The UAE is known as a country with as wide multicultural blend. Circa 2012, its population is made up of about 85 per cent foreign residents, and this group in turn comprises of a wide nationalities.
Although this mix of people operates smoothly on a daily basis, it is surely not void of the usual stereotyping.
As this journalist was about to survey the apparently most widespread stereotypes among UAE residents, controversy developed around an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant. This advert was never officially used, but ended up on the Internet through weblogs and tweets in the last week of 2011.
“Brings out the Chinese in everyone”, said the tagline supportive of a showing of a Sikh, African American and Arab man, all appearing with ‘Chinese-looking eyes’.
The advertisement, which was created by TD&A DDB for the restaurant Chinese Times in 2009, sparked controversy because it is considered racist.
“Yes, I would feel offended upon viewing such advertisement,” says Brian Wong, an American citizen of Chinese origin who has not yet seen the ad. “I think it accentuates an already existing stereotype, which is unnecessary and harmful.”
Stereotypes also typically evolve around UAE residents with Philippine origin, as they are often automatically considered to be the housemaid.
A Filipina lady, who prefers to remain anonymous, knows it all too well. “I am married to a French man, and we live with our family in a villa in the Springs. Every time when I open the door for a stranger, I am asked for the miss or mister of the house. Well, that happens to be me!” she says perplexed.
Sometimes, stereotypes are so pronounced that they’ve turned into jokes, which means that the unfortunate carrier of the targeted identity has to bear the tag for the rest of their lives. As such, people from Homs in Syria are tagged by some as ‘dumb and funny’.
“When the Mongol invasion struck Syria, the people of Homs pretended to be stupid, by riding their donkeys backwards and drawing red spots on their face. In this way, we convinced them not to take our city, but we are still bearing the label,” tells Hani Mazjoub, a Syrian UAE citizen born in Homs.
“Russian people are known to be good drinkers, and the women are considered the most beautiful women in the world,” says Elena Loy, a Russian woman working in a shoe store in Mall of the Emirates. “I think this is nonsense. I know many pretty women and I have met many people drinking heavily.”
“We are not terrorists,” says Amjad Iqbal from Pakistan, emphasizing that this should be a message to everyone because he is largely irritated by the often-heard insinuations.
Likewise, Iranian Ali Reza Mohammady claims not to know of any nuclear bomb being developed in his country. “These accusations are believed by everyone as it being discussed in the media on a daily basis. But it is not true,” he says.
Sometimes, stereotyping can work out for the best. “We are known to be hard workers, who are always on time,” says Christian Henn from Germany. “This has helped me a lot in my work – people easily entrust me with important work,” he says, adding that he’d like to believe that this particular stereotype is true, and he does always come on time.
Many believe Western expats have the benefit of the doubt in many cases in the UAE. They are hired more easily, fined less likely and are able to obtain the visa without any problem, is an often heard critique from people lacking these benefits.
On the road, however, it is best to be an Emirati, confirms a local resident from Abu Dhabi, not revealing his identity. “I am a very bad driver. That is what we are known for. When people see my number plate, they will make space for me on the road. They will not dare to come close,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
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