Dumbassery prevailed this week when Scorpions drummer James Kottak reportedly thought it a good idea to wander around Dubai airport drunk out of his mind, pants falling down and making obscene gestures. Sure, we've all lingered in airport bars too long waiting out delays and layovers, but this is another example of short-sighted Westerners not understanding that what flies in, say, SFO, ain't gonna fly in Dubai. Kottak was sentenced to a month in jail after being convicted of insulting Islam.
Kottack is not the first musician to have issues adjusting to the ways of the United Arab Emirates. Talking on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January of 2013, Nicki Minaj revealed that she was almost arrested in Dubai for hugging a police officer. "One of the rules [is] you can't hug a man if you're not married to the man," she said. "And so when we were leaving, there was this one guy that was so freaking cute, I was like, 'Bye!' Because I just wanted to have this one last moment to savor the moment with him... Literally, I didn't know he was a cop... I felt like everything froze. Every single person turned around in slow motion like, 'Nooo!'"
British drum 'n' bass DJ Grooverider didn't get off so easily when he was arrested in November 2007. On his arrival to the UAE, customs officers found 2.16 grams of what he later referred to as "weed dust" in one of his pockets, which he believed must have fallen out of a long-gone joint. It was such a miniscule amount, he had no idea it was even there. Even so, he was sentenced to four years. (It goes without saying that if you are in possession of a medical marijuana card and planning a trip to Dubai any time soon, you should probably just buy an entirely new wardrobe.)
After serving ten months, Grooverider was pardoned by Dubai's Royal Family and later told the BBC: "When I heard four years, I kind of dropped a little bit, I nearly fell on the floor ... They don't have toilets, they have holes in the ground. There's eight people to a cell and they do treat you alright -- don't get me wrong -- but it's just horrible seeing so many people come in for nothing ... I just know I got four years for nothing. But there's nothing you can do."
So why are so many people un-savvy when it comes to Dubai and the rest of the UAE? Well, for starters, it's one of the most confusing places on earth. Dubai likes to advertize itself to the West as a glamorous, forward-thinking, luxurious party town -- the phrase "Las Vegas of the Middle East" gets thrown around by travel bloggers on the regular. But aside from some big fancy hotels and novelty attractions, the two destinations have little in common.
The reality of Dubai for musicians -- and anyone else who likes to party -- is that not only are the drug laws incredibly tight, so are the alcohol regulations. In fact, by law, you are supposed to have a license to drink, even if you're only on vacation. Tourists and travelers generally don't know this because it's not generally enforced. But if you get a bit too wobbly in the street, or audibly curse in front of the wrong people (no, really), or get into an argument with locals, you risk being charged and thrown in jail.
The same principle is applied when it comes to the UAE's anti-homosexuality laws. For all you LGBTQ folk thinking of vacationing in Dubai, make sure you stay sober and off each other in public, or you could face a 10-year sentence. Which might not be something you'd know, given that the gayest man in the world, Elton John, has and does play here. The Pet Shop Boys have a Dubai date coming up on May 9, too.
Here is the thing about Dubai: It is a city that wants to be cool, but is in no way as permissive as Americans are accustomed to. It will turn a blind eye to most things... until its officials don't feel like it anymore. The UAE is a country that has laws against tattoo shops, but where it's okay to have a tattoo (as long as you don't mind being stared at a lot). It's a country that will invite the almost perma-nude Rihanna to play, then (according to a British tabloid at least), ask her to cover up. It is certainly not a place the drummer from the Scorpions can be a jackass and expect to not go to jail. If you party as hard as most San Franciscans, we'd suggest you approach the country with caution.