The most common greeting in the Gulf is Salam alaykum (‘Peace be upon you), to which the correct reply is Wa alaykum as-salam (‘And upon you be peace).
The men are expected to shake hands when greeting and parting from Arab men. However, in the case of Arab women, a foreigner should be guided by the woman’s behavior: many Arab women won’t shake hands with non-Arab men, although educated women might. This is normal even with close friends whom you meet frequently. Devout Muslims would never touch a woman who is not family. The alternative, in this case, is to place your hand over your heart.
After handshaking, it’s customary to enquire after the other person’s health and other matters, and you should expect similar inquiries to be directed at you. Don’t enquire after the health of the female members of an Arab’s family; restrict your questions to those regarding the family in general or the sons.
While foreigners aren’t expected to know or use all the subtleties of their greeting rituals, but you would make a good impression if you learn some of the standard expressions and use them in the correct way. Whether in face-to-face conversation or speaking to people on the telephone; don’t talk business straight away; if you do so, Arabs will assume that you’re impatient or not interested in them personally.
It is advisable that you accept refreshment whenever it’s offered; but note that even if you’re naturally left-handed, you should always use your right hand for drinking and eating, as the left hand is regarded as unclean as it’s used for ‘toilet purposes. Similarly, you should avoid showing the soles of your shoes or feet, which implies that you think the other person is ‘dirt’, which is obviously highly offensive. You should therefore keep your feet flat on the ground and not cross your legs.
If you’re invited to the home of an Arab, you should always accept. You should generally take every opportunity to become acquainted with local people and avoid the natural tendency to stay within the social and physical confines of your foreign ‘community. It is likely that your Arab host will be interested in you and your views. As a note of caution, you should avoid politics and religion as subjects for discussion; your opinions might be regarded as ill-informed or even offensive, even if they seem acceptable to you from a western perspective.
When you enter the majlis, the reception room for visitors, you should always remove your footwear, unless the host indicates otherwise (you should therefore ensure that there are no holes in your socks!). At this point, women are usually asked to join the other women. You will almost certainly be offered something to drink and perhaps eat; accept the offer. Arabs are almost always polite and expect the same from those they meet, and believe that sharing a meal with a person positively affects the relationship.
It is also important to know that standing up when an elder or a high-ranking person walks into the room is a form of respect. Men should also stand up when women walk into the same room as them. This is especially important if sharing a meal.
You should also never visit an Arab’s house without first informing him about your coming. If the women of the family are present, this won’t be appreciated. You should also avoid expressing admiration for any of your host’s possessions, as tradition dictates that he must then offer it to you. Although this tradition isn’t followed by everybody, it can nevertheless cause embarrassment. What’s more, the correct response is for the recipient to give an even more valued gift in return which you may not be able to do.
Dubai is a Muslim and very religious place, and although western civilization is very open about things, when you are in Dubai you must respect their culture. The following things are considered illegal in Dubai and may land you in legal trouble if caught: public display of affection (holding hands is fine), sex outside marriage, homosexuality (if traveling with a partner of the same sex, avoid any type of PDA and any sign that you are homosexual to avoid legal trouble) the possession or use of drugs, having children outside wedlock.