Life In Al Ain: 5b A Different World – Weddings

I’ve been lucky enough to attend four local weddings here, all very different from our ones back home.  I’ve sat in a marquee pitched along a street, a wedding hall, a hotel and also the AD National Exhibition Centre.
The biggest difference is segregation; the men and women celebrate separately, sometimes in different rooms/tents at the same venue, but often a few kms apart.
A traditional wedding – photo from

I can’t speak for a mens’ party but a ladies’ party has to be one of the most exciting cultural occasions you can be invited to.  Customs vary from place to place, for instance, at the first wedding I went to in AD, nearly all ladies took off their abayas to reveal beautiful dresses, whereas the first Al Ain wedding I attended only the young girls were going around abaya-less.  My advice to any expat would be to dress up as you would to an evening wedding reception back “home”, don’t overdo it though, and don’t wear mini skirts or trousers.

The official start time for the event is 8pm, but everyone seems to start arriving about 9pm, and all guests are greeted at the door by the bride’s family (ladies only, obviously).  A typical party will see 330-550 guests – and that’s just the ladies!
Once you are sat down then servers start coming around with the first of many plates of food, and also lots of interesting drinks (all non-alchoholic, of course).  They offer fruit juices, coffees, teas with exotic flavourings and there’s always water on the table.
Machboos, a popular arabic dish – photo courtesty of Wikipedia

What do you get to eat?  I’ve been told that the most affluent families will serve baby camel, but lamb, goat and chicken seem to be the post popular offerings. All beautifully cooked, in the most massive quantities.  Dishes usually appear throughout the evening; at the first wedding I attended, I was relieved to see desert being served about 10pm, after eating far too many savoury dishes.  BUT, half an hour later, huge plates of lamb biryani appeared at the table.  Oh my waistline!

The first part of the evening is dedicated to music, either a band or a disco.  If it’s a female singer she will be out on the “catwalk” giving it laldy (Scot’s word – translation: to do something with great vigour or enthusiasm)  and the males in the band will be screened from view  by a curtain.

All the young girls dance and having spent years in the textile industry, I love to see the elaborate dresses, on display in every local dress shop, coming to life when worn by beautiful young women.

Dramatic make-up – picture linked from

And these girls are beautiful, with their gorgeous dark brown eyes, flowing hair (up-dos are less popular now) and their lovely smiles.  The make up may be a bit theatrical for western tastes but a context such as a wedding, I think it looks lovely. One or two of the girls may even be hoping to catch the eye of a future mother in law who might just be on the lookout for a suitable wife for one of their sons!

Once everyone has been fed and the youngsters have been given time to strut their stuff, everyone sits down and the bride walks down the centre of the tent, on her own.  Like our brides walking down the aisle, they turn their gaze from right to left, smiling at all their guests.  Traditonally Emirati wedding dresses were very modest and often green in colour, however, western influence has seeped in and all the brides I have seen have worn ivory, with lots of sparkling adornment!At the top of the catwalk there is a dais with a fancy sofa where the bride sits and waits for her husband. You know when this is going to happen as there will be an announcement made and there’s a flurry of black as all the local ladies don their abayas again and cover their hair.  Remember, local custom is that a woman should not be seen uncovered by a man who could marry her.

The groom will follow her path down the centre of the room accompanied by her father, his father and most likely, some of his brothers.  Female professional photographers/video makers will record the event –  only to be seen by the bride’s most immediate family.  The groom’s father and brothers then leave the proceedings and it’s customary for paper money to be thrown into the crowd which the kids and maids dash to catch.
Generally gifts are only given by those closest to the couple and at some weddings you as a guest will get a small gift of perfume or some other keepsake.  The wedding guests go up and offer their congratulations to the bride and groom;  once this is finished and more photos are taken, the couple leave the hall.  It’s customary to spend their first night together in the bride’s family home.
Ready to attend my first local wedding!
I never need an excuse for Henna!
And a great time to bring out the high heels!
If you are lucky enough to get an invitation to a local wedding, don’t worry, many of the ladies and most of the young girls speak perfect english and will guide you through the do’s and don’ts of the evening.  It’s not just eating and dancing, you will be offered a variety of perfumes and may even get the chance to have your long dress perfumed from the hem up!
Most marriages are arranged and once agreed the families meet at the Municipality Offices to sign the marriage contract.  This will be the first time the groom has seen the bride with her hair uncovered.  Once this is signed the wedding normally takes place within a few weeks, although it is sometimes longer.  However, since the contract is signed then the couple are married in the “eyes of the law”; sometimes their families will allow them to go out together before their official celebration to shop for furnishings for their new home.Although uncommon, It is possible for a local man to have four wives and I only know one man who has two, but he has to treat them each equally. There’s an interesting article on Wikipedia here.
Less well off Emirati men can apply to the country’s wedding fund which was put in place to encourage them to marry Emirati girls.  Read more here.Gulf news also has occasional articles on wedding and customs, here’s one to get you started.
One of our neighbours had a wedding last month

You know there’s a wedding in the offing because the week before, the brides house is festooned with lights. 

You might have noticed that there aren’t many photos in this blog.  The reason, the local ladies do not like their photos to be taken, so it is forbidden to take your camera or take shots with your mobile phone at weddings!

There are some subjects in this blog that may appear controversial to my western readers such as arranged marriages and polygamy;  I haven’t expressed my own opinions about these aspects, I’m only telling how it is here – a different world indeed!

Part 1 – shopping
Part 2 – Hotels
Part 3a – Leisure and Recreation
Part 4 – Officialdom 
Part 5a – A Different World Part A
Part 5b – Local Weddings

Bonus –  Further Resouces

And for information on the Industrial Area – Sanaiya



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