More Thoughts on Differences

I wanted to follow up on my post about the differences here, and thank everyone who commented on and linked to it.

As I think more about it, is seems that there are three basic types of differences:

1. Completely irrelevant: The best example I can think of is which side of the road you drive on. As long as everyone does the same thing, it doesn't matter.
2. Things were there is an absolutely right or wrong: For example, American culture improved when we banned slavery.
3. Things that have two sides. These things have to been seen from both sides to be understood, because they involve two competing interests.

Take the issue that Mohammad brought up in the comments to that post, about the differing treatment of nationals and various expats. You have two competing principles, one that says that everyone should be treated the same, and another that there should be some rights that only citizens have. An easy example is that in the US, where only citizens can vote. The UAE seems to drawn the line between these balancing interests closer to the "more rights for citizens" end of the spectrum than the "everyone treated the same" end. Some of these are written law, and some are unofficial but widely known.

Mohammad's example:

There are many situations where foreigners (I mean Persians, Indians, Asians and not Westerners)dont get "enough" respect. There are many examples of those cases that i can mention. But one of the good ones is waiting in queues. I remember when I was doing my Driving License test. I waited in the line for 1 hour and out of no where a local comes and takes the test before me. I went to the manager of the Emirates Driving Institute and told him and his reply was very simple "He is local".

A couple of other examples: I have also heard from other expats who have been here for some time that if a car accident involves a national and an expat, the expat will be blamed, even if by objective standards he was blameless. Another example I have heard is that nationals pay less per kilowatt hour for electricity.

I don't know if these differences are cultural, simply a reaction to the overwhelming preponderance of expats here, or some combination of the two. But since some in America (I'm looking at you Pat Buchanan) want to limit immigration and make English the official language because of what they perceive as too much Hispanic immigration, I have been asking myself how I would react if I suddenly found myself feeling like a stranger in my own country.

The other aspect of Mohammad's story, about how non-Westerners are treated, also raises a question. As a Westerner, it makes me uncomfortable when I am helped/waited on/served before others, but I don't know that I can do anything about it. How do any of the rest of you handle these situations?

[Added on Saturday night]
Also, I would recommend reading the link that uaeyah included in the comments to the first post.


Lulu said...

Before I came here I read that only locals may drive pick ups and they are allowed to have their car windows tinted darker than non-locals .... just doesnt seem logical, but I saw an article in the newspaper the other day where an Emirati insisted that they should be entitled to extra perks for being locals as it is their country.

Anonymous said...

i would just like to point out that the gulf countries including emirates does not have a migratory status or naturalization for expatriates or any long term foriegn residents (not even for other arabs from the other middle eastern countries) who will always be short or long term guests for as long as they may reside here and naturally should not acquire national rights from the government as citizens or sons of this land so i find it hard to understand why others seem to find it illogical taking into account that the muslim arabs in general and espesially the gulf ,emirati society is very particular and different than theirs , it`s a totally different culture , customs , beliefs, understandings ,etc and a close knit tribal society ( even different from it`s other arab brethrens) that is tolerant enough to have guests living along side but never integrating as part of it , so why bother about the locals rights then, as a foriegner whether it be grants ,loans ,scholarships ,,etc, Yes again it is their country and the traffic dept doesn`t fancy tinted glass because of all the hidden stuff?????//// happening behind it and accidents etc., but allow it to family cars of emiratis (as some families are very conservative and their women are not to be seen) that is a custom or cultural necessity for us not others , lawfully even single emirati men should not drive around in the tinted family registered car and they are always given fines by police if caught.I was a female emirati undergraduate student in America and never even thought of nor minded the rights of american citizens as compared to mine , no scholarships , no special discounted fees for state residents at the university, no work along study outside campus , no social security no.so a a non -local bank account no loans ,and the list goes on even when my family thought of buying a holiday home the taxes for foriegn ownership differs and was much more.Even those who were on a business residency had to invest minimum of $200,000 to start a business and a lot more hidden expenses for visa, home ,medical insurance etc. could not get the full rights or benefits of an american citizen and were told to enter the country on an immigratory basis beforhand or marry an american , second choice seemed tempting (i dont need those rights or benefits by the way ) but i couldn`t do it and bring any of those gorgeous goodlooking american men that i met there during my course of study home with me to live here forever because i worried about my family`s disapproval , stupid me they are open minded and could have eventually swallowed it if he were to turn muslim just for formality sake well maybe when i go back for graduate school.So what is this fuss about the rights of a citizen in their own country!

Anonymous said...

and yes some of our utillity bills are discounted as the difference is paid directlly from from the rulers pocket, some thing goes for marriage grants( if you marry a local too only), sending the sick abroad if no adequate facilities here ...etc.and it`s all out of different emirati dignitaries ,officials and rulers pockets to their people, don`t see any thing weird about that and naturally it should not apply to non citizens .I know americans in their home are entitled to social security ,unemployment benefits,discounts for senior citizens ,veterans,,,,,,,,,even foodstamps for the needy etc.Those there in transition or on any non immigratory status are not, at least not to all till they become full pledged citizens.

ml said...

ok now for cutting que at the traffic dept. it`s most probably because the emirati guy with you was representing the university someway or another and finishing things for a few where you guys dont have the day off to waste, go on your own and you will wait in line wether westerner or not women are highly respected in our culture so they need not wait unattended for a long time or stand in line with men , they can go upfront right away and demand to form their own que ,especially mums with babies toddlers or kids in tow .As for Asians waiting on you in restaurants and elsewhere due to the heavy influx of poeple working in the service industry from south east asia where they find the pay here more than their home countries, they make up more than 60 % of the expatriate population whereas westerners are 8% maybe more and come here for upscale jobs.

Brn said...

Hi ml,

I'm not sure if you posted all three of these comments or not, but it seems like you might have since they all kind of run together addressing all the points brought up, so I'm going to address them as if you did. If I'm wrong, I appologize in advance.

I may be misreading your posts, but you seem upset about the points that were brought up. I certainly didn't mean to be offensive in any way. I was hoping to point out that different cultures and countries have balanced competing interests in different ways. But just pointing out the differences is not the same as criticizing their existence.

I knew about the fact that the Emirates do not allow naturalization, or even grant citizenship to children of non-citizens born here. This is certainly their right to do so.

I think that the same is true of all the other differences you listed for both your country and the US too, for that matter. It doesn't bother me that the power rate for nationals is less than mine. And no one is forcing me to stay here if I didn't like it. As I said in the previous post, I'm a guest here, I know it and appreicate the hospitality I have been shown.

As for the deference shown to Westerners, I'm not even talking about Emiratis at all. It is other, non-Western, expats who are pushing me to the front of queues or ignoring others to wait on me first. I agree that most of us Westerners are here to do higher level jobs than most Asians. However, my culture is more egalitarian (at least in appearance), and so it makes me uncomfortable.

Thanks for participating in the discussion though. I hope you come back and express your opinion some more.

desertdweller said...


as a matter of fact , they are not entitled to extra perks as their rights does not go one on one in conjunction with other guests residing here , the right wording would be, they are entitled to all their constitutional rights as citizens of this country certainly not in conjunction or comparison or consistency with anyonelse who is not a citizen , the emirati who asked for extra perks probably had poor english writing skills.

Sara said...

hi brn -no apologies needed

yes my name is sara and i posted all three comments ,actually i am not upset at all , certainly not with your writings ,as a matter of fact i enjoyed reading it and like you said you were just stating some views presented to you by the other readers or what you have been told as you are new here, you presented your points in a neutral way and actually i skimmed through them not giving them a second thought.
i guess i just got carried away with my response to LULU and AHMED , the comments of the readers of your blog and many expatriates who flooded 7 days (free daily newspaper) with smilar topics as in lulu`s comment above , sorry if i sounded upset , it wasn`t directed towards you at all , Ooops! just realized my comparison for your readers with the USA, because that`s the only place i lived for quite sometime ,honestly it totaly slipped my mind that you are american when i was answering their comments .

Brn said...

Hi Sara,

Thanks again for the comments. I'm learning a lot from the Emiratis who have been posting here.

I wasn't offend by what you said about the US - trust me, I've said much worse :) I thought it was good that you brought up the ones that you did. I knew that there had to be more rights that US citizens had that non-citizens didn't, but being a citizen I honestly wasn't aware of them.

Bu3askoor said...

This is a very delicate subject and it depends greatly on how you look at it.

Many citizens feel that they should be entitled to more things than expats. It is our country and we should feel like citizens in it. Currently, we have more expats than citizens. I think there would be riots if the government started to favor exapts over citizens. I am talking here about health, education and other government services.

Now when it comes to "respect" other nationalities working in UAE, it all comes down to how the person involved was brought up. I was brought up to respect everybody regardless of their religion, nationality, and status. This is how Islam asks people to behave. It is a way of living.

When locals do not respect others, it is an insult to the rest of us as well as their religion.

There are things that should be acceptable, others not. As a citizen i expect the government to favor me, because this is how it was always been. Cut people in line is not acceptable in any way. Treating others as if they are less than us is not acceptable.

UAE cannot be compared to the U.S. The U.S started from people migrating from other countries. UAE started by the union of different tribes that ruled the land. So the way these two countries look at "others in the country" is different.

Even now in the U.S the government is trying to separate citizens from those who just migrated to the states (Mexicans/Hispanic).

Sorry for keep yapping, but ultimately things are different in this country. Citizens have certain expectations from their government. On the other hand, citizens must not act superior to those who we have on our land. It is not acceptable morally and religiously.

(sorry brn for this long post:))

DesertDaisy said...

emiratis are peacefull and in general tend to keep to themselves and not interfere in anyway in our lives which in return makes expatriates feel very much at home as much as possible and not guests , this whole contraversy in 7 days started when some questioned the rights of citizens, i guess certain nationalities maybe from poor countries do not have any privilages in their home land that they do not realize it.

Senator Alan Simpson of Michigan was trying to pass a bill from early ninties that would not allow american citizenship to any infant born on american soil basically revert this current law.
at the moment this infant can sponsor the parents to reside in the USA only at the age of 18 , then their naturalization would talk much longer.

those on immigratory status too do not acquire the rights or benefits of an american citizen till their green cards(permanet residency leading to eventuall naturalization) comes through.

it is totaly understandable why the emirati society cannot assimillate immigrants as compared to american.

Brn said...

Thanks bu3askoor and desertdaisy for your thoughts.

I agree completely that it is competely natural that the UAE and America have different policies toward immigration and naturalization, because the situations are so different. Even as unified as America is, being so large, probably doesn't even have one culture. And even with our policies to allow a lot of immigration and naturalization, we have in times past decided that we needed to slow the rate and assimilate those who had most recently arrived.

And we do need to respect each other, but that also means seeing things from the other person's point of view as much as possible. For me, that means that I need to think how I would feel if I were in an Emirati's shoes and was now a minority in my own country. Likewise, I need to try to see how it would make me feel to be an Indian or Pakistani who had been here being a productive member of society for 10 or 20 years and then see some new Westerner show up and get jumped in the queue ahead of me.

There are so many cultures and people here that it is amazing that this country is so peaceful and polite.

amandah said...

desert daisy

I think they realize it(citizens of wealthy countries have rights and privaliges) otherwise how would you explain many of them trying to realize their ultimate dream of taking advantage of any opportunity that arises in dubai in order to leave to the west and acquire western passports then maybe not , not those who wrote their views to 7 days.

Anonymous said...

Well, this has certainly been an active topic :D. What I have to add is the fact that I agree with what Brn is saying. What the main point here is not the fact that nationals are treated more favourably, it's their country after all, no matter what effort by whoever was put into its development, it's the fact that some of them carry off a pseudo-supremacist attitude which causes a lot of discomfort for all other nationalities involved. Now, my point isn't to offend anyone whatsoever. It's really simple, the actions of a few individuals influence the impression of the rest, in the minds of others. Indeed the people of this country are famous for their hospitality and it leaves a lingering effect, but when one comes across certain events, that leaves a bad taste. Privileges, housing, salary, etc. are all acceptable rights, but paltry rules like tinting, etc. do nothing positive for the country's image. Also, desertdaisy I'd like to point out again, that it's not the privileges which most people are upset with, it's a whole host of other factors.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous the efforts of those who helped build our country were rewarded financially & in some cases, way exceeding any life style they can pertain back home ,expatriates came here on contracts that never claimed that they would eventually be rewarded a chunck of the country or it`s privilages or be part of it`s tribal society etc.? being hired to do a paid job doesn`t mean you eventualy have to own the business (it`s not yours) or control the employer.I dont see why the attitude matters (if it exists, those carying it dont represent the majority)have you ever thought that it`s not an atittude and it is just a matter of not understanding our mentality , we live by islamic morals and guidlines, we are somehow interrelated- connected , our lifestyle,culture,traditions , customs is particular and different .we keep to our selves and look at everything else as foreign ,wont you like to mingle and feel comfortable among your own people ,as open minded as my family is , we(more so myself and i gew up abroad!) dont accept showing affection in public,revealing clothes, alchocol,drugs,premarital relationships ,dirty language,porn , gays,,,,,,,,all these liberties, arab culture puts an emphasis on a persons (good)background and the related environment he comes from ,we know our own people pretty much .
I guess you should not look at it as a snobish superior atittude as most of the emiratis are respectful of the residents working here.Dont know what those whole host of other factors that expatriates complain about that you mentioned are but i suggest you enjoy your time here instead instead of worrying about a different race .
Tinted glass has been allowed to all including expatriates about a year and half ago to prevent the sun ,heat, 30% the maximum shade or else you won`t be able to drive at night and get fined by the police.

Jomster said...

Brn, Touchy discussion here…
My arguments are not going to be structured because i dislike structure (actually its got more to do with my inability to talk logically at times;-)

I think that it is perfectly right for citizens of this country to get preferential treatment over expats. In fact I've been cut down by many a local and I think the only solution to the whole thing is to standardize the whole thing- somebody whisper ‘DUBAI AIRPORT’. The much feared 2 line system. One for Locals and the other for Expats. My problem is when they have 3 lines - Arabs, Westerners and Asians. Or 4 lines - Arabs, Westerners, Other Arab Nationals and Asians. 2 lines are great. More than 2 are well…crowded.

It is perfectly moral (if I may be excused for using that much abused and clich├ęd word) for the UAE Govt to give preference to their citizens - and why not? I’ve read scores of blogs mentioning the unfairness and randomness of the whole thing. In fact I once read a blog where the dude deduced from his own twisted reasoning that since he has been contributing to this country for many years now, he should be given citizenship. My advice to him then and now is "Wake up". Nobody asked you to stay and contribute. If it wasn't you doing the contributing, it would have been someone else from your country, or my country.

That’s only half of the story. The flip side of this conundrum is that the citizens here have to admit that there has been incomparably skewed levels of contribution (there's that word again) from expats.

Sideline: I don't know whether im being presumptuous when i assume that a major part of that contribution has been from the Sub-continent. I work as an engineer and get paid Dhs. 5000 for 10 hrs of work a day, 6 days a week. My buddy who has joined a similar company gets paid 3 times that amount, for 8 hours of work a day, 5 days a week. So my hourly wage is Dh 21.00 and his is Dh 94.00. In the last 5 years, I’ve attended meetings with BIG people (not widthwise), stayed up till 6 AM in the office for a tender, made coffee for the visiting project manager, mopped the washroom when it started looking like a pig sty and nobody else wanted to do it. My buddy whose hourly wage is 4 times my hourly wage works as a material engineer. Period! Other than the fact that I am vastly more profitable in terms of returns for the company than my friend, the other difference happens to be that I am Indian and he is Western expat / Other GCC national.

Conclusion: I just wanted to build a case to substantiate my assumption that subcons have on the whole contributed more in absolute terms. Disclaimer: This is MY story and it’s true for ME. It might not be generally true, but for the sake of our argument I am extrapolating it a bit.

By treating expats with respect, citizens here would generally be seen in a much more favorable light and we disgruntled expats might stop harping about discrimination. We’d have a much more amicable society then, a society that unfortunately also includes us expats.

Brn, I have read many times in your wonderful blog about the hospitality of the Arabs you come across. May I suggest that a major reason for that could be YOUR nationality? My wife and I are still looking out to meet one Arab local or even Arab expat who will respect us for who we are and not based on the color of our skin. Sadly, we haven’t found even one. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming its because we’re meeting the wrong people. I’m sure there are some wonderful locals out there who are fun, sensible and who believe in the intrinsic worth of every human being.

It is for mainly this reason that I’m finally leaving this place and going back to my country for good this year. It might by polluted, unsafe and raucous, but at least its mine and I wont be vilified because I’m not exactly the correct tint.

Brn, I also read your comment where you mentioned that you’re a guest. You might not agree with me, but I do not think you’re a guest here. You’re rendering a service and you’re getting paid for it. You would be a guest, if you came here, stayed at home and still got fed.Like visiting heads of state and other such people. They come here, stay in five star accommodation and have a blast of a time. Now they’re guests.

I would like to commend you on the great blog you have here. You tread on the fine line between frankness and respect and you do it with panache. (Okay, since I’ve said something nice about you, you can’t blast me ;-)

Brn said...

hi jomster,

thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts and for your kind words. Since you said something nice about me, I won't trash your comments too badly :)

I especially want to thank you for you perspective which doesn't seem to be one that gets shared often enough.

Doc P said...

Well, hmm. I don't mind the citizenship thing, and I certainly don't expect the benefits of citizenship. I do mind the presumption and the expectation of subalternship and dhimmitude. Even as a caucasian westerner, I've got the clear impression that my personhood is inferior: for my wife, it's worse. This may be less a sophisticated philosophical tenet than an understandable cross-cultural suspicion or distrust.

I have also noticed, like jomster and a few others, that the subcons and filipinos are generally treated very badly, by emiratis and westerners alike. We have several filipino friends, and so we tend to be more conscientious of all the activity that happens in the background, and are therefore more respectful of the people that make this crazy ride go round.

As for the "local" attitude: I think it's changing, slowly. I think we can also blame the British. Partly.

The real problem for me, though, is how expat culture impacts . . . expat culture. I came here intending to make a good, long haul of it, but my employer seems to expect that I won't be around very long, so doesn't seem to care to cultivate my good will beyond the standard package. I wonder if that's why so many leave who are otherwise having a fine experience: the thing is engineered to be temporary, and that's either a good thing--like changing the oil in your car every 5,000 kms, or it's a very bad one--like getting a car up and running, then trading it back in for another lemon you have to fix.