai is fear of the local Government or "Sheikdom" as we like to call it. You don’t have the freedom in Dubai that you have here in the US.
It is not a democracy either. In fact to us a Sheikdom is pretty much like a dictatorship, except that it doesn't have the negative connotation a dictatorship does. In a single ruler nation, only the ruler has the final word. There are no ifs, ands and buts.
What this means is that local laws are very strict on crime committing individuals. The biggest threat the law poses to Dubai residents is the ability to deport them anytime with no questions asked.
People are living in Dubai for a reason, the biggest being jobs. If they are deported, they will loose their livelihood. Do you see why people are so afraid to do anything wrong there now?
Many times people get deported and no one even comes to find out about it. The society is so busy from day to night that everyone just goes on with life as if nothing happened. There is no time to think about such issues in Dubai. Such is the Dubai culture.
In fact everyone says Dubai is a safe place, and we think so too. But crime is "omnipresent". It exists everywhere in the world. The only difference in Dubai is that it is much less, or it might be the same amount as anywhere else but the media does not or can not report it.
Religion & Language in Dubai Culture
It is very much fair to say that Dubai culture is global in nature because of its heavy expatriate population. The official religion in Dubai is Islam. However, because of the presence of foreign cultures, other religions are also practiced in the Emirate.
You will find Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and other religious backgrounds in Dubai. You are allowed to practice your religion and there establishments like the Christian church and Hindu Temples to accommodate.
One nationality that is not allowed in Dubai is Isralei. The last we checked Dubai still did not grant entry Visas to peolpe of Jewish background from Israel. We will not get into the details of that here. It has to do with history and the UAE’s relationship with its neighbors.
Similar to religion, the same can be said about the language in Dubai. Dubai's official language is Arabic, though English is most predominantly spoken in day to day business. You will hear Hindi and Tagalog (Philippines) a lot because most of Dubai's labor force is from India and the Philippines.
We love how you could end up hearing five languages in the process of walking from the mall to the parking lot on your way back from shopping.
This is particularly interesting for me (Sunil). Having been born in the Philippines, I speak Tagalog as well as Hindi (parents). I’ve just got the best of both worlds in Dubai. Kish often tells me I can be very successful doing business in Dubai because of these language skills :)
Dubai culture is very much happening. Because of the mixed demographic, you will see all kinds of celebrations and festivals in Dubai. Dubai festivals are a big part of Dubai culture.
There are so many of these scattered throughout the year. These annual events are said to bring in over 4 millions participants and visitors and generate revenues over $1 billion (USD).
In addition to the local festivals, there are also some foreign festivals held in Dubai, though on a much smaller scale. As long as the festival doesn’t display the foreign religion, it seems like it is ok to celebrate it.
We would say the two biggest festivals in Dubai are the Dubai shopping festival and the Dubai International Film Festival.
Holidays in the Dubai Culture
There are about 10 Holidays in Dubai. Of the 10 Dubai holidays, few are very important dates in the Islamic calendar.
The Prophet's ascension (Al Isr’a Wal Mairaj) and the Prophet's birthday (Maulid Al-Nabi) are the two biggest holidays. Then you also have the start of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr, which signifies the end of Ramadan. Eid Al-Adha is another important holiday in the Islamic calendar.
The rest of Dubai holidays like Christmas and New Years day are similar to our holidays in the US. These holidays are only observed in Dubai and not in the rest of the UAE because of Dubai’s heavy expatriate population.
National Day in Dubai is celebrated on December 2. This day is celebrated to remember the formation of the United Arab Emirates and Dubai's adoption of the AED Dirham.
Shopping in Dubai is a dream come true for "Shopaholics". There is nothing you can't find in Dubai malls. And there are malls everywhere.
Not just any malls. Dubai has some of the biggest and best malls the world has to offer. Shopping has also become a significant part of Dubai culture.
Even the oldest mall is in such great shape that it can put most, if not all, malls in America to shame. The biggest mall in Dubai is the Mall of Emirates, which is the biggest mall in the world outside North America (as of 2006 at least).
If malls are not your thing, no worries. You can always hit up the local souks (markets) that sell all kinds of crafts and even raw material. Dubai souks are most famous for the Gold Souk in Deira.
Alternatively, you can also shop in the Bur Dubai area in one of the many marketplaces and stores right on or off the streets. These stores are good to go to for bargain shopping. Nothing comes easy though, you will have to negotiate your price if you want a deal.
Food & Restaurants in Dubai
You are right if you guessed Dubai cuisine is just as diverse as everything else in Dubai. Although Arab food is very popular in Dubai culture and can be found pretty much anywhere and everywhere, the restaurants in Dubai offer food from almost anywhere in the world.
If you want Arab food, you can go to small "shawarma" (pita sandwich with your choice of meat) stands which can be found everywhere off the streets. These popular sandwiches are also available in upscale Arabic restaurants.
Indian food, Oriental Asian and Fast Food are all very popular as well in Dubai. You can find these almost everywhere. Fast Food franchises are cropping up in every corner of Dubai as well. You will definitely see all the familiar names you are used to seeing in your country in the areas of Dubai.
There is one scarcity however – pork meat. It is not illegal to consume pork in Dubai but the availability is limited and tightly watched to ensure that no Muslim consumes it. There are only certain market areas you can go to get pork meat.
And just like in most other countries, liquor sale is regulated. But unlike here in America where you can buy by presenting your driver's license or ID, in Dubai you need a permit to buy alcohol.
Because it’s too much hassle, you can just go to bars, nightclubs and upscale restaurants to purchase liquor by the glass. We recommend grabbing liquor at duty free stops during your travel.
Entertainment in Dubai is plenty and quite diverse (surprise). Whether you are an indoor or outdoor person, there is always something to do and usually just around the corner.
The City has its share of annual festivals like the Dubai Shopping Festival and the International Film Festival. These events bring in a ton of revenue and attract a lot of celebrities.
Dubai is also a popular place for concerts and tours stops for music artists. Dubai culture enjoys a great taste in both local and international music. I personally love Amir Diab’s music (all the Habibi songs lol).
If you are a home body, Dubai TV has evolved into quite an entertainment package. You can watch channels from all over the world via satellite. And if you are a movie fan, you can watch both Hollywood and Bollywood movies as they are available for rent or purchase everywhere.
If you want to enjoy physical activity, consider the many outdoor events such as going dune bashing in Dubai or the water parks. If you feel it’s too hot, you can always go to Ski Dubai where it is winter all year long in the middle of the desert. Truly amazing.
If you want to kick back for something more relaxing, consider the parks in Dubai as well as the beaches. Dubai beaches are some of the cleanest and clearest beaches in the world (until they finish polluting it with all the sand dumping going on).
And how can you forget Dubai tourism and the nightlife in Dubai. Dubai is best known for these two. If you are a sports junky, read below...
Sports in Dubai
Take one more guess – yes you are right. Dubai sports are also very diverse. You will find both local and Western sports in Dubai. Football is the most popular sport in Dubai culture.
Cricket is also very famous because of the Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan population. In fact, the International Cricket Council (ICC) moved its operations from London to Dubai back in 2005.
The Dubai Tennis Championship and Dubai Desert Classic Golf Tournament are two very popular international sporting events held in Dubai. Those two events alone bring a ton of celebrities and tourism to Dubai. It’s great for the local economy.
Don’t forget about the bread and butter of Dubai sports, camel and horse racing. The Dubai World Cup thoroughbred hose racing is an annual event held at the world famous Nad Al Sheba Racecourse.
Words are not enough to describe the Dubai Nightlife. Nightlife in Dubai has received overwhelming coverage from Western media in the last few years. The City continues to produce some of the best night time hot spots in the world.
The bars and clubs in Dubai remind of Las Vegas in the sense that they are all inside hotels. There are a few freestanding venues but they are part of hotels for the most part because of Dubai’s liquor laws.
If you are into the nightlife scene, you haven’t seen anything until you have experienced Dubai nightlife. We definitely recommend it!
Because of the increasing multicultural demography in Dubai, there seems to be a lot of perceived conflict within its culture. We are not blaming the Emirate’s Government for this. They are in a tough situation in our opinion.
How do you balance 291 different cultures at the same time within the Dubai culture? You can’t. Or at least it is difficult. So while Dubai has established itself on the global landscape as this big ongoing real estate project and the hub for tourism, it has partly lost its identity at the same time.
It’s interesting how adult TV channels and Internet sites are blocked yet you can walk down the street and hire real prostitutes without any restriction. And listen to this. You may have a Mosque on one side of the road and then a prostitution hub right down the other side of the road.
The last time we checked, most religions are against prostitution (if not all). Do you see the dilemma? In the same way there are many other aspects of Dubai culture that appear very confusing to a visitor (or even someone living there).
All in all though, we would summarize Dubai as one big fantasy world. It is a global playground that you (except if you are from Israel) can come to and enjoy as much as you want.
As for living in Dubai, this is a discussion for another day. Personally (Sunil) I wouldn’t mind a short work stint (couple years max) but I don’t know if I can handle the summer heat and the congestion.
Kish on the other hand would love to move but eventually come back to the US to raise a family. You should definitely check it out and let us know what your thoughts are on Dubai. Would you go there to work? To live in the long run? Or just to visit? Why and why not?