Self-appointed cultural ambassador Ali Al Saloom has fielded over 7,000 questions from curious expats in UAE Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: From how many camels there are in the UAE to the etiquette of responding to a business proposition in the Arabian Gulf countries, self-appointed cultural ambassador Ali Al Saloom has fielded over 7,000 questions from curious expats.

Ahead of his two sessions at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday in Dubai, the Emirati author of ‘Ask Ali’ book series told Gulf News how he found his calling as a bridge-builder between the cultures of the region and wider world.

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‘Call of duty’

“I was working in the hospitality industry and had a lot of people say things about our region, culture, religion, and identity, without them having any real knowledge or first-hand experience or Emirati friends. So it was like a call of duty for me [to become a cultural ambassador],” Al Saloom said.

He added that there was – and still is – a dearth of books on the traditions and religion of the Gulf countries written by a local author. Usually, he said, the writer would be a Western expat or someone who has only lived in the UAE or region for a short time.

Al Saloom took it upon himself to become “the first source of knowledge” on the subject as a “cultural guide” for foreigners seeking answers on various topics related to living, doing business or visiting the UAE and other Arab countries.

“I want to be the first person that comes to people’s mind when they think of Arabia… I’ve seen that many people here still don’t know much even after having lived in the UAE for 20 years. [For example], they don’t know what is the meaning of the call to prayer [sounded from mosques daily].

“I was like, ‘No, we need to change this’. So I’ve offered every single minute of my life to raise awareness and answer people’s questions.”

Those questions have been addressed in his books, talks and social media interactions. Aptly named ‘The Answers by Ask Ali’, the latest edition has sold over 1.6 million copies worldwide.

197 destinations and counting

But Al Saloom didn’t stop there. He decided to venture out in the world to familiarise himself with diverse cultures while demystifying his own heritage to others at the same time. This undertaking has taken him to almost 200 destinations in 10 years – and he will soon visit a place in Central America that “many people don’t even realise it’s actually a real country. I’ll be meeting different tribes there”.

‘Always beautiful’

Al Saloom is a familiar face at the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, which is now in its 15th edition. “They have always been so nice to me and they really care about Emirati talents, Emirati writers. I think that is always beautiful. And I just look forward to see them every time and I wish they have another successful event,” he said.

For Friday morning, Al Saloom is listed as one of the speakers in a session (in English) on ‘Emirates – Nothing is Impossible’, which will “provide practical advice on how to be mindful of cultural practices when dealing with different people in both a professional and personal context”.

At night, he will join other authors in the ‘Travel Trail’ session (in Arabic) on the art and appeal of travel writing.