UAE Culture Smart - by John WalshISBN: 185733874X3
Date read: 2023-05-08
How strongly I recommend it: 3/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)
Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.
If you are interested in United Arab Emirates, but know nothing about it, this is a good starter book. Very short quick introduction.
Only fifty years ago, the United Arab Emirates was a very poor desert country.
In 1968, the British announced the withdrawal of all their forces by the end of 1971, which stimulated negotiations among Trucial States leaders as to the formation of a unified state - the United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain and Qatar decided to establish independent states, while Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, and Umm al Quwain agreed to form the United Arab Emirates. The next year, Ras al Khaimah opted in.
It took the wise leadership of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan (1918–2004).
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan is still affectionately known by the people of the UAE as “the father of the nation,”
Sheikh Zayed was characterized by his peaceful tolerance of other nationalities and his willing to learn from them, and also by his desire to bring the fruits of development to all the inhabitants of his country; including women.
90 percent of the UAE’s population are non-Emirati citizens.
Low-medium level office workers from Kerala in India.
Manual laborers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.
Filipinos do most of the retail and domestic jobs.
Mid-managerial and technical occupations are usually recruited from Western countries, South Asia, and Arab countries, particularly Egypt and Jordan.
Teachers from South Africa.
Security guards and taxi drivers from central African countries.
Whereas the UAE’s relationship with Iran can best be described as one of “mutual distrust,” the UAE has long held a close bond with their “brothers” in Saudi Arabia.
They face the same long-term issues of how to wean their economies off reliance on oil money.
UAE and Saudi Arabia have broken off diplomatic ties with their neighbors Qatar, who they accuse of harboring extremists.
There is no need for political parties or leaders, since all necessary debate takes place through the Federal Supreme Council (FSC).
Emiratis have access to free healthcare, subsidized fuel, electricity, and water, generous government-funded retirement plans, plots of land, free higher education.
Second generation expatriates whose parents brought them up in the UAE live under the shadow of knowing that if they lose their jobs and cannot find new ones within thirty days, they will be cast out back to a “home” country in which they have never lived.
Emiratis generally define themselves in terms of their family or tribe first, their Emirate second, country third, and Arab world fourth.
In Dubai, which was a bustling trade port, the women often worked on market stalls while the men fished, which might explain why women from Dubai appear more liberal than those from other Emirates.
Generosity is deeply engrained into Emirati culture.
Islam places a great deal of stress on charity, in private donations known as zakat.
The elaborately decorated new mosques that have been built on almost every street of the Emirates have usually been paid for in zakat.
Many Muslims believe that the rulers of countries should be religious leaders, not politicians or nonreligious leaders.
The leadership of the UAE has to date managed to keep separate the two realms and, as a result, has governed the state through political perspectives.
The leader of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum is particularly passionate about women’s advancement. In 2012, he made it compulsory for companies and government agencies to appoint women to their boards of directors.
It is still taboo for men and women to have a romantic relationship before marriage.
Having sex with somebody with whom you are not married is also a crime.
Islamic law in the UAE allows polygamy, with men permitted to marry up to four wives, as long as each is treated equally.
Wasta is an Arabic word meaning something like “influence,” “favoritism” or “connections”. It is not what you know but who you know that counts.
Since the process of getting to trust another person can be time-consuming and even expensive, it is more efficient to short-circuit this process by pointing to a connection with someone that can act as a symbol of trust and friendship.
Some people base their career on their possession of wasta and their ability, therefore, to complete paperwork and have decisions approved.
Prospective business people will therefore customarily seek to equip themselves with allies with high levels of wasta.
Falconry has been an integral part of Bedouin life for centuries, so much so that the emblem of the UAE consists of a golden falcon with a disc in the middle.
The falcon as a totemic symbol represents force, speed, and courage, and is the inspiration behind some of the UAE’s iconic futuristic architecture.
It is still quite common for young Emirati men to keep a pet falcon in their homes, training them to retrieve targets flung into the far distance and to return to their arms.
Visitors can learn more about falconry at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, which is the largest falcon hospital in the world.
The UAE follows the standard Islamic calendar, although most official documents are dated using both the Islamic and Western systems.
The first year of the calendar is marked by the Hijra, in which the Prophet Mohammed traveled from Mecca to Medina. This occurred, in the Western calendar, in the year 570. So the year 2018, according to the Islamic calendar, is 1439–1440 AH (After the Hijra).
Friday and Saturday are the weekend days off and most retail outlets and tourist attractions are closed on Friday mornings.
Friday is considered the holiest day.
The exact dates that religious public holidays fall are not declared until just a few days beforehand.
National Day on December 2, which commemorates the unification of the Emirates in 1971.
Non-Muslims are advised that during Ramadan, they cannot eat, drink or smoke in public during daylight hours,
EID AL-FITR This festival, which marks the end of Ramadan, is the largest and most important festival in the UAE.
Museums to inform tourists about Emirati heritage, but for the people themselves, traditional culture is kept alive at family social gatherings and through annual heritage festivals.
The Al Dhafra Festival in Madinat Zayed, thousands flock from as far afield as Saudi Arabia for the camel beauty contests.
The Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival in Al Wathba, folk heritage is celebrated through traditional dancing and food. Both festivals take place in Abu Dhabi in December.
Local heritage can be better appreciated by visiting the well-preserved forts and souks in Al Ain, and the heritage district in Sharjah.
Writing poetry is one of the most noble activities in which an Emirati man can engage.
Bedouin poetry, which is known as Nabati, ranks alongside falconry in demonstrating manliness, sensitivity, and understanding of one’s cultural heritage.
It would not be seemly to dwell on romantic love (and some of those who have done so have been jailed for breaching public morality), and Nabati poets try instead to reflect on their place in the universe and on matters of spirituality.
The songs of the Gulf Arab pearl divers were documented in the film “A Grain of Sand” (2017), by British musician Jason Carter.
Friendship is taken very seriously by Emiratis, and it represents a serious commitment in terms of time and honesty. Once a relationship is established, it can hardly ever be reversed.
Some Emiratis have become disenchanted with visitors who seem at first to be open and friendly - which would demonstrate a definite commitment to friendship - but who then seem to back off.
It is generally polite to accept something when it is offered to give the other person the opportunity to demonstrate their hospitality.
Hospitality is one of the central virtues of Arab society.
From the historical background of life in the desert, for trade to flourish over long distances, it was vital that travelers could be sure that they would receive a safe and hearty welcome when away from home.
If enjoying the generosity of one person, it is nearly always a bad idea to comment on hospitality received elsewhere, especially if the current hospitality appears to be inferior in some way.
Social occasions often last until the early hours of the morning. Be prepared to spend this time.
It is appropriate to bring a small gift but don’t take anything that might be seen as a slight on the hospitality.
Emiratis prize generosity above almost any other virtue.
The left-hand side of the body is considered impure.
Most Emiratis prefer to eat with their hands when they’re at home.
It is necessary to refuse something several times before convincing another person the item is definitely not wanted.
It is considered polite to efface oneself in many social situations.
Parents require that their children live at home until they are married.
Swimming is not a popular pastime among Emirati citizens.
Emiratis often live in suburbs on the very outskirts of town.
Emiratis prefer to spend time in the shade or indoors, often with the blinds drawn.
People often dress for a much cooler climate than that of the UAE, because they spend their whole time in an artificially cool environment.
Long, crisp and spotlessly white kanduras (gowns): At first sight, the Emirati kandura might appear the same as the Saudi, Kuwaiti, Qatari, and Omani traditional garments, but in fact they all differ slightly. The Emirati kandura is distinguished by the fact it tends not to have a collar, and usually has a long loose tassel with matching embroidery along the neckline and on the sleeves.
On their heads, the men tend to wear the ghutrah. It is a square cloth, usually made of cotton, either in plain white or red with white embroidery.
Friday is a day for meeting with the extended family.
Family occasions will generally be held in the house.
The rich, distinctively Arabian scent of oud in smoke that wafts from burners on perfume counters throughout the shopping malls.
Oud isn’t just burnt at social gatherings. It’s also an integral part of everyday life, as a way of getting rid of cooking smells and generally acting as an air freshener.
The best time of year to visit the desert is in December, or January, after the annual rains.
People are in a hurry in the UAE, not necessarily to be punctual, but to arrive first, in order to assert their dominance.
Al Ain’s Mercure Grand Hotel, which sits atop Jebel Hafeet Mountain at 3,000 feet (914 m), is a good choice for stargazers and those wanting to get away from the summer humidity.
Abu Dhabi was named the safest city in the world.
In the UAE, the handshake is generally softer than in the West.
Wait calmly for the meeting to turn to the issues you’re interested in discussing.
Permit the senior person in any situation to take the leading role.
Oral communication still carries more weight than the written word in the UAE.
Holding a meeting is an end in its own right and need not have any particular purpose other than getting people together.
Initial introductory meetings, which are inevitably social in nature, must be held at the start of any new business venture so that people can get to know each other.
UAE has the highest social media penetration of any country in the world at 99 percent.
Most Emiratis have at least two phones, one for communicating with family and one for work or friends.