Cultural Sensitivity – Bradley Barker

The United Arab Emirates is frequently referred to as a cultural melting pot made up of many different nationalities. This is evident by simply visiting one of the many attractions that U.A.E. has to offer. That being said the U.A.E. is steeped in tradition and culture dating back many years.

I moved to the U.A.E. nearly 10 years ago and in that time I have seen a lot of changes. Not only has the U.A.E. population nearly doubled in size but the country has become one of the leading cosmopolitan cites of the world. What is important to remember is that the U.A.E. is a Muslim country, founded on those beliefs. In order to become an inclusive expatriate (expat)  there are a number of “do’s and don’ts” that people should adhere to.

The Common Practice

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Appearance is very important in U.A.E., especially in the business world. For U.A.E. national males/females the standard dress code is the dishdash/Abaya respectively. Although this is widely accepted as traditional business attire in the U.A.E., expats should not adopt this style of clothing as offense may be caused. Instead, expat men should wear a suit and tie or at the very least a tie, jacket and trousers. Women should ideally wear modest clothing in public, high necklines with sleeves that cover their elbows and hemlines which cover their knees.

Greeting each other in the U.A.E.: There are many different greetings in the U.A.E. It is common practice for males to shake hands whist saying “As-Salaam-Alaikum” (Peace be unto you) the correct response to this would be “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” (And unto you peace), this is usually followed by “kaif halak” (How are you). More traditional greetings may include the shaking of the right hand, whilst placing your left hand on the shoulder of the person you are greeting and exchanging kisses on each cheek. When greeting women, males should wait to have a hand offered to them, if this doesn’t happen a simple nod of the head will suffice. Likewise, for women greeting men, they should also wait for a hand to be offered. If you are unsure what to do, let the other person instigate the greeting.

For meeting etiquette, be sure to arrive on time, but do not be surprised if your meeting does not start on time. There is a more relaxed attitude to meetings in the Middle East. Once your meeting does commence allow for interruptions, either by the person you are meeting (answering their phone) or their colleagues (asking to speak with the person privately). A common faux pas in meetings is to sit with your legs crossed showing the sole of your shoe. This is considered very rude and something you should be mindful of. Do not be surprised if tea/coffee and pastries are brought into your meeting. Common practice is to accept these offerings and compliment your host on their hospitality.

As I stated earlier the U.A.E. is a Muslim country, therefore a more modest code of behavior is required. Public displays of affection should be kept to a minimum, holding hands is acceptable but anything more is frowned upon. There are many licensed bars in Dubai where you are able to enjoy a drink, yet you should remember that being drunk and disorderly in public is deemed as unacceptable and could result in a fine or worse. Finally, swearing or being rude/aggressive will not be tolerated in the U.A.E. and this could also land you in trouble should you be caught acting in this way.

The Decade of Changes in U.A.E.

Like most British expats, the lure of tax free earnings and 365 days a year of constant sunshine brought me to the shores of the U.A.E. When I first arrived in market the growth of the U.A.E. was driven predominantly by the oil and gas industry. Over the course of the 9 years I have been here this has changed and incorporated many other industries such as hospitality, medical/pharmaceutical and real estate. More recently the U.A.E. has seen a massive push to increase renewable energy sources. The Abu Dhabi government have committed to generating 7% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The nine years I have lived in the U.A.E. have brought me a lot both personally and professionally. From a personal perspective I met my wife and am now the proud father of William and Amelia. I couldn’t think of a safer environment I would want to raise my children. On a professional level, due to the continuous expansion and growth of the U.A.E. I have been able to build a successful career in recruitment which has enabled me to work for a market leader, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.

The U.A.E. is a progressive, inclusive and proud country ruled by a visionary leader. As long as you are in acceptance of the countries traditions and ways of life the potential for personal and professional success is limitless.

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