Hit & Run: An expat's guide to Dubai

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The Independent Online

Dubai might boast lush beaches, dozens of nightclubs and attract the excruciatingly rich – along with the downright tacky – but don't let that deceive you into thinking it's Ibiza-on-the-Persian-Gulf. The City of Gold is a strict Muslim society, where Ramadan is observed by locals. Drunkenness is banned, as are Public Displays of Affection (kissing and cuddling). In October 2008, the British expatriate couple Michelle Palmer, then 36, and Vince Acors, then 34, were jailed for three months for having sex on a local beach. Now a Dubai-based marketing executive Ayman Najafi, 24, from Palmers Green, and a British tourist Charlotte Lewis, 25, face up to a month in the slammer for allegedly kissing while drunk in a restaurant. It looks like this Middle Eastern tourist trap is a manners minefield – one accidental beach-side slip of the towel and you could face a hefty fine. As a former expat who braved the mores of Dubai's cash-rich, but religiously strict society, here are some tips on how to avoid a jail sentence while soaking up the tax-free lifestyle.

Get a room

If you're getting physical with a love interest or partner you can be fined for kissing in public, in the back of a cab, at night, in the day, in a restaurant, bar, nightclub or outside. It's illegal to be drunk in public, so inebriation isn't an excuse – it's an extended jail term.

Mind your medicine

If you're a tourist, and you're ill before you fly out to Dubai, limit your intake of medicine, or at least carry a prescription. Dubai's government has banned a long list of common medicinal drugs – including codeine and morphine – which if discovered in your bloodstream can lead to up to four years in prison. Needless to say, recreational drugs prohibited by the British Government are hugely frowned upon.

Observe the local customs

Ladies shouldn't wear a bikini at the shopping mall, or low-cut or revealing tops, certainly not near places of religious significance. It's also best to avoid any potentially intrusive photography – for example around mosques. Swearing and rude gestures could lead to grief from the authorities.

Pay your way

Even if it's easy to get a loan, you should mind your money. Some estimates put 40 per cent of those currently in Dubai's Central Jail as being there for not having paid off their bank debts. If a cheque bounces, it can also land you a short spell at Sheikh Mohammed's Pleasure.

Don't get punch drunk

It's a seriously unwise idea to get into a fight with an Emirati (the local men wearing dishdasha – white traditional robes). Court rulings are decided by a single judge, rather than a jury, and connections can be every bit as important as evidence. If you do get into a fight (and we really, really advise against it), try not to do it when drunk. Or while wearing a bikini. Rob Sharp

What David Beckham did next

It's early days to consider the injured David Beckham's post-footie future (who would bet against a metatarsal-esque, will-he, won't-he circus come May), but let's do it anyway. Of course there's the pant modelling to be getting on with – sustained buffness permitting – but, day-to-day, we can't see Becks chewing gum on a touchline, following Vinnie into Hollywood, or trading banter with Matt Dawson on A Question of Sport.

Perhaps the business world awaits. Becks has a dynamite contacts book and could trade on his ball-bending heritage and less well-known penchant for puns to launch a Branson-inspired empire of firms including, but not limited to: Mend it Like Beckham (mail-order football sock-darning service); a home security company (Defend it like Beckham), a network of acting workshops called Pretend it Like Beckham, a high-end abseiling equipment firm (Descend it Like Beckham) and an online dating network for retired and/or divorced footballers called, yep, Befriend it Like Beckham.

More likely, perhaps, and befitting a man who, like or loathe him, has become a sporting icon for the ages, Becks may wish to cement his footballing rather than celebrity legacy. Taking his much-praised David Beckham Academy global after the recent closure of its London base would be a start, perhaps alongside work as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Imagine the potential for David Beckham community football projects in developing countries. And if that isn't enough to keep the children in designer togs, those crisps won't advertise themselves (watch out, Gary). Simon Usborne

The faded glory of a a starlet's sofa

Actress Mischa Barton has put her house in Beverly Hills up for sale. Unless you've got £5m to spend, the only reason this news is of any interest is that it gives us mere mortals the chance to have a good snoop at pictures of her nest. While the house as a whole is surprisingly tasteful – think Hollywood hacienda with a Tuscan twist – Mischa's taste in soft furnishings is more Norma Desmond than sexy starlet. Look at her lounge! Beige satin, cream chintz – and where did she buy her settee? Sunset Boulevard sofas? Rebecca Armstrong

Why we're all upper class now

Our nation of shopkeepers has been hit where it hurts this week: right in the middle class. Genealogists have twitched the net curtain of history and discovered we're actually all dead posh.

One in five of us are scions of the upper class, it turns out, thanks to the nobility of yesteryear, whose generosity with their wild oats is the cause. Who knew that Samantha Cameron boasts links to Nell Gwynn? Or that the London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is directly related to George II? How he worked that out is anyone's guess. It's good to know though, when David Cameron says he's just like us, it's because we're all toffs too.

So look out for Lady Muck next door, who may now have a reason to act all high and mighty. And beware mixing with obliquely related poshos: there's a moral to this story and poor old Tess Durbeyfield is its poster girl. Harriet Walker