Ramadan is the holy month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The tradition can present some surprises for non-Muslim tourists who find themselves traveling in Islamic countries during this time of fasting. Here's what to expect.
•Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is determined by the lunar cycles and therefore is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, according to Christophe Schnyder, general manager of Al Qasr hotel in Dubai. That's the reason that Ramadan begins on a different day of the year and, over time, can occur in any season. This year, Western calendars show Ramadan beginning Aug. 21.
•As a sign of respect, tourists and non-Muslims are expected to observe the fast while in public. But the international hotels will have at least one restaurant set aside where travelers can eat during daylight hours. These designated areas are often curtained off or located behind closed doors, so that those who dine won't give offense to those who fast. Room service is an acceptable alternative. Restaurants, coffee shops and snack bars outside of hotels are closed from dawn to dusk.
•Just after sundown, many hotels set up buffets in special tents just for breaking the fast each evening. Traditional Middle Eastern dishes and special Ramadan desserts are served, and it's OK to smoke.
•Even after sunset the atmosphere is subdued: Restaurants and hotel bars may stay open until midnight or later, but without loud music or live entertainment. Shops operating on reduced hours during the day reopen an hour after sunset and do business until midnight.