Dubai, 13th February 2012
Yesterday’s local paper’s headline screamed ‘Expats clueless about culture’, giving statistics that an impressive, or rather depressing, 72 per cent of expats living in the UAE did not understand the country’s customs and traditions. This follows quick on the heels of another article last month that claimed that expats do not feel welcome in their host country, claiming they don’t owe their host country anything, as they won’t get anything in return (meaning the right to retire in the UAE, mostly, never mind the tax-free income, high standard life style, guaranteed sunshine.)
So yet again, the expats look like idiots. Not only are we ignorant about the country we live in, do not partake in the traditions, worse, do not show any interest in the culture or the language, yet we get our knickers in a twist about not being able to stay here and not being shown any gratitude for working so hard. Hm.
Obviously there are a lot of expats around who really do not give a monkey’s about the country they live in, as is noticeable by for example dressing disrespectfully even during Ramadan; bemoaning the fact that nobody is allowed to eat or drink in public during said Holy month, or indeed insisting on doing just that; getting drunk in public, or famously having sex on the beach – with someone they are not even married to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude, I love my drink and I understand that undress is often the only state of dress that makes the local heat sufferable. But. Laws are laws, and more importantly, local sensitivities are what they are. We are, after all, only guests in this country. Nobody forces anybody to come here, nor does anybody have to stay.
I realise a lot of expats are purely expats to earn money and enjoy the lifestyle, but personally, I like being an expat because it gives me the chance to learn about new cultures and traditions and live a different life from the one I would have led at home. Although, I have to admit that my Arabic is patchy to say the least, but I know the basics and can staggeringly read it – even if I don’t know what most of the words mean; and I know most of what I know about the culture and traditions because I actually went out to write about them. Not everybody has that chance.
Also, the culture is very different to ours and unless you are very lucky coupled with persistent, it can be extremely hard, if not near impossible, to be allowed in as a foreigner. But on the whole I have always found the nationals very forthcoming and willing to share their interests and traditions if only asked.
But I suppose it is the same everywhere in the world. Either you are a curious person and have an interest in what is happening around you, or you are not. How many people never venture out of the town they were born in? How many never leave their country? Or if they do, they draw the line at learning a foreign language, or trying the local food. In that respect expats have at least shown some progress. But then there are those who don’t travel to neighbouring countries; haven’t even been to the desert, which is really only 10 minutes out of town; and those who do not accept that they cannot behave here as they should not even behave in their own country either if they had any understanding of basic manners; and then waste their stay in a fantastic, fascinating country moaning about everything that is awful.
What do I suggest? Stop whingeing, and enjoy what you have. And look around you – you might just learn something.