Business is booming in Dubai and many Britons are heading out there to work. But, anyone thinking of working there must familiarise themselves with the cultural etiquette before starting work there, if they are to avoid insulting Dubai nationals, or even break the country’s laws.
The first thing to consider is respect. Never criticise or correct a client or colleague in front of others. Causing such a public loss of face will ensure that the individual concerned with be filled with resentment and make any future co-operation extremely difficult. Sensitive discussions with a colleague or client should be done in private.
Western businesses may choose their own working hours, but bear in mind that Arab companies schedule their working week from Saturday to Wednesday; working hours start at 8 a.m. and stop at 1 p.m. In the scorching heat of summer a siesta is a common practice taken until 4 p.m. with work resuming immediately afterwards until 7 p.m. During the Muslin festival of Ramadan the working day becomes two hours shorter.
Arab cultures dress much more conservatively than western cultures as a rule, and although it may be more relaxed in Dubai there is still an unspoken dress code that must be closely followed. Ensure clothes are worn that cover both the body and limbs – however hot and oppressive the heat may be – and they must be smart.
The Muslim day of prayer and rest is Friday, so avoid making phone calls or scheduling meetings with any Muslim clients or colleagues on that day. During Ramadan Muslims are not permitted to eat, drink or smoke during daylight hours but non-believers can, although they must be sensitive to the occasion and do so away from public gaze.
Business meetings with Arab clients or colleagues may begin with a very informal preamble. They often take place in restaurants or cafes at a Dubai business hotel rather than an office, beginning with polite conversation, usually about each other’s families. However, whenever the conversation turns to business it is usually resolved much quicker than in formal western business meetings. When meeting a handshake is followed by a touch of the heart with the right hand to show sincerity, and a woman’s hand is shaken only if it is offered.
Although business meetings are less formal than western standards, by contrast business lunches tend to be more formal. As a strict rule alcohol is never involved, and it is essential that when sitting opposite an Arab colleague or client that the soles of shoes are not directed towards them as that is considered extremely offensive in Arabic culture.
There are many other less obvious do’s and don’ts involved with ensuring that business is conducted efficiently, properly and without offence in Dubai, and as with any business deal anyone travelling there should ensure that they are thoroughly briefed before they leave.