Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Emiratis vs Kiwis
An online subsidiary of Forbes magazine recently gave the not so glamorous label of The Least Friendly Country in the World for Expats to...................The United Arab Emirates. That's right, as much as I love it here and have felt welcomed, my new home has been branded with a scarlet frowny face.
Despite what Forbes may say, the post you've read here over the past few months are not fiction. The UAE is a great place for expats, actually it's the fact that the UAE is so friendly, that I think led to them getting the label of least friendly. Confusing I know, but stay with me and I'll explain.
The first criteria used to determine the world's most expat friendly country, which is New Zealand by the way, was the ability to befriend locals. Do you know how hard it can be to meet locals, and fall into the same circles as them when they account for less than 20% of the country's population. That's right, they are way outnumbered by expats that have come here seeking to prosper from the sheikdom and it's oil wealth. I laugh when I see articles from the US about people complaining about immigration, and it cracks me up even more when Americans try to say things that suggest a group that is less than 20% of their population is taking over the country. Gee, what must the poor Emiratis feel like, and now they have been branded as the most inhospitable country on top of being a minute part of their own country's demographics. I will say they do have a "we were here first" way about them, but again they are the minority in their own country. They have been known to, as one Emirati called it, "pull the Emirati card" and cut people in lines. I myself, have only seen them do this, but I personally have never had an Emirati push in front of me at a register. My son will tell you it's the blonde hair that gives me such immunity. My treatment here based on my hair color and the fact I'm a female is a running joke among my husband and children.
The second item the study looked at was the success in learning the local language. The Emiratis have been so welcoming of other nationalities that they have made it unnecessary to learn Arabic. Almost every sign here is in English and Arabic. A lot of locals were Western educated, so they speak English just as well as I do. They all seem to have a bit of a British dialect when they speak English though. I would love to hear one sound like an American one day, that would be interesting. Oh if I haven't mentioned this in any of my past posts, people outside of the North American realm think we Americans sound funny. They even had a call in on the radio one day when people were trying to imitate us. I should clarify that the DJ is an Aussie, I don't want to give any merit to the Forbes title.
Ok, moving on. The next thing they looked at was the capacity to integrate into the community. Really? This one boggles my mind. With all the different groups and ways to meet people here, how can you not fit in? You play tennis? There's a tennis group. You cook? There's a cooking group. You like watching movies? There's a Movie Mavens group. I could go on and on, but one could over schedule themselves here with all of the different community groups you can join. Also, how can you not feel like part of the community when stores and restaurants here cater to multiple nationalities and religions. This is a Muslim country that decorates it's malls with Christmas trees and even has a Santa Clause for the kids to take their list of demands to. Oh, I should also mention that starting in the early spring it seems that Mother's Day cards just stay on the shelves. There's always a new sign claiming it is Mother's Day, each with a different date, because they cater to all the dates of the different countries for Mother's Day. I tried using this to my advantage last year, and told my kids I expected gifts for UK, UAE, and US Mother's Day. I figured I was cutting them a break with just celebrating 3 when there are actually 27 different days that mothers are celebrated around the world.
The last thing listed was the ease in which the expats are able to fit into the new culture. Let's be real here, this is not going to be easy for any Westerner or other non-Arab expat. The decision to move here isn't like deciding to pack up your bags and move to France....forgive me whilst I day dream for a moment of a life spent sipping café au lait with a view of Le Tour D'Eiffel and Édith Piaf playing in the background. Back to reality, this isn't the Champs-Élysées. THIS is a sandy street in Abu Dhabi with a view of the Aldar (circle building you always see on the engineering marvels shows), the tall buildings of downtown in the distance, and the control tower at Abu Dhabi International with it's steady stream of Etihad planes landing and taking off. Here, parts of the culture can be based largely on their Islamic beliefs. Just like many expats, I am not a Muslim, so I don't expect to fit in to that part of the culture. I do however, respect the culture here and try to learn about it, understand it, and try, try, try not to disrespect it.
I'm not saying the United Arab Emirates should have knocked out the Kiwis as #1. I have never been to New Zealand, and I have nothing against them. I do think the questions asked could have been crafted a little differently to take into account the unique living situation here in the UAE. Emiratis take pride in their hospitality, and it upsets me that they were given a bum wrap on this one.