View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Experiencing Difference in the Emirates

You know you’re in the Emirates when your glasses fog up as you emerge from your villa to the steamy heat.

You know you’re in the Emirates when you have to sleep with the air conditioners on.

You know you’re in the Emirates when it takes more than three calls to get a tradesperson to tackle that problem in your apartment.

Many of the customs and cultural ways in the UAE are different for the expatriate. That is a big part of the challenge, the frustration, the joy and the education of living in another country.

Saying No
Trades people will often tell you that they will come ‘tomorrow’ because they want to please you. ‘Tomorrow’ in the UAE doesn’t always mean twenty-four hours but sometime in the future.

If you ask a taxi driver if he knows how to get to XYZ he almost always say ‘Yes’ even if he does not know. He responds in the affirmative because he wants to please you, he has face to save and he wants the job. Then he’ll make some phone calls to one of his colleagues or wind down the window and get some instructions from someone who might know.

Jeremy Williams in his book, ‘Don’t they Know it’s Friday?’ makes these points (76-77) about ‘saying no’ in the Arab culture and the effect on business dealings:

Saying `no' is rude
The natural instinct of most Arabs is to be hospitable and welcoming. For many Arabs it is impolite to refuse a guest anything. The guest is king. The guest honours the host by his presence in the host's home and, less so, in the office. The Arab will expect to act as host.

The effect in business is that the guest (i.e. the salesperson) must reach the conclusion himself that the goods or services being offered are of no interest whatsoever to the Arab side. This may have been true during the very first sales visit to the Arab country. From the company’s point of view, it would have been far more helpful (and cheaper) to have known such a fact earlier so that effort could have been transferred to other markets. For the Westerner that would have been polite. But a typically polite remark from an Arab official during any follow-up visit may well be limited to: "We are still considering the matter. You are always welcome in my country. Do have some coffee. Is your hotel comfortable?" In time the salesperson will no longer visit. The Arab has not had to reach a decision. There has been no refusal. The matter has resolved itself.

‘Don’t they Know it’s Friday’ is full of interesting information and tips for those who are new to the Emirates and those who have been living here for some time. Jeremy Williams writes about language, drinking coffee, how one must dress, Emirati time customs and why that business contract or employment contract that you’ve signed means very little.

A review of ‘Don’t they know it’s Friday’, is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Related Articles:
Sounds of Silence in the Emirates, ETE, 19 June 2008.
Are You Ready to Come to the Emirates? ETE, 6 June 2008.
Beware Bouncing Cheques in the Emirates, ETE, 5 June 2008.
What’s the Time in the Emirates? ETE, 29 May 2008.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Time-keeping in the Emirates (Credit-‘Don’t they know it’s Friday?’, p38.)