Open Minds - 'I feel like a stranger in my own country!'
Want to embrace living in the UAE? Culture guru Nasif Kayed tells you how...
This week I received an email from Noura, an Emirati lady who says she feels like a stranger in her own country.
She says: “Sixteen years ago Dubai was totally different. We respect expats. We appreciate what they are here for. I am always on the net reading blogs and I read what expats think about us. I go to my daughter’s school meetings and I feel I am different, like it’s not my place.
“I go with my toddler some mornings to playgrounds and I feel I am different, like I have landed from outer space. Even if I smile at some of the expat mothers they don’t smile back.
“People should know that we locals have faced this change in our country so, so fast. We need time to cope, to get used to it!”
Dear Noura, I do understand your position. I know it really feels like instead of you landing on the moon, the moon landed where you live. The burden is on both sides. Really, as an Emirati if your English is good enough - or not - you should be able to show your true colours of being hospitable, generous and kind. You can always start by not just saying ‘as-salaam alaikum’ but by actually approaching Westerners who are used to being looked at eye-to-eye rather than from a distance. If you come across somebody who is not interested, or prejudiced and rude, that’s fine.
Move to the next person.
On the other hand, to my Western guests, and friends of all nationalities, you have to be the one to make the first move. You are here as a guest and you are the explorer. You are more adventurous and more able to be the one to approach a stranger and say: ‘Hi, how are you doing, my name is…’
If the Emirati or the person who you assume is Arab or Muslim is not interested, move on to the next one until the day the good meets the good.
SP a male western expat, is not sure of the etiquette of meeting an Arabic lady for the first time.
Should he appear forward and offer to shake hands? Is it rude not to? The etiquette is that women are entitled to their own comfort zones. You allow her to be the one to extend her hand.
Say ‘hello, how are you doing’ when it’s appropriate like in a business situation. It works for all women regardless of the way they dress or where they are from and regardless of their faith. Allow the woman to be the one who extends her hand. Women first. Women tend not to be interested in friendly strange men, while men don’t mind friendly strange women.
Nasif Kayed is general manager of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Every week in 7DAYS he addresses topics about culture and life. Do you have a question for Nasif? Email email@example.com