Why is it so difficult to get to know an Emirati... and other questions you always wanted to ask

Emirati nationals, expats and thousands of tourists interact with each other on a daily basis. Especially in Dubai, one can speak of a blend of cultures, religions, and lifestyles. However, it would be too optimistic to say that this blend has led to a true understanding of each other.

As an expat, for instance, do you know if UAE nationals take their traditional dress off when they’re at home? Do you know if women have to cover their hair in the house?

These are just some of the questions asked about Emirati lifestyle by expatriates or tourists visiting the UAE, reveals the Sheikh Mohammad Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).

A conscious effort has been made by the local population to identify, explain, and promote Emirati lifestyle drawing on cultural traditions, historic background, religion, cuisine, or language.

The SMCCU was established in 1998 with that very purpose, while answering all questions people have about what they see, hear, or assume, but do not understand.

During activities such as heritage tours, cultural meals, educational programmes or mosque visits, participants are able to ask questions about anything that keeps them wondering. In 2012, the SMCCU held 1,237 activities, with an average of 25-30 questions asked per session.

“People from all over the world come to us with questions about local lifestyle,” said Debbie Jaunich, Technical Specialist and Presenter at the Center.

Sometimes, the questions are somewhat odd, such as ‘what do you wear under your traditional dresses?’ or ‘Why is there a water sprayer in the toilet?’

“Expatriates and UAE nationals are neighbours; however they can also be strangers,” writes the SMCUU.

“His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, saw the need to reach out and educate expatriates in the traditions and customs of the UAE.”

Based on nearly 15 years of experience, the SMCCU listed the Top 10 questions asked, with the answers given of course. In a countdown of sorts, Emirates 24|7 shares the top queries and their answers.

Question 10: What is Emirati authentic cuisine?


Answer from SMCCU: We live in the desert where hardly anything grows, but we are also close to the sea. So, during the season, when the weather permits, fish is the ultimate. We have grilled fish and we have fried fish. We dry the fish and we cook it.

There is Saloona, which was historically a stew. Then rice came to us through trade, so it became a dish with rice. Add to a dish with rice, chicken, fish, or meat and we call it Machboos. This is the main meal eaten on a daily basis in most Emirati households, and is identical to Biryani or Spanish Paella. Some families add spices but that tends to be to the liking the chef.

One of our most traditional and fascinating dishes is Harees – wheat, meat and ghee. This dish serves to give you that kick of energy. You eat it and then you get going, burning off all the calories.

During the old days, every aspect of an Emirati’s life comprised of hard work, so we needed to be nutritionally prepared. People walked everywhere and almost every activity was hard work, because there were no such things as cars or camel rides everywhere. Therefore, Harees is a great dish.

Another recipe is Mathrooba, which is puréed chicken with lentils. Drinks include water, camel or goat milk and Arabic coffee. Dates, of course, have also been a major source of survival in the desert.

Question 9: Are all Emiratis rich? Do Emiratis get free water and electricity, free homes and land, and free education?

Villa in UAE

Answer from SMCCU: As citizens, Emiratis are offered certain benefits by the Government, such as free healthcare, education and discounted utilities. When it comes to homes and land, there are funds set up by the government to help citizens from all economic levels access to affordable housing, which can be in the form of land or a loan to build a house. However, there are conditions, waiting lists, and you must qualify.

Every country’s citizens are afforded certain rights and the Emirates are not different in its effort to improve the quality of life of its citizens. The fact of the matter is if you drive around, you will see those whom are still living in a much older house or in a much smaller house than the person next door, and some citizens do rent apartments and struggle to make ends meet.

Question 8: Why does it seem so difficult to get to know an Emirati?

Multicultural meeting at SMCCU

Answer from SMCCU: Difficulty in meeting an Emirati depends on whom you ask; some have friends after a short while of living here and some never spoke to an Emirati even after 10 years of living here.

As an expat you need to make the first move. Why? Because we are a lot less in population, have a different family makeup and a different lifestyle due to traditions and religion, so connecting to make a friendship takes effort and sincerity.

Our younger generation finds it easier. They are more out-and-about and their English is much better than that of the older crowd, so it is easier for them to communicate. If you speak or learn Arabic, then your chances of meeting and forming a friendship with an Emirati are much higher without a doubt. Dubai is known for its openness and tolerance towards its expat guests.

Emirates 24|7 will bring you the next set of questions and answers in the series on Thursday, December 26, 2013.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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