I am cramped into an undersized chair copying down foreign language phrases that are being scribbled on a whiteboard by our class tutor.
On the face of it, this could be any language class in any school across the world.
Yet it is appropriate conduct rather than linguistic expertise that the 20 or so mainly western attendees are here to be schooled in.
This is a Ramadan etiquette workshop, staged by Eton Institute, a business training company, at its recently opened Abu Dhabi office in the Park Rotana business complex. The aim of the two-hour, free-to-attend class is to educate non-Muslim expats about the social, historical and religious significance of the festival and to talk about accepted codes of conduct and public behaviour during the Holy Month.
Kariman Al Assil, a motherly Syrian who has worked as a language tutor in the capital for more than 25 years, is leading the class.
Some would argue that, as guests in this land, expats should familiarise themselves with Islamic customs before arrival. Al Assil strongly disagrees.
“Many of the students who attend my classes have just arrived, so how would they know?” she asks. “Unless you read about it before you come here, there is no way you can understand everything about Ramadan. I don’t think the media in Europe or America really covers what it is about.
“So they come here and all they know is that Muslims are exhausted, hungry and thirsty during the month. So I see it as my job to supply the answer to why we do this.”
Those attending the class confirmed that they felt bemused by what to expect during the month-long religious festival.
Stefan Herget, a 38-year-old from Germany, had only landed in the country 10 days previously to start work for an engineering firm.
“I guess our biggest fear is that we don’t want to offend [anyone],” he says before the class began. “So I really came along to see if I could understand more.
“All I knew about [Ramadan] was that it’s about fasting and intensive prayer, but that was about it. I was curious to know how a westerner who isn’t a Muslim fits in with this and what it’s like to be here.”
British teacher Marie Lottin, 48, said apprehension was also her motivation for attending.
“I have only been here since last November and so I missed the last [Ramadan],” she explains. “Some of my friends have said to me ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’, so it was all a bit scary. I saw this class advertised and felt I should really come along to find out if it was true or not.”
So, during her lesson, Al Assil attempted to elucidate these issues and dispel misconceptions.
“For those who aren’t fasting, the most important thing is to respect those who are fasting around you. That means no eating, no drinking or smoking in front of them,” she advises her class.
“Some people don’t mind if you do this, but some do, so you should always respect those who do mind. Personally, I don’t care. But some do find consuming food in front of them disrespectful. So that is why you should avoid it.”
Despite Al Assil’s relatively relaxed attitude, it is important to remember there are laws in place that forbid eating, drinking and smoking in public places (or your car) during the hours of daylight, and anyone caught doing so could face being fined or, worse still, being imprisoned.
There are other more charming codes of conduct that non-Muslims should also follow.
“If you are invited to share an iftar meal, go ahead and never hesitate. This is one of the most appreciated acts in the Holy Month,” Al Assil imparts.