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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  • Billy of Arabia - 2010-03-19 17:06

    Good article on balance. The principle in the Middle East quite simply is if you can't take the heat in your host's kitchen, leave. Public 'decency' rules in the Middle East seem a bit contradictory but it is their choice and needs to be respected.

  • Mr P - 2010-03-19 17:24

    Well I wouldn't expect anything less from muslims. They don't abide by the laws of other countries religious laws but expect everyone to abide by theirs, or they kill you!!!

  • bob - 2010-03-19 21:45

    Dubai's laws are middle age. They want the money but not really the consequences. They marketed themselves as a holiday destination. Then on the other hand only idiots spend their vacation in a dust bowl with sewage in the water. Guess they'll learn the hard way

  • Mike - 2010-03-20 17:19

    Have you even noticed it's the secular countries that bend over backward to accommodate the religious rituals and beliefs, yet the same is never returned. Boycott these places, I would suggest, do you really want to make happy memories in a place of intolerance ?

  • Eben - 2010-03-21 04:16

    If you think about it, it’s basically the same concept as visiting a friends house. For instance, if you are a smoker and they are non smokers you wouldn’t light up in their living room, well, for the most part. It comes down to respect. If you respect others, you wouldn’t go out of your way to offend them. Obey the rules.

  • as i see it - 2010-03-21 08:37

    I disagree with you entirely. Dubai relies on Western tourism. 50% of workers are expats. The Arabs cant have their cake and eat it. If they rely on 21st century money they can't impose 1st century customs and culture.

  • Dave - 2010-03-21 09:04

    Interesting comment Georgina. My question is Why are South African customes and rules not adhered to by Middle East visitors? Is it maybe because we are in any case just a lawless society here where anything goes?

  • Richard - 2010-03-21 10:29

    I also think that putting people, not really following the Dubai customs as a tradition, in jail for a kiss in public is a bit extreme unless it was done to deliberately frustrate the Arabs. On the other hand we must appreciate the fact that their women are traditionally covered/clothed to the extent that you only see their eyes and that the men, due to the fact that their traditional dress may embarrass them if aroused by seeing physical affection expressed by someone else. They also may have strong feelings about these things the same as we have if we are suddenly confronted with seeing people making love.

  • Freedomfighter - 2010-03-21 16:50

    I understand what you are saying dear Georgina. Probably hearsay? But I like to know, how they were kissing and so on, also was this all they did. You also know that the accused is always innocent don't you? Before you make your statement always hear both sides if you will. Journo's don' doe that always. They are trained to make a tasty story, this is selling of course. But lets hear the other side(s)

  • jj - 2010-03-21 20:19

    I am fortunate to travel to some wonderful countries with my family, Dubai will not be among them. I wonder if the trvel agents are warning travellers to Dubai of all these rules

  • Mike - 2010-03-23 06:16

    It works both ways. If we have to fall over backwards respecting the Muslim culture in their countries, they should do the same in ours. However, as is typical of fanatics, they only respect their own views. Stop being so bloody apologetic.

  • Jakes - 2010-03-23 08:23

    In Dubai a simple hallo or goodbye kiss is not illegal. The kissing you refer to in this article was obviously more than that. Even in SA you sometimes see over affection between two people and ussualy in a public place where other people are around. This is also offensive to certain people and their views should also be respected. When a Maori or a Bushman visits our cities and walk around in a leather thong, wont we be offended? When your neighbour slaughters a cow in his back yard, are you not offended.
    Same thing. It is a different custom and should be respected.

  • francois - 2010-03-23 09:47

    i was in jeddah for work and met an old friend in the hotel restaurant i was staying in. kissed her bye on the cheek . was such a drama . management was screaming and shouting at me . no thank you . much nicer places to travel to. no human rights. and all the men go to the whore houses when they
    get to other countries . double standards.

  • Keeper - 2010-03-23 10:03

    When in Rome do what the Romans do....else do not visit Rome.

  • DUBAI RESIDENT - 2010-03-23 11:17

    This whole incident has been blown out of proportion. If that stupid mother didn't have her two young kids in the restaurant at 2am(nogal!), nothing would have happened. The police here are kind and helpfull and don't normally go over the top over small incidents like these, but if something is reported they have to follow up and act accordingly.
    Ps. Me and a friend once stripped off naked and took to the waves at one of the leading hotels(OK, I admit, that was downright stupid!). At least 10 or 20 onlookers didn't make anything of it and 10 years later, I am still living here! Al hamdellulah!

  • Thobi - 2010-03-23 12:33

    How can the statement "Dubai is a leading Middle Eastern tourism destination because of its relaxed attitude to drinking and partying among tourists" go hand in hand with the rest of this article? It doesn't make any sense...

  • Chanelle - 2010-03-23 13:48

    Mr P, Where on earth do yo live? You are such an ignorant man, small minded and easily influenced(by media) man! You poor thing-it must suck being you!

    Great article Georgina, loved the balance of both sides. (our view, as well as theirs)

  • SAFRICAN - 2010-03-23 13:56

    The problem really starts when Islam (in Dubai) becomes more and more of a political party than a religion.Dubai's tourism industry demands a western influence and the local Muslim cluture has yet to play catch up?Dubai and other so called Muslim countries need to realise that countries on all continents have developed and matured around them.I find that people from Islamic countries are naturally aggressive.If anything,The show of affection in public(like kissing and holding of hands) should be encouraged.Surely this so called ''immoral'' behaviour can be good for its citizens.So far now..Dubai and other Muslim countries are off my list of tourist destinations.

  • Banana - 2010-03-23 14:11

    Do we have any rules in South Africa since our beloved ANC took over? As far as I can tell all rules are boken on a daily basis...People who live in glass al is my view.

  • @ Mr P - 2010-03-23 22:54

    You narrow minded idiot!!!!

  • Andz - 2010-03-24 11:39

    I believe that the whole law against kissing in public is stupid because people are just showing each other affection by kissing at random moments.

  • Rory - 2010-03-25 05:33

    Agreewith you, Georgina, when you live in a country or visit a country you should live by there rules,but in the UK and most European countries Moslems are trying to enforce their laws onto us, most UK schools only serve Halal meat, as a Christian you are no longer allowed to openly display your religious jewellery, as a Moslem you can, most Public Buildings and airports have a place where Moslems can pray, are there any prayer rooms for Christians in Moslem countries

  • Moss - 2010-03-25 12:04

    Iwill never visit Dubai or tour around that country

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