United Arab Emirates Info
Capital City: Abu Dhabi
The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. It has coastlines on the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia to the west and southwest, and Oman to the southeast and also on the eastern tip of the Musandam Peninsula as well as an Omani enclave within its borders. It is a country rich in history and culture and an easy starting point for travels in the Middle East.
The Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, and as a result the rulers--or Sheikhs--of each emirate can radically affect the way of life in his respective Emirate. For example, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum of Dubai is very modern, so Dubai is forward-thinking and cosmopolitan. The ruling sheikhs of Ajman and Sharjah are more conservative, thus the rules there are more strict concerning religion, alcohol, drugs and general living conditions.
The country is extraordinarily dry, getting only a few days of rain a year. Despite that, Emiratis use water at an alarming rate: there are broad swaths of grass in the major public parks, for example, and landscaping can be extensive in the resorts or other public places. The majority of this water comes from desalinisation. Visitors do not pay for their water use. The weather from late October through mid-March is quite pleasant, with high temperatures ranging from around 27°C ( 85°F) to lows around 15°C ( 63°F). It is almost always sunny. Rain can happen between November and February, and can cause road hazards when it does. In the summer, the temperatures soar and humidity is close to unbearable — it is widely suspected that the officially reported temperatures are "tweaked" to cut off the true summer highs, which can reach 50°C, or around 120°F, or even higher!
The population is incredibly diverse. Only some 20% of the population of the Emirates are 'real' Emiratis; the rest come from the Indian Subcontinent: India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh (some 50%); other parts of Asia, particularly the Philippines, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka (another perhaps 15%); and "Western" countries (Europe, Australia, North America, South Africa; 5-6%), with the remainder from everywhere else. On any given day in, say, Dubai or Sharjah, you can see people from every continent and every social class. With this diversity, one of the few unifying factors is language, and consequently nearly everyone speaks some version of English. Nearly all road or other information signs are in English and Arabic, and English is widely spoken, particularly in the hospitality industry. On the other hand, there are elements that would be unsettling for overseas travelers, such as fully veiled women, but as this is "their way", tourists should show respect and will be offered the same in turn.
The weekend in the the U.A.E. for most government and public services as well as businesses runs from Friday to Saturday; for many, Thursday may be a half day (although most often work all day Saturdays). In nearly every city, commercial activity will be muted on Friday mornings, but after the noon services at the mosques most businesses open and Friday evenings can be crowded.
The major exception is during the fasting month of Ramadan, when the rhythm of life changes drastically. Restaurants (outside tourist hotels) stay closed during the daylight hours, and while most offices and shops open in the morning from 8AM to 2PM or so, they usually close in the afternoon while people wait (or sleep) out the last hours of the fast. After sundown, people gather to break their fast with a meal known as iftar, often held in outdoor tents (not uncommonly air-conditioned in the UAE!), which traditionally starts with dates and a sweet drink. Some offices reopen after 8PM or so and stay open well after midnight, as many people stay up late until the morning hours. Just before sunrise, a meal called sohoor is eaten, and then the cycle repeats again.