I absolutely love all of your brilliant questions, and questions that I receive through friends I've moved away from.
Here is a list of the top ten myths that circulate about the UAE.
1. All people in the UAE are super rich
It is true that the brilliant rules of the UAE allow a tax free income, but truly, out here in the UAE, you see people from all walks of life, making all sorts of money. Maids who work in the homes of locals or expats can notoriously make as little as 1000aed a month (about £169.00 at the current exchange rate of 5.9). It is even common to see locals from all sorts of the financial spectrum, some seeming to have a very healthy income, and those who have a modest one.
The workers from the sub-continent are sometimes paid a third of what a westerner could make. There is most certainly money to be made here, but you still have to live to a budget as you would in any country, you've also got to really try to stick to it as there are far too many places to spend it here!
2. The UAE operates Shariah Law
The UAE does not have Shariah Law completely. It does though, have a system that is loosely based upon it; true Shariah Law that is, not the 'interesting' varieties you see in Saudi Arabia and Iran. Laws are particularly strict here regarding certain offences such as drug dealing and drug use, drink driving, adultery and rape, but to be honest, as long as you're not participating in such criminal offences you've really got nothing to worry about.
3. Women are oppressed
This is one myth that is widespread and comes to the forefront of most people's minds when thinking about Arab or Muslim-majority countries.
The UAE is widely considered one of the most forward thinking countries with regards to gender relations in the Arab and Muslim world. Unlike the UAE's neighbour, women here are allowed to drive. Women also make up half of the university population and are full participants in the work force.
Emirati women wear abaya (voluminous black gown) and shayla (a head covering) but unlike Saudi Arabia or Iran it is not enforced but more of a national custom. You will even sometimes run in to Emirati ladies who do not wear the shayla or even the abaya.
Expat women are not expected or asked to wear abaya or shayla and are pretty much allowed to wear whatever it is they like provided that it is modest i.e. no overt displays of cleavage or short-shorts (unless it is in the appropriate place like a beach). Of course is also truly depends on where you are in the Emirates. Dubai is a lot less conservative than Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi is less conservative than Sharjah. So, the best thing to do is to just adjust your clothing to wherever you're going in the Emirates so not to cause offence.
4. Dubai is the capital of the UAE
This is usually the shocker to people. In fact, sometimes I'm even asked if Dubai is it's own country! Abu Dhabi is the official capital of the UAE. Dubai (the city) is much larger than Abu Dhabi city.
5. The UAE is a no-alcohol zone
This is one of the greatest myths I've heard on my rounds. Alcohol is sold in hotels and in some stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (and other Emirates that have swanky hotels). Most other states allow the selling of alcohol, but like Abu Dhabi require a alcohol license (although, if truth be told, it is hardly enforced). Sharjah, I believe, is the only Emirate that is completely dry.
It is worth mentioning though, that during holy nights or special holidays within the Islamic Calendar hotels, bars and restaurants enforce dry nights.
6. Pork, what pork?
This seems like an obvious one but I do frequently get asked this question. Yes, pork and pig products are sold in the UAE. In Abu Dhabi Spinneys is one of the most well known establishments that sells pork. In fact, they even have a specific 'pork room' in the back of stores (quite like the back room in a video rental shop) which has a sign arching the door saying 'not for Muslims'. So if you're a non-Muslim, no problem at all, you'll be able to get your pork fix. Also, there are some restaurants that do have pork on the menu, but they're more upmarket restaurants.
7. There are no churches. In fact, bringing or reading your Bible is a criminal offence
I have on occasion received questions a long these lines from frantic Christians. So please, don't worry your pretty little mind!
You can find churches out here in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai (I'm not sure about the other states as it'll all be dependent on whether there are large Christian communities in those areas that have a church). The royal family often gives gifts, funding or land to churches here. They're a monarchy that greatly encourages religious freedom as set out by their Islamic teachings and Shariah Law.
Having a Bible is also fine - so don't worry about that. You can wear crosses around your neck too. If you are worried about something it should be the proselytising law, where you could end up in hot water for preaching to those of another faith in order to convert them. The law stipulates though, that this does not mean talking about ones faith, or debating or discussing, but more like putting pressure upon, or trying to force somebody to your faith. Of course, this law also applies to Muslims who are trying to convert non-Muslims to Islam too.
8. The Emiratis are the ruling class
Well, yes and no. The locals are most certainly the ruling class in that they are well taken care of by their government i.e. they can receive benefits, housing aid, free schooling, it is also mandatory that all companies reserve jobs for the locals.
But according to the law - on paper, everybody is equal before the law and all peoples are encouraged to report injustices or criminal activity even if the perpetrator is a local or an expat.
9. Desert, desert everywhere
I was quite amazed to find that we were not actually moving to a desert. Abu Dhabi is surprisingly green, as is Al-Ain. The desert that surrounds Abu Dhabi city and Dubai is yellowish with lots of little plants growing all over. You've really got to drive out a little bit to find real desert.
10. If you move to the UAE, you must learn to speak Arabic
It's a really nice gesture to learn to speak Arabic if you're holidaying here, or living here, but to be quite honest there really is no need. The people who work in the shops, hotels, restaurants are usually Philippinos, Indians and Arabs - and they will all be more than proficient in English. We moved here thinking that we were going to be able to return to the UK fluent.... that has not happened. Not even slightly.
It seems the only way we will be able to improve our Arabic here is to actually take a class (which they do have here!).
So that's my top ten myths about the UAE. Please feel free to add your own in the comment section. As usual, questions and comments are always welcome!
Have a good evening!
2 weeks ago