British expats expecting a fun-filled Christmas season in Dubai will not be disappointed, provided they obey the emirate’s laws.
The city’s old and young will doubtless find myriad options to help them celebrate, with each of Dubai’s countless hotels trying to outdo one another with grand lunch packages, and each mall trying to hoist up the tallest tree.
At Madinat Jumeirah’s Winter Wonderland, a popular tourist hotspot, visitors can sample seasonal food such as gingerbread, and can ice-skate and try the “reindeer rodeo.”
For something less hectic, Brits can tuck in at one of scores of restaurants that will be serving traditional UK-style Christmas feasts.
However, one veteran expat recalled the days when the city’s once-tiny British community celebrated Christmas very differently.
“It was a much smaller, tight-knit community,” Sheila Duff, who has lived in Dubai for over half a century, told Al Arabiya News.
“There were standard events in the early 1960s, 70s and 80s, when you had Christmas parties in individual villas.”
These days, with Dubai said to have over 100,000 British expats, the community has more grandiose celebrations.
“We’re all going around Dubai now, rather than doing everything in private houses or in schools,” Duff added.
However, British expats must be careful as some behavior common in the UK is not tolerated in Dubai.
To help educate UK citizens as to what is allowed, the UAE’s British missions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi recently launched a “12 Days of Christmas” awareness campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
“The vast majority of people have a trouble-free time in the UAE,” said Samuel Hayes, vice-consul at the British Embassy in Dubai.
The campaign aims to teach Brits how to stay on the right side of the law, including providing information on obtaining alcohol licenses and “having fun in an appropriate way,” he added.
The campaign may need to go beyond the Christmas season, according to data from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The FCO’s 2013 report, entitled “British Behaviour Abroad,” reveals that 244 Britons were arrested in the UAE between April 2012 and March 2013, a 21 percent increase from the previous year.
In recent years, however, expats have become increasingly aware of the UAE’s societal norms, due in part to the extensive international media coverage of violators, Duff said.
“They’re much more aware of how to appropriately behave, because of the incidents that have happened with people being jailed for inappropriate behavior on the beach,” she said, in reference to a couple convicted in 2008 for having sex on a Dubai beach.
“They’re much more aware now because the rules are in the newspapers in the UK,” Duff added.
Some British expats prefer to keep their Christmas Day celebrations a low-key affair.
“I’m just going to my sister’s house,” said Matthew Russell, a 25-year-old British expat based in Dubai.
“We’re going to give some presents. We also do this secret Santa competition, where you pick a name from a hat and buy a present for that person and give it to them on the day,” he added.