Monday, August 23, 2010

Cultural Mix

If you are really following my posts, you should know by now that the United Arab Emirates developed immensely over the last years.

To manage the change that happened over such a short period of time, the country had to open its doors and welcome a series of resources – from the very basic to the highly qualified.

Today, only 20% of the entire population (that actually recently reached 8 million) is composed of Emiratis (people born in the UAE). The other 80% are made up of expats - like moi - that come from all parts of the world: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, a series of Arab states and also from many developed countries in Europe and around the globe.

The UAE government and companies based here had to come up with very attractive packages in order to draw in and hold on to all these professionals, especially the more schooled and experienced ones.

I won’t lie to you. The packages can be amazing. They usually include high salaries, housing, medical insurance, school allowances for the kids and much more. The game plan of most people is to come on over, save loads of money and leave after a few years.

But, it’s not all about the money. The UAE had to make sure that the overall setting and atmosphere of the country would also serve as bait. Can you imagine, for example, over 100,000 British nationals living here with no access to pubs or booze? Well, jokes aside, I do believe some restrictions would make it harder to lure people and keep them around.

So, the UAE had to become more flexible and tolerant in relation to other cultures and values. Of course there are rules and regulations to be followed – as in any other country – but one can do here pretty much anything they would do anywhere else in the world.

I work, drive, use public transportation, go to restaurants and bars, eat pork, drink alcohol, wear regular clothes, shop at my favorite stores, find all kinds of food in the supermarket (including something I miss dearly: pão de queijo - cheese bread) and I can even go to church if I feel like it. I’ll come back to each of these on later posts.

Living in the UAE is a great opportunity to learn not only about the Arab culture, but also about so many other nationalities you encounter and interact with on a daily basis.

Take me as an example. I was recently hired by a national gas company where I am immersed in the Emirati culture, working for and with the locals. This is really a completely different ball game from my previous job on a local airline.

My boss was from Finland, the group of managers in my direct network group came from places like India, Philippines, Scotland, England and Australia and my main role was to ensure an effective and efficient two-way communication was in place between the organization and one of its largest populations, which was made up of people from over 100 different nationalities.

I guess it was no coincidence that, a few years back, I chose to write my entire Master Thesis on the role of communications in multicultural organizations.

Someone, somewhere, probably knew I was destined to come here...

Vive la difference!

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