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Culture and Religion

In order to succeed in the UAE market it is vital to have insight and understanding of Middle Eastern culture, as tradition and customs are significant aspects of business life.

The official language in the UAE is Arabic, but in business, as well as in day-to-day life, the English language is just as well accepted and widely used. Islam is the official religion in the UAE. Though Emiratis are traditionally conservative, the UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated, especially in Dubai. However, Islam plays a major role in shaping the society and culture in the UAE. Laws, education, daily routines and even conversation are influenced by Islam. It is therefore a key issue to have good understanding of the culture and religion for doing successfully business in the UAE.

Work-week and religious holidays
The UAE work-week stretches from Sunday to Thursday, since Friday is reserved for praying. Muslims pray five times a day
(between dawn and sunrise, about half an hour after mid-day, mid-afternoon, right after sunset, and an hour and a half after sunset). During Ramadan, working hours shorten by two to three hours, with most of the work accomplished in the early hours of the morning or much later in the evening after the day’s fast is broken (at sunset). It is advised to schedule meetings outside of the pray times and major Muslim holidays. The dress code is conservative for both men and women, and should cover arms and legs.

Patience and tolerance are key
Good manners, courtesy and politeness are prized attributes. Always arrive on time for a meeting, however, know that

punctuality is not considered a virtue in the Arab world, and people are often kept waiting before or during a meeting. This is not lack of respect, so have patience and be tolerant. In this regard, the often used term “Inshallah” is an indicator of how things can take a very along time in the UAE, since it is used as a reservation “If God will” – patience and persistence are key, when doing business in the UAE. Other guests or telephone conversations might interrupt meetings, but this is not a sign of disrespect.

Again, patience and understanding are essential since a hard upfront approach is generally not welcome. Be aware that what may seem like evasiveness on the part of your host is usually an unwillingness to say no to your face. This is especially important to remember in relation to doing business – an Arab doesn’t say no to your face, so despite a successful and positive meeting with a potential business partner, there is still a long way to go from here.