Preparing for Dubai last month, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. If I listened to everyone in the US who had never traveled there, they would likely have you believe that I'd explode as soon as I touched down at the airport. On the other hand, people who had actually been to Dubai had made it clear just how fun the city could be. Personally I had no idea which was more true, so i went in cautiously and found an interesting culture, one I feel is quite at odds with itself.
After getting to my hotel, in Dubai, I wanted to know what to expect. In the US, we have a view of the Middle East as requiring certain types of clothing in all situations. Looking this up, I even found travel websites advising me to wear pants at all times and make sure my shoulders were covered.
There is good reason for this, if you got to the Mall of Dubai's website, it lists exactly this. Knees need to be covered, and shoulders need to be covered. Also it mentions no display of public affection toward one another. Reading through all this, I took the advice to heart and dressed appropriately. Many of these rules stem from the history of the country and the religious background of many citizens. Past culture is driving many rules in Dubai.
On the other hand, Dubai is quickly building to become a global city and for good reason. Dubai's ruler is trying to future proof the city and plan for when the country no longer can subsist on the profits of oil. The vision here is impressive and the city is all the better for that vision in my opinion. Dubai is on the fast track to becoming a tourist destination, more so than the level it has already reached.
There in lies the problem though, creating a globalized city will bring a global audience to your front doors. As these travelers make their way to Dubai, they will inherently bring their culture with them. Much of the world's culture now is unafraid to show skin, have short shorts, tight pants, and outwardly show affection between partners, gay or straight. This is a global culture that is likely to move back in the opposite direction.
When you walk into the Mall of Dubai for the first time, it is immediately obvious that this global culture has landed squarely on Dubai. Men and women alike wear shorts showing knees. Tight pants, low cut tops, and skirts that are very short are in abundance. World culture is alive and thriving in Dubai.
Yet the rules of the Mall still stand that all of these things are not allowed. The world's culture isn't something that anyone can run away from though. The Mall doesn't have 1 or 2 patrons with this type of clothing, it is literally 90% or more of the people in the mall. Security doesn't attempt to curb this trend either, and the new culture looks to be ingraining itself into the United Arab Emirates culture. Locals seem to be adopting these trends more and more.
None of this is bad or good, but it is an interesting perspective I've never gotten before. Let's be up front, no one tried to blow me up, or even approached me with anything remotely negative to say, not even a dirty look. Dubai is a wonderful place to visit, but it does have rules that you should be aware of. The city is in the throws of a major cultural shift from what I have seen, but the old culture still heavily influences laws. Every so often people do get jailed for things we would find to be crazy.
This is why I say that Dubai is at odds with itself. It is changing though and in my eyes it is for the better. I did really enjoy Dubai, I'd certainly return and it might be a place you would enjoy too.