On Multiculturalism and Hospitality in Dubai
January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
If I had to pick one thing that I have enjoyed most about my time in Dubai (aside from the amazing food I’ve been eating, because let’s be honest, nothing would ever be able to top that) it would be how incredibly friendly and hospitable the people here are. I have noticed a considerable difference in social interactions here in Dubai as compared to back in the States.
In reading and learning about the Middle East, I had heard that it was customary if you were someone walking into a room or a conversation already on-going it was to introduce yourself and shake everyone’s hands (although this norm differs among genders). However, seeing this custom in practice has been pretty fantastic. It completely revamps and takes the majority of the pressure of f of social situations. In the US, I would say as a general assertion, social interactions as a young-adult are pretty confusing to master. Meeting someone for the first time, walking into an on-going conversation, entering a gathering as an individual, being an outsider can be reason for panic for some or (at best) require skillful social tactics for others. Here in Dubai, everyone (students, retail service workers, faculty, administrators, cab-drivers, metro/bus operators) has been tremendously friendly and welcoming from the get-go. I have made many friends around campus and found it very easy to join in on social groups/activities without much trepidation of being an awkward outsider, which is even more remarkable given that I’m a study abroad student.
This brings up another interesting detail about Dubai, and about me specifically. Being South-Asian in Dubai is like being white in the United States. There is a huge population of South-Asians (something I plan on writing about more in depth at a later date), and consequently people assume most of the time that I am someone of Indian or Pakistani origin raised in Dubai and attending AUD. It takes some convincing and detailing of my life-story to convey to people that I am an American studying abroad here, like other American students. In all honesty, this situation is more of a blessing than anything else. I can usually get by with walking around the city without being noticed (which is something that most of the Americans, girls especially, who are studying abroad cannot afford to do). Although this city is by-and-large a safe place, being in unknown surroundings can make anyone feel uncomfortable or unsafe, but because I blend in I think I have a certain sense of comfort that many other study-abroad students would not have. In addition to this, I can also avoid (for the most part) being boxed into the normative American (or American student) identity. Which brings me to my last and most interesting point about Dubai.
There really is no concept of normative homogenous identity here in Dubai. In the US, at least outside of metropolitan cities like Chicago, New York , LA and so on, I have found that there’s no real guess-work when it comes to figuring out who people are (in a general sense) and where’ they’re from. Here in Dubai, I have yet to meet a person whom I can confidently say is _____ nationality or _____ ethnicity or of _____ background. I know all of these things are social constructs anyway, but my point is that the way Dubai has developed over the last few decades it has attracted the most multi-national and multi-cultural of residents, creating new social constructs of its own, unique unto itself. Everyone I meet has an interesting life-story. Born in Nigeria, went to school in London, studying now in Dubai before going to the US. Or parents are Palestinian/Lebanese, can’t get a Palestinian passport so lived in Dubai for most of his childhood, went to Germany to find employment, kicked out because of Palestinian papers, back in Dubai for the time being. These are just the watered down versions and still I could go on. It has been wonderful to be able to meet someone new, learn about their varied and colorful past, and realize that in all likelihood, the future will be comprised of more people like this as opposed to the alternative. Some would argue that living a life like this doesn’t give you a sense of a home or a land, but I would say that living a life like this doesn’t bind you to a land that in turn causes you to alienate others or see them as opposites. Living a life like this makes you more cognizant of the (in my opinion) fact that we all ultimately share the same homeland.