Georgina Guedes

Kissing in public? Straight to jail

2010-03-19 16:30

This month, two holidaymakers in Dubai are facing a month in jail for kissing in public.

This definitely seems like a bit of an overreaction on the part of the Dubai government, but at the same time, tourists should abide by the rules of the country that they are visiting.

Dubai is a leading Middle Eastern tourism destination because of its relaxed attitude to drinking and partying among tourists. In recent years, however, there has been something of a clampdown on visitors engaging in acts of what they term "public indecency".

One comment made in the news by a Dubai local rings particularly true. He acknowledged that we all live in a global village, but stated that at the same time, every house has its rules.

When I was travelling around South East Asia, I was particularly careful to research the local customs in order to avoid giving offense. Some of the countries we visited even viewed public handholding as indecent - local women walked behind their men-folk. Although I wasn't at risk of being jailed for any transgressions, I did my best not to offend the local people in whose country I was a guest.

It was sometimes quite difficult to remember. My husband and I are very physically affectionate. I often found myself withdrawing my hand as if I had been burnt, as I reached across to take his, but caught myself in time.

It helped to remember that to the locals, the ban on handholding wasn't something they had dreamt up just to frustrate us. To them, it was an act of sensuality, not affection. I was never entirely sure what the extent of their discomfort was, but I refrained from public affection in the same way as I avoid public nudity or sexual acts, just in case.

Visitors to Dubai should be cognisant of local custom. It's only polite. There is nothing worse than a brash tourist insisting on behaving as if they were walking down the main road in their home town, rather than showing respect to the locals of the country they are visiting.

At the same time, as a tourist destination, Dubai should accept that people are going to flout the rules, or slip up unintentionally some of the time. A request to refrain from the offending action, a public reprimand or even a fine is enough to keep people from behaving badly in most cases. A prison sentence for public kissing is extreme, and if this starts to be a common occurrence, will see tourist numbers declining.

As for tourists who feel that physical displays of affection are an integral part of their holiday experience - go somewhere that you aren't offending anyone with your actions.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. She says come to South Africa. We don't mind if you hold hands.

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