Meet the Emirati people
As a tourist it is most likely that your first acquaintance with the Emirati population begins in the large shopping malls* during their day out.
A day in a mall of the United Arab Emirates never makes you bored. Various malls have the largest and most expensive fashion boutiques. They have a variety of fast food chains and restaurants with a special cuisine. Most have a movie theatre or activity centre, such as Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates, or Bounce, a huge trampoline play area in the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi. And if that’s not enough, performances with dancers and singers and talent shows are shown on almost all Friday afternoons and evenings.
* Of course, you don’t only meet Emirati in shopping malls! Read further for more information.
Emirati love shopping and spend long afternoons and evenings (especially on Thursdays and Fridays) with their family in the mall. It is remarkable how the often big company moves through the echoing warehouse with so much composure. Women graciously stride on high heels on the gleaming marble floors. Their black abaya’s woven from the finest materials waving elegantly around their bodies. Just as the sheila, the scarf that is used to cover the head. Some women wear it loosely over their heads, while others have tied it with care with the use of pins. Bags from well-known designer brands are hanging over their shoulder.
To the layman, it is not visible, but the abayas worn are the latest fashion. If I have to believe my Emirati friends they are mostly not older than one month. There is variation in ornamentation, cut, pleats, and lately also in colour. More and more Western designers design and present abayas on their catwalks showing the importance of fashion for this garment. An increasing group of young ladies wears their abaya with the brand name embroidered in large letters on the fabric.
In the desert, men walked ahead of the women to explore the sand and clear the way from snakes and scorpions. This old habit can still be seen in the mall. The men usually walk in front of the women. Traditionally, they wear a dishdasha or kandoora, a long white shirt, with a ghutra on their head, a white scarf of fine cotton. This is held by a black cord, the agal. A variant of the ghutra is the red and white checkered shemagh. In winter men wear kandooras in beige or brown tones as well.
There are several ways to wear the ghutra, depending on the person and the fashion. Young men often tease each other when they meet: “Cobra-style today?” The scarf is folded in a small V-shape on the forehead while the rear flaps are folded backward. A less formal style is known as desert-style or Bedouin style, in which the ghutra is tied around the head.
However, the ghutra becomes less and less worn. Instead, some put on a baseball cap. Increasing groups of young men only wear fashionable Western clothes at the mall.
Difference with other Gulf States
There are several Gulf States where the men wear white kandooras and women black abayas. The distinction is seen in (for example) the different collars of the kandooras. To my opinion, the Emirati men also distinguish themselves by their facial care. They often have perfectly modeled eyebrows and a precision-styled beard, at some areas blackened for the perfect look.
And while most Western children are already dreaming away in their beds, Emirati children are enjoying a night out with their family. Usually wearing their latest outfit with candy or other goodies in their hands. They run from one family member to the other, which makes it almost impossible to see which child belongs to which parent. The adults obviously love it.
Emirati have big hearts for their children. Not only for their own children but for all children. This dates back to the time that they lived as Bedouins in the desert, where children were looked after by all adults of the family.
They are even so fond of children that you have to be prepared for big smiles thrown by them at your children. Or even a respectful Masha’Allah, a statement with which they show their gratitude, pleasure or approval. And before you know it, they have slipped an ice cream or candy bag in your child’s hand. It can even happen that Emiratis or other Arabs give your children some money, or leave money in the cradle of your newborn baby.
These are your moments to make contact. Accept the gift, even if you do not want your child to eat sweets, and understand that the generous giver did this out of love. A simple Shukran (thank you) will do. When you are a woman you can reply to the (male) giver directly. If you afraid to do so, thank the ladies or give them a friendly smile. Even if these women have their faces covered. As a man, you do the same. Only this time you do not look at the women, but you thank the men. Voilà, you have made the first contact!
*Of course, you don’t only meet Emirati in shopping malls. You also meet them at cultural festivals, where they share their traditions with pride. Would you like to know the Emirati better or make real contact with them? Or would you like to have a better understanding of their heritage and culture? Then visit the unique Al Dhafra festival.