With the Holy Month of Ramadan starting in a few days, this seemed to be especially appropriate. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and is an important part of the faith. Lest I display my ignorance by getting any further into the religious aspects, I'd like to talk about how Ramadan affects life in Abu Dhabi and what that means to me. (For a very interesting perspective on Ramadan, please read this Saudi Arabian woman's post.)
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar with is a lunar calendar. This means that the year is slightly longer than a standard year and the months shift about 10 days earlier each solar year. During this month, people aren't allowed to eat or drink from dusk to dawn. This has become an increasingly difficult challenge in recent years with the month of Ramadan gradually shifting to the beginning of summer when the hours of sunlight are the longest.
While, non-Muslims aren't required to fast, it is still illegal to eat or drink anything publicly. Don't even chew gum or smoke while driving because the chances are you'll be pulled over and fined. This makes things like exercise in 100 degree heat nearly impossible. Does this mean that I will be arrested for taking a drink while running on a treadmill in a public gym? No, but as a courtesy, you should ask those around if they mind you drinking. The chances are anyone exercising will understand.
It does mean that no restaurants are open during the day so plan ahead when you're going to be out. When out with small children who are not required to fast, bring your own food and drink. They can eat and drink, but it's best to be subtle about it.
Also, shops will have Ramadan hours specific to each shop, so don't count on being able to get much done. Mostly places will have hours in the evening after everyone has had their meal, but even that is kind of random.
Finally, while people try to be a bit more courteous during this month, most people are pretty cranky due to being thirsty, hungry, caffeine and nicotine deprived and probably tired from being up all night. Try to keep that in mind when dealing with anyone. Ramadan Kareem!