A hidden gem
One of the best places to take your guests to or to go yourself once you have moved to Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed Cultural Centre for Understanding (SMCCU). Set in the middle of picturesque old Dubai in Bastakiya historical area among well-preserved traditional Emirati houses, the place opens the door into a whole new world. You suddenly find yourself inside a cozy little place where you immediately feel at home. Everything is in a traditional authentic Emirati style.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding was established in 1998. It happened thanks to the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai. His Highness saw the need to raise awareness for Emirati culture and traditions, as well as to demystify and clarify some common stereotypes people in the West usually have about the country. The motto of the Centre for Cultural Understanding “Open doors, open minds” is adhered to very strictly. Therefore, no question is considered too inappropriate, ridiculous or silly. Generally speaking, this is a place where everyone will feel welcome. Thus, your race, religion, beliefs or nationality do not matter.
Learning culture through food
The Centre hosts an array of activities, including tours around the historical Al Fahidi area and Jumeirah mosque visits. However, if you want to combine trying some local meals and learning more about the Emirati culture, take your guests for a breakfast, lunch or dinner. You will indulge into delicious local food while having a leisurely conversation about the local culture.
The host is usually a young Emirati college student (or a few locals), who speaks impeccable English and whose understanding of both Western and Arabic cultures helps close the gap between the two. She would explain some common hospitality traditions. For example, that it is usually the youngest boy of the family who serves guests some coffee and why they serve it in such tiny little cups. Then, after the delicious meal, which usually consists of a salad, tasty rice dishes and some dessert, it is questions and answers time.
You can literally ask whatever has been bothering you but there was no one to ask those embarrassing questions. Why do women cover themselves? Do Muslims really have many wives and why? What do locals think of English language predominance? What does it mean to be a Muslim? And what is the name of those delicious doughnuts that are served with date syrup? Oh yeah, those doughnuts are just heavenly, I swear! And since I still don’t know the name of this dish, seems like I’ll be taking more trips to SMCCU. The atmosphere is incredibly open and 90 minutes fly by very quickly.
Discover a whole new universe
The whole experience is very positive and quite an eye-opener. I have been there a few times already and every time I would learn something new about the amazing Emirati culture and traditions. Centre for Cultural Understanding is a definite must do when visiting Dubai or moving to Dubai to understand and appreciate the local culture better, to get out of the expat bubble and discover the beauty of a whole new universe. You might even fall in love with it!
To book the place, contact the Centre here.
To learn more about the UAE culture, read this book.