The U.S., British and French embassies in the United Arab Emirates have issued their annual warnings to expats to keep their holiday celebrations under wraps.
Even in the UAE’s most sophisticated city, Dubai, which has the area’s most relaxed social rules, foreign residents frequently run afoul of strict decency laws and prohibitions during the holidays, with public intoxication being the main offense.
British citizens have received jail sentences after being found guilty of kissing in public and having drunken sex on the beach. Other foreigners have been prosecuted for exchanging steamy text messages or showing a middle finger to a fellow driver.
A U.S. expat was nabbed last week for hugging a hotel security guard while wishing him a Merry Christmas while another was reported to his embassy for wearing a Santa Claus cap outside a mosque.
“We must remind all U.S. citizens living in Dubai that the UAE is not a Christian or Jewish region,” the U.S. Embassy said in an email. “We must abide by local laws and customs and maintain restraint on our celebrations,” it said.
In Sharjah, the neighboring emirate north of Dubai, foreigners have been publicly wipped and stoned in the past. As one Bristish expat put it, “Mind your manners and keep your head,” in reference to the fact that locals can be behedded in Sharjah for holding hands and drinking.
Roxanne Hillier, the daughter of a British engineer, was sentenced to jail for three months in Sharjah in 2009 for allegedly sleeping with her boss. Hillier was able to keep her head but only through the intercession of the British Embassy.
Other issues addressed by the embassies are reminders that foreign visitors can be jailed for arriving in the UAE without travel insurance or for have medications not approved by the government.
Millions of foreign tourists visit the Emirates each year, drawn to with nearly year-round sunshine and attractions such as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. In the point of fact, the sun drenched beaches are not quite as popular in the summer when temperatures can top 120 degrees.
About 100,000 British and 50,000 U.S. citizens live in the Emirates.