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Sun 12 Feb 2012 12:22 PM

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UAE expats clueless about Emirati culture

Seven out of ten expats say they do not understand the UAE’s local customs and traditions

UAE expats clueless about Emirati culture
The UAE, like much of the region, heavily depends on foreign workers to fill jobs at all levels of the economy.

Seven out of ten expatriates in the UAE do not understand the country’s local customs and traditions, a new survey has revealed.

Only 60 percent of expats claim to know the basics of UAE culture while 72 percent admit to knowing very little about their host country.

Just 28 percent of the 2,000 expats polled by 999 Magazine, the official magazine for the Abu Dhabi Police and Ministry of Labour, claimed to have any real knowledge of the country’s traditions while eleven percent confessed to not even bothering to try to learn.

“The UAE is home to more than 200 different nationalities and has become known across the world for its low crime, modern outlook and the peaceful co-existence of its people. A survey conducted by 999… reveals a dismaying fact that many expat residents have a very limited knowledge of the customs, traditions and heritage of the UAE,” Lt colonel Awadh Saleh Al Kindi, Editor-in-chief of 999, told Khaleej Times.

“We hope that the results of the survey will stimulate people to exert greater efforts in this area,” he added.

Half of respondents polled said they try to learn about Emirati culture “occasionally” while sixteen percent said “hardly ever” in spite 70 percent admitting to have enough resources available to learn.

The UAE, like much of the region, heavily depends on foreign workers to fill jobs at all levels of the economy. Expats hold top roles in sectors such as airlines and financial services, with the majority of low-skilled roles also taken up by migrant workers. An estimated 83.5 percent of the UAE population is made up by expats.

The Gulf state was ranked the least friendly country in the world for expatriates by Forbes magazine last month based on data from HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey, which polled 3,385 expats in 100 countries on factors such as economy, raising children and overall experience.

Forbes, which stripped out data in four categories – ability to befriend locals, success in learning the language, integration into the community and ease of fitting into the local culture – to rank the world’s top spots for migrant workers, said the UAE, Hong Kong and Singapore did not fare well in community integration and befriending locals but performed well in those relating to career prospects and high income.

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british expat 8 years ago

I believe there is more integration is needed between Emirati people and Expats. At a moment there is " Us and Them"approach between locals and expat, and that has to go, only then people can start to get to know each other better and hence learn more about each other's culture and beliefs. For example, when i was in Saudi, I found i was able to integrate in their culture more easily than here in UAE. Thats because you would find saudis working at at levels in any work place. So your colleagues become your friends and allowing you insight into their culture. Here in Dubai, I am in Engineering Consultancy and unfortunately there are not a single Emirati working in my company, which makes it hard for me to get to know any Emiratis. May be we need Emirati and Expat Get to Know Each Other event, allowing expats to get to know Emiratis

bkay 8 years ago

There is a lot more to this than just these numbers, restictions in visa's, why bother if you are allowed to have an initial limited stay of 2 years perhaps, additionally expatriates, especially singles find it impossible to integrate and meet Emirati singles, cultural differences limit these contacts significantly, a more open society would dramatically boost the knowledge about each other's cultures and history, Emirati's to enter the private industry, where most expatriates are finding their circles, etc.
If one is to make these comments, that's fine, but do not ignore the root cause, and more importantly create an environment to implement changes..

charles 8 years ago

unfortunately this appears to be one of those surveys whose answers really prove nothing. We see so many of them.

I didnt even know this magazine exists but if you google the very open-ended questions you will see why they got these answers.
"how good is your knowledge of UAE history, customs and culture" and the options are:
I know a lot, I know the basics, I hardly know anything.

Guess which came out highest?
People always plump for the middle! Same as driving on the roads here.
On that basis people are answering and probably understating themselves. A common feature with such survey questions.

Ask a specific question e.g. when was the UAE formed etc. and you would probably get a completely different result.

This survey appears to be far more generic in its methodology and findings on such an important subject based on the results.

Derman 8 years ago

. Dubai is great and I love it, I live here for 20 years now, but I don’t have a single Emirati friend and I try to avoid as much as possible and try to operate my business via Free zones even though it’s hard - just to avoid any conflicts where I would not be in a position to win. I think there are very minor things to be fixed. But the most wrong thing about the system is that people who live here for 20 years such as me - we don’t get any recognition compared to the person who arrived only 6 month ago. Of course getting the UAE passport is out of the question and no need. But some kind of a Green Card status should be made up to give privilege to people who lived here and not to be referred to as investors but as permanent residents

leo 8 years ago

i have lived here even longer than you Derman, and i have lots of Emirati friends and i believe that you are missing out a great deal by not having such friends. People are the same the world over; there are good, bad and indifferent, but i find most people are good, decent human beings wherever they come from and whatever their background.