Image Credit: Oliver Clarke/Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi/Dubai: A large section of expatriates living in the UAE are unaware of their host country's traditions and many have only learned about things that affect their lives, a survey shows.

Gulf News spoke to a cross-section of expatriates in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and found that Asians were unaware of the local culture. Westerners, however, had some knowledge as they had researched about the country before relocating here.

Because of the interaction between expatriates and Emiratis in higher-level jobs, many expatriates have learned about the country and its customs from their hosts, Gulf News found.

The Ministry of Interior magazine 999 said that in a survey of 2,000 expatriates it conducted, only 28 per cent were confident they knew about Emirati culture. That meant seven out of ten expatriates were in the dark about their host country.

Lieutenant Colonel Awad Saleh Al Kindi, editor-in-chief of 999, said the UAE is home to more than 200 nationalities and has become known across the world for its low crime, modern outlook and the peaceful coexistence of its people.

Dismaying

But the survey he said reveals a dismaying fact that many expatriate residents have a very limited knowledge of the traditions and heritage of the UAE. "We hope that the results of the survey will stimulate people to exert greater efforts in this area," he said.

Iranian Mohammad Zomorrodian, who has been in Dubai for 11 years, admitted he was not very familiar with UAE culture. "I have interacted with many Emiratis," he said, calling them "gentle, very respectful and well-mannered."

"Emiratis are also very clear and open about money."

He has witnessed a sword dance, the traditional Emirati dance, he said.

British expatriate Henry Raven said he did some homework prior to relocating here.

"Basically I learned things like people can't buy alcohol [without a licence] here," Raven said. Asked whether in the future he would want to learn the local culture, he said, "That's a good idea."

For Airin Usman, 28, learning Emirati culture has been on her mind for the past four years.

"The first step, I thought, was to learn basic Arabic. But when I got very busy with work, I could not find the time to continue my classes any more," the Filipina accountant said.

"Because I work primarily with Emirati colleagues I had more opportunities than most expats to learn about traditions. The UAE has a rich tradition which sadly many expats don't know about," said Briton Charles Ross, 52, who has been living in the UAE for six years.

He said he has been able to meet a wide cross-section of Emiratis, both professionally and socially.

Wedding celebrations

"I read articles, books and online blogs by local cultural ambassadors. I had iftar with Emirati colleagues at their homes and was invited to Emirati wedding celebrations. I also visited various heritage facilities both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai which offer a good exposure to the history and culture of the UAE," he said.

Egyptian Nahed, 33, made the effort to learn about his host country. "The least one should do when living in a country is to learn about its culture and even adopt some aspects. I have learned some local recipes that my children love," she said.

Chantal from France, 45, who has been in Abu Dhabi for two years believes Emiratis have a role to play in spreading their culture. In her opinion Emiratis do not display welcoming warmth, and limit interaction between expatriates and their own families.

"If the people who work with us do not want to interact, then we will always be strangers to the country," she said.

Lebanese Hana Hounaine, 22, who has lived in Abu Dhabi all her life, said: "I grew up here and learned about it here. I didn't know to separate my culture from theirs. I was friends with many Emirati kids at school and kept my friendship with some. I can openly say I know about the UAE's culture more than my own heritage."