If you’re in the mood for a vacation unlike any other, then the United Arab Emirates can truly deliver. Though the country’s most populous city, Dubai, gets most of the attention, there’s still plenty to see and so in the UAE’s capital and second largest city, Abu Dhabi, the glittering jewel of the desert. Of course, if you’re planning a trip to the United Arab Emirates, you should be prepared for something of a culture shock. It’s not America, and they do things a little differently. What’s more, the punishments in the UAE run much stricter than they do in the states, so before you step into a potential international incident, check out a few things to avoid doing in Abu Dhabi.
1. Don’t Rent a Hotel Room Right Next to a Mosque
In Abu Dhabi, there’s a call to prayer five times a day. This call can be heard on radios and speakers throughout the city, but it’s particularly louder closest to mosques. So, unless you want to be up before the sunrise every morning, it’s probably best to pick a hotel room in a quieter part of town.
2. Don’t Expect to Get Anywhere Quickly
Dubai may technically have more people in it, but that doesn’t mean Abu Dhabi is a ghost town. There’s about 2.7 million people crammed into a small oasis in the desert. It’s congested at the best of times, but during rush hour and on the weekends, traveling across Abu Dhabi can be like moving through mud.
3. You Can Drink in Abu Dhabi, But Don’t Go Overboard
Compared to the rest of the Muslim world, the UAE is fairly lax when it comes to boozing. As a result, there are some places in the city where you can find alcohol if you’re dead set on getting some. However, make absolutely sure that you’re only consuming in locations that allow it; outside bars, certain restaurants, and a selection of hotels, drinking is a big no-no.
4. Don’t Get Cranky at the Emiratis
So, even though Abu Dhabi is filled with millions of people, as of mid-2015, only about half a million of those citizens are actual locals, or Emiratis. It’s best to think of Abu Dhabi locals as the ultimate gang of townies. They’ll jump lines, steal tables from you at restaurants, that kind of thing. Locals look out for other locals, and — as a result — they get preferential treatment. Just … be cool about it.
5. Just Say ‘No’
If you run across someone who’s gutsy enough to actually traffic in illicit substances in Abu Dhabi, avoid them. The country’s authorities take illegal drugs very seriously, and pretty much everything is illegal, even some prescription drugs that are totally fine in America. You want to spend several years in jail just because you needed to get your hands on a little hash? Didn’t think so.
6. Don’t Expect a Ton of Interaction with the Opposite Sex
Society in the United Arab Emirates is somewhat segregated by sex. It’s not a matter of oppression as much as it is a matter of respect. So, if you’re a lday who sits down next to a man on a public bus in Abu Dhabi, there’s a chance he’ll move away. It’s nothing to take personal, it’s just their society.
7. Don’t Go to Abu Dhabi During Ramadan
Usually held mid-summer, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The dates vary from year, but one thing is consistent: just don’t go to Abu Dhabi unless you’re a Muslim hoping to get closer to your faith. During this month — which is focused on introspection, fasting, and prayer — Muslims fast every day from dawn to dusk, and then spend the evenings reflecting on the previous year. It’s a big deal to them, and they don’t need you hanging out at a (deserted) bar and getting obnoxious because you’re on vacation.
8. Don’t Engage in PDA
In the United Arab Emirates at large, public displays of affection are very frowned upon. Though you won’t end up in the slammer, if you and your spouse kiss each other or hug each other too tightly, you might find an authority figure tapping you on the shoulder as a gentle reminder.
9. Don’t Be a Gutter Mouth
Seriously, keep it clean in Abu Dhabi. Not only should you avoid cursing and making inappropriate gestures, but you absolutely can’t bash ANY religion as its considered deeply offensive. Honestly, though, if you’re planning on heading to any foreign country with the idea of randomly flipping the bird at complete strangers, then maybe you should just take a trip to Florida, instead.
10. If You’re Homosexual, It’s Best Not to Be Public About It
This one undoubtedly sucks rocks, but there it is. The United Arab Emirates’ government is extremely close-minded to the point where public homosexuality is actually really frowned upon.
11. Watch What Clothes You Pack
When you’re headed to Abu Dhabi, make sure you keep the tank tops, short shorts, and thongs at home. You won’t be expected to wear traditional garb (i.e. no hijab for the ladies), but you could get in trouble if your clothing is too revealing. At the beach you should be fine with a one-piece bathing suit, but that’s the extent of the allowable skin exposure in Abu Dhabi.