Monday, 4 May 2009

Expats need to integrate more with local culture - official

From of 3 May '09

I spent 6 months prior to moving to Dubai diligently attending Arabic language classes at night school. However, when I arrived here I quickly found that the languages I *really* needed to learn were Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog (the language of the Phillipines). I've only used the Arabic I learnt to translate CD covers, speak to the Bedu ladies at cultural days and to translate a few road signs in the backblocks of Oman that were in Arabic only. Sad really.

UAE expatriates need to make more of an effort to integrate with the local culture, such as learning Arabic, according to the head of a government programme that promotes national identity. The outside world knew little about the UAE’s unique culture because the media focused on its large-scale developments and impressive buildings, said Ahmed Al Mansoori, the director general of Watani.

However, the country’s multiculturalism was one of its greatest assets and those choosing to live in the UAE should embrace it, he said, according to UAE daily The National.

“The overseas perception of the UAE is of its physical developments; its tall buildings and landmarks. But less is known about its cultural development,” Mansoori said. “I believe there is a responsibility for a family living in the UAE to ensure their children learn Arabic to help them become a part of the community,” he added.However, integration was not an issue the government could enforce and it was up to individuals to make the effort, Mansoori conceded.“People should not be forced to integrate. It is not the responsibility of the government.However, initiatives such as Watani, aim to make integration opportunities more readily available, he added. “It is natural that people will want to reach out to members of their own nationality, but our objective is to provide opportunities for expats to learn about local culture, break down stereotypes and integrate with the broader community.”The programme works closely with schools and education authorities to ensure that heritage is featured in curriculums.Its main annual event is a desert camp, where families and students learn about traditional ways of life and are taught basket weaving, yolla dancing and the presentation of the national flag.This year the camp was opened to non-nationals for the first time. A spokesperson for another cultural group, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, added that interest in its activities had increased “significantly” over the last few years.“We run regular tours of the Jumeirah mosque and now get 1,000 people a week, with a mix of tourists and residents. We also host cultural breakfasts and lunches that are always oversubscribed,” he revealed. “The demand for our services has increased significantly over the last few years, reflecting the increase in visitors and expat residents in Dubai. It also demonstrates a willingness for people to integrate with the local community,” the spokesperson added.

1 comment:

  1. Hi. I fully agree with your comment.

    My daughter works as an architect in Abu Dhabi. We are all multilingual in our family, Arabic being one of many languages we speak. When I visted her four years into her expat life, she was speaking fluent Pushtun, the reason being that all the taxi drivers are Afghans. I stayed there for two weeks, and did not met a single local at the municipality when I accompanied her for some paperwork. Otherwise, the Emirates Airlines staff was all Indian, even at the Airport, the stewardesses were Japanese and Russian, and all my daughter's collegues were Arabs from outside the country: Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian, what not, each with their own unique dialect. Evenings were spent at Starbucks or an Ethiopian Nightclub.