Survival Guide: Dubai Film Festival

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Dubai is a safe but pedestrian-unfriendly city. Metered taxis are widely available and the only viable way to get around a city whose public transportation system is still very much playing catch-up. December weather is pleasant, but bring light jackets for the evening.

Meetings and customs: Arabs, especially those working in an increasingly progressive and liberal media, are comfortable with Western customs, though it's best to remember that Dubai is still a conservative, Muslim society at heart. Take the lead from your Arabic hosts when it comes to shaking hands with the opposite sex. Smart, casual dress is acceptable, but lay off the spaghetti straps. Smoking is widely tolerated, public drunkenness is not. Timekeeping might be less strictly adhered to, even for business meetings. "Inshallah," or "God willing" is quite acceptable as a conclusion to business meetings; don't despair, it often means "yes." Finally, never refuse tea or coffee -- it's not just a warm brew you're being offered but a symbol of trust and good will.

Lodging: Despite its proliferation of hotels, accommodations can be scarce during peak times. Your DIFF coordinator should be able to help you ensure a five-star roof over your head. Favorites nearby include Grosvenor House, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton, while further down the main thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road, the Shangri-La and Emirates Towers are perennial favorites.

Food: Dubai isn't known as the Las Vegas of the Middle East for nothing. Closest to the festival, the mock-Arabia Madinat complex is a warren of sumptuous souks and fantastic restaurants. Bateux Dubai, a classy dinner cruise in a glass vessel, is a great way to enjoy the cityscape. But to get a true taste of authentic Arabia, head down to the old town of Deira.

Don't miss: Spend a few hours in the dusty warren of old-style buildings along Deira's waterside and get lost in the Gold Souk area, where friendly bartering for gold, tat and fake goods is the order of the day. It's a world away from the futuristic skyline of Sheikh Zayed Road, where the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai, dominates the skyline.
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