Expats in UAE afraid to integrate with Emiratis

Published:  30 Mar at 6 PM
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Tagged: Dubai, UAE
Expats living and working in the UAE admit to finding it almost impossible to get Emirati friends.

Although the British have a reputation for being unsociable, many expats living in the UAE who would like to find friends amongst the local community are being stymied by cultural differences. A recent survey agreed with perceived wisdom in the Dubai expat community that striking up friendships with Emiratis is tricky.

According to the survey, an average of 61 per cent of expats living elsewhere across the globe found it easy to make local friends. Just 42 per cent of those surveyed in Dubai said they’d integrated well with people in their locality or workplace, with some expats expressing surprise that the number was so high.

Living as an expat in Dubai is reputed to resemble living in a bubble, although friendships are easy to strike up with expats from many other countries. Dubai’s foreign worker-based social life is well-known to be extensive, but doesn’t seem to include visits to or socialising with the local Emirati community.

Many expatriates claim to want to have Emirati friends, and count their relationships with work colleagues as proof of friendship. However, it’s relatively rare if not unheard of to be invited to a UAE national’s home for dinner. The general opinion seems to be that working in the UAE isn’t about having a successful social life outside the expat community, it’s about having a more luxurious lifestyle, higher pay and benefits and improved job prospect on returning to the home country.

Another reason why expats can’t find friends in the local community is that most live in designated expat areas. The closest foreigners are likely to come to Emiratis is at work or maybe when picking up their children from an international school. Nasif Kayad, MD of the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding had one answer – just talk to us. Kayad thinks that Western reticence, often interpreted as standoffishness, is simply a nervous reaction to an unfamiliar environment and culture. Dubai, he adds, is a complex place which first appears modern and progressive, but is still a deeply traditional Muslim land.
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