Visiting the Middle East? Here are a few things you need to know.

Living Abroad Travel

Not everything is hummus and pita bread.

If you’re a Westerner you probably picture hummus and pita bread when you think of Middle Eastern cuisine. While both are here, they’re not as prevalent as you might expect. Hummus is not a side dish with every meal, and while there is a pita-type bread, it’s actually called Kuboos (or Khubz), and its a little different than pita. Also known as Arabic Bread, it is found everywhere and can be bought at the grocery store for around $0.50 a pack.

To find the more traditional hummus and pita bread you’re imagining, you’ll have to travel a little more westward; towards Lebanon, Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. Although Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods overlap, there are slight differences to their cuisines.

You might want to cover up.

Depending on which countries you’re traveling to this will vary, but when packing for the Middle East, do so more conservatively. Although summers can get upwards of 115ºF (46ºC), women and men choose to cover their bodies for religious reasons. Even as an expat living here temporarily, during the summer I wear a shirt that covers my shoulders and pants down to my ankles. I choose to cover up out of respect for the local culture as well as to avoid getting stared at (unfortunately).

For more on Middle Eastern attire, read here.

If you choose to drive, proceed with caution.

The Gulf region is known for bad drivers and crazy car accidents. If you’re staying here on vacation for a few days you may be able to avoid driving, but if you’re on a Visa that allows you to rent a car, be cognizant of other drivers. Unfortunately, traffic police aren’t very respected so it’s easy for people to get away with driving aggressively, speeding, and blatantly ignoring traffic signals and laws.

Regardless of what you tell them, your family will be worried about you.

If you’re traveling to a more popular destination like Dubai (UAE) or Turkey they may not be as concerned, but if you’re traveling elsewhere be prepared for them to worry. Recent history has painted the Gulf region in a very specific light, so it’s only natural for them to react that way. Our suggestion is to send articles and facts before you travel, educating them on the country you’re traveling to. And of course, throughout your visit, send updates and pictures to let them know you’re okay.

Don’t drink the tap water.

As clear and clean as you might think it is, just don’t. Even in the nicest hotels, don’t. Personally, we shower, brush our teeth, and cook with the tap water, but I know people who do all of that using bottled water. Just don’t drink the water.

Chivalry isn’t dead, but if you’re female, you will get catcalled.

Don’t get me wrong, people are generally very nice. If you ask for help, someone will volunteer immediately. If you’re walking into an establishment, the door will be held open for you. You’ll be called ma’am everywhere. But you’ll also get catcalled a LOT.

We’ve heard that in the UAE (where Dubai and Abu Dhabi are) catcalling is illegal in some way, and very punishable. But, we’ve also heard that this is because the government doesn’t want to scare away tourists, not because they care about the safety and comfortability of women.

Tone down the PDA.

While hand holding and light hugging are more permissible in larger, more diverse cities, generally you should keep the lovin’ in private. In the Middle East showing signs of affection is reserved for in the home, with a spouse. Being married you can get away with a little more, but you always want to be respectful of the local culture.

Despite this, people in this region are quite affectionate with their friends of the same sex! You’ll often see people greet their friends with kisses on each side of the cheek, and occasionally see men holding hands or linking arms.

To read more about our experiences in the Middle East, check out the rest of our blog, or follow us on Instagram.