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

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Staring in the Emirates

Staring at Emiratis
Expat men staring at Emirati women or maintaining eye contact is usually discouraged by employers as they give their Culture Lesson 101 to their newly arrived staff members.

This is the rationale behind the burka [burqa] that an Emirati woman is for her husband’s eyes alone, thus the veil sends this signal and makes it impossible to see much more than a woman’s eyes. [For more discussion on the burka]

Jeremy Williams in his culture Bible for the Gulf region, Don’t They Know it’s Friday?, suggests that staring at Arabs, especially when they are doing something quite different from your own culture, is improper.

The example Williams gives relates to Muslims when they are praying in public:

“It is best for non-Muslims not to show any special interest in those praying; staring is somewhat rude, although most Muslims will claim that praying is so utterly normal that there can be no possibility of embarrassment whatsoever.” While on this subject he says that “it is polite for non-Muslims not to place themselves directly between those praying and Makkah; Muslims face the direction of Makkak [Mecca] in order to pray.” (p110-111)

Staring at Expats
It is natural for cultural differences to evoke curiosity. Often people in western cultures will be told from childhood not to stare and that such a practice is rude. In some cultures staring is common and the practice is not viewed negatively.

Expat women are encouraged to dress modestly in the UAE (See articles below). When they dress skimpily they will inevitably draw prolonged attention.

Even if a woman’s dress is discrete she will often receives stares which is one of the realities of living in the UAE that women can find ‘disconcerting’.

The Effect of Scarcity
Mohsin Hamid wrote The Reluctant Fundamentalist about the Pakistani context but his thoughts may well relate to the UAE when he addresses the theme of staring:

“It is remarkable, I must say, how being in Pakistan heightens one’s sensitivity to the sight of a woman’s body…. That bearded man—who even now, sir, continues from time to time to attract your wary gaze—is unable to stop glancing over his shoulder at those girls, fifty yards away from him. Yet they are exposing only the flesh of the neck, the face, and the lower three-quarters of the arm! It is the effect of scarcity; one’s rules of propriety make one thirst for the improper. Moreover, once sensitized in this manner, one numbs only slowly, if at all; I had by the summer of my trip to Greece spent four years in America already—and had experienced all the intimacies college students commonly experience—but still I remained acutely aware of visible female skin.” (p26)

What to Wear in the United Arab Emirates, ETE.
What to Wear in the UAE, ETE.
Bodies, Bikinis and Breast Feeding in the UAE, ETE.
Etiquette in the Emirates, ETE.

Dr Geoff Pound