Tips and tricks on how to get into the ‘UAE groove’

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Opening ceremony of the Emirates Literature Festival at the Dar Al Adeb House, 45 Bastakiya Dubai, UAE. Photo - Saba Wahid

You have just moved to the United Arab Emirates and feel like an alien from planet Mars? If so, you might want to continue reading and check out some tips and tricks on how to embrace this country that seems so foreign to you at the moment; all first-hand experience, of course.

When I first moved to the UAE in 2009, it was a big step that was going to have a great impact on my life. I just graduated from high school and moved to the UAE for my studies. Since I was born and brought up in Germany it felt like the right time for a radical change. It was a bit of an adventure – my own version of the famous Arabian Nights.

Once you move to the UAE it all seems very overwhelming. Depending on your origin, you may come across many differences compared to your home country like culture, religion, climate, environment, people etc. The mix and number of different nationalities living in the UAE is one of a kind.

As a newcomer to the UAE, you should make use of the diversity, because it’s the easiest way to start a conversation with another person and hopefully exchange contact details, which might lead to a friendship or just someone to have coffee or lunch with sometimes.

Since most of the people living here are foreigners, they will not find it odd for someone to ask them: “Oh what an interesting language, where are you from?” If you want to make friends and gain more social contacts, you have to be open and sometimes forget where you’re from. Just because people in your home country hold back when it comes to socialising (whether it’s because of their temper or courage) doesn’t mean that this behaviour also applies to the UAE.

Something that I have learned is that it’s almost normal for people here to exchange numbers with you. When I just moved I was shocked, because in Germany a mobile number is something holy – you don’t give it away like that. Here people thought I was acting funny when I refused to give them my number, but after a few months I noticed that it’s something fairly normal in this part of the world.

Another thing that you should do when moving to the UAE, is to put aside any preconceived notion or ‘horror stories’ you might have heard prior to your arrival. Many newcomers might be intimidated when first arriving in the UAE, because back in their home countries they might have read newspaper reports with headlines like “Couple arrested for public display of affection”.

No matter where you live, you have to respect the rules and regulations. For an Islamic country, the UAE is very open and gives its citizens a lot of freedom. You can drink, party and do pretty much everything that you can do in your home country. The only difference is that you have to respect the local community when you’re out in public.

Emiratis are very protective of their families. That’s why they don’t want their relatives to be exposed to people who misbehave. Respect plays a big part in the Emirati culture. People new to the UAE should be aware of that, because it prevents you from uncomfortable situations and it keeps you out of trouble.

Nevertheless, you shouldn’t be scared of contact with Emiratis. It’s another common misconception that Emiratis are unfriendly and not welcoming. This is not true. When I was new to the UAE, the first thing people told me was “Stay away from locals, don’t get involved with them”. My personality doesn’t allow me to listen to this kind of ‘advice’. I like to explore things myself and how can I possibly understand customs of this country, if I don’t interact with the local community?

I highly recommend interacting with Emiratis, in order to understand their culture. Needless to say, respect them while doing so. As a man it wouldn’t be the best idea to talk to random Emirati women in the mall for example, because they might think that you are trying to get involved with them. Just be smart about it. Don’t listen to people who might have had bad experiences; not everyone’s the same. In fact I made some really good Emirati friends and it’s so much fun to interact with them and learn new things about their culture. Furthermore, they can also help you in certain situations, which involve laws or rules and regulations because they know the best what’s a go-go or a no-go in their country.

Depending on their origins many newcomers complain that the UAE is a country with no culture. “The cities are ‘empty’ and don’t have a soul” is what plenty of people say, especially the ones who just moved here because they are still homesick. Are you serious? Ok, the UAE is not like Italy or France, where you can find the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Eiffel Tower, but there are so many things to see. There are heritage villages, several restored forts, museums and much more things to explore.

Whenever the UAE newcomers feel homesick I can give them one advice: look around and appreciate what you’ve got. Of course it’s not always easy and sometimes you just want to leave everything and take the next plane back home, but you should never forget that you live in a country other people would die for to live in. It’s very safe, good weather guaranteed 365 days of the year (it only gets a bit hot in summer) and you can go to the beach whenever you like – no need to wait for a vacation. On top of that you most probably earn a bit more money than in your home country too.

If you take a few of the above mentioned tips into consideration, you’ll get into the UAE groove in no time and might even call it your home after a while. Just be yourself, mingle with people as much as possible and try to embrace the culture and traditions of this country.

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