According to a Survey conducted in 2015 by networking organisation InternNations, only 42% of expats polled in the UAE feel integrated with local people, compared to the global average of 61%.
From a British standpoint, sadly the stereotype of stiff upper lips and unapproachable frowns has yet to be changed but does the blame lie solely with expats? The reality is that many of those who move to Middle Eastern countries are stuck in an expat bubble: friendship groups are made up of a multitude of races and cultures, but is there a born and raised Emirati within this group?
With many heading east to benefit themselves in terms of better pay, better opportunities and a better lifestyle, perhaps it is not surprising that integrating into local society is not at the top of many expat’s agendas.
With Emiratis in the UAE being outnumbered nine to one by expats, logistically it could be difficult to strike up true friendships with Emirati nationals – particularly when living in a designated expat community which breeds notions of segregation. Therefore, besides working with local citizens, it can often be hard to strike up a conversation with complete strangers.
With virtually all Emiratis being of Muslim faith there are distinct cultural differences and for Western expats there is an air of nervousness as not wanting to causing offence to their deeply traditional Muslim neighbours. Emirati nationals are less likely to be friends that you see for a day at the beach, or a beverage at a trendy bar but Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, suggests “Just talk to us, you can find many of us in coffee shops.”
Cultural differences do play a key role in the divide between expats and Emiratis but the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding endeavours to reach out and educate expatriates in the traditions and customs of the UAE. It was noted that the UAE is home to individuals and families from all over the world, each with their own distinctive cultures and despite expatriates and UAE nationals being neighbours; they can be total strangers. This was recognised and the centre works to bridge the gap between the many different nationalities living and working in the UAE through its programmes.
What must be remembered is the word ‘expat’ doesn’t simply refer to heavily tanned Brits drinking gin at noon. The population makeup is diverse with Brits, Syrians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Ethiopians and Filipinos responsible for nearly the entire 90% of the UAE’s entire population. With locals only making up the minute remaining 10%, this intimidating statistic could indicate that Emirati nationals don’t feel integrated in their homeland – that is now also home to such a culturally diverse population.