Rounding is the unofficial national pastime of the UAE

04 Dec 2019

The United Arab Emirates has a new, if unofficial, national pastime, known as rounding.

Rounding refers to the Khaleej art of cruising around in motor vehicles and having tea with friends.

People of all nationalities and ages within the Gulf practice this pastime, which has resulted from cheap petrol, excellent infrastructure, and the sheer number of tea shops in the region.

Every day, thousands of people just in Ras Al Khaimah cross the city in order to park close to cafes that are known for their tea, with a set social etiquette being followed by car drivers and passengers alike.

This etiquette involves talking to people in other cars from the windows of their own vehicles, as well as wordless communication via music.

This now-common ritual takes place every evening and carries on into the night.

Neighbourhoods have been transformed by the phenomenon, resulting in a licence plate industry worth billions of dirhams and making karak tea a part of the UAE national identity.

There are plenty of karak cafes around and the best of them even manage to have reputations that span the entire country.

Despite its recent rise in popularity, rounding is a practice that has actually been around for many decades, when people were forced to seek refuge in air-conditioned vehicles after power cuts left their homes stiflingly hot.

The cheapness of the practice is one of the reasons why it has grown in popularity.

With many city spaces either being reserved for families or commercial purposes, the likes of dirt car parks became social gathering sites for young men and, today, increasing numbers of young women also.

Rounding is an act that is simultaneously public and private, with the car often being a way for individuals to express their own identity.

Licence plates are symbolic in the UAE depending on the number’s symmetry and the place in which it was issued, with Abu Dhabi plates being seen as nationalistic and powerful and Dubai plates as fun or glamorous.

Cars are also places where young people can experiment with music styles that may not be approved of by their parents, such as gangster rap and death metal.

This music is often shared on social media during rounding, as are ethical ideals and values.

Rounding’s recent popularity can be traced back to 2015, when the introduction of mandatory national service in 2014 resulted in a surge of nationalism.

However, rounding could be brought down by its own popularity, with paid parking, paved roads and traffic junctions being rather paradoxical to a pastime that was created around fluidity.

The number of cafes in the UAE has also made it less likely for people to casually run into them, though the craze does not seem likely to slow down anytime soon.

Anyone who partakes in rounding or drives a motor vehicle in the UAE for any reason is legally required to have car insurance.

The financial difficulties that can result from accidents or a car being stolen can be massively offset by having car insurance coverage.