Ask Ali: How to best develop business relationships with an Emirati

Dear Ali: What should a businessman from Europe learn about Emirati culture, so he can avoid making major mistakes? MJ, Ras Al Khaimah Dear MJ: Everything is important, from knowing the cultural codes of values, norms and dos and don’ts, to basics about the dress code, morality, regulations and religious values. However, I would stress […]

Dear Ali: What should a businessman from Europe learn about Emirati culture, so he can avoid making major mistakes? MJ, Ras Al Khaimah

Dear MJ: Everything is important, from knowing the cultural codes of values, norms and dos and don’ts, to basics about the dress code, morality, regulations and religious values. However, I would stress more importance on showing respect.

I believe that life priorities determine people’s behaviour. For example, the first priority here for most people is religion and family, and people generally expect others to understand and respect this. Also, prepare to be flexible as things are done here without hurry, hence patience is a good asset.

While building new business relations, newcomers will be tested on trust and on how well they understand and accept our values. For us, reputation is a big deal and always plays a very important role in decision-making. So showcasing how tolerant you are and how flexible and easily you can embrace the differences in the culture and environment are all important.

It is everyone’s responsibility to know the law to avoid legal penalties or fines. When it comes to the cultural aspects, mistakes that embarrass society can ruin reputations and cause difficulties in building business relations here.

My advice is to be yourself, but share your positive view of what you experience about the cultural aspect of living here – people will appreciate it when they meet somebody who shares their love and respect for their homeland. And remember, we do appreciate it when people ask questions to avoid misunderstandings.

Dear Ali: Do all women wear black head scarves here? I noticed some women also wear a coloured shawl and others don’t wear any scarf at all. KP, Abu Dhabi

Dear KP: Emirati women cover their heads with a chiffon or cotton scarf, called a shayla. But it does not have to be black. Wearing a scarf is not only for religious reasons, but is also a part of our culture. This head cover is usually black to match the abaya – a loose, cloak-like overgarment that is usually worn when women are outside their homes.

In the past, traditional abayas were designed as a one-piece dress covering the whole body from head to toe, without a separate head cover.

With the country’s development and travel outside the UAE and Gulf, local abaya designers started following international trends, introduced new styles and experimented with colours. Many started assembling the traditional black abaya with colourful headscarves. Yet, a black shayla remains the preferred colour for many Emirati ladies.

Regarding those who wear an abaya without a shayla, it’s their choice. Some women don’t wear a shayla for religious reasons, rather than for comfort and fashion, while others feel more safe and modest when wearing it, especially in public. In all cases, society treats all women, with or without a shayla, with respect and honour

Traditions here are strong, and we try to preserve them by sticking with the traditional abaya and shayla, but it’s an individual choice. No one should judge others because of their look; however, this is the Arab world – what you wear, how you act, and what and how you say things will form an image about you to others.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

Source: art & life

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