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Ask Ali: How we can help to resolve our cultural differences

On cultural conflicts and how to meet Emiratis.

Dear Ali: Why do cultural conflicts happen? MK, Abu Dhabi

Dear MK: That's a very good question. Unfortunately, we live in a time in which globalisation structures are transparent and inevitable. In this sense, many people like to emphasise that we live in a "clash of cultures", as described by the political scientist Samuel P Huntington. But there are different ways to look at it. Firstly, cultural conflicts can be constructive or destructive depending on which level they take place and, most of all, what we make of it.

Secondly, cultural conflicts are necessary in order to understand what your own identity is and what it isn't. It either holds the social order together or it endangers it.

Thirdly, it has different shapes and forms. You can even have an inner cultural conflict with yourself or find these conflicts between at least two people who share a different value system. In this context, it is important to know the dynamic interaction between culture and conflict.

See, culture always marks what conflicts mean to us. This is also why culture actually frames the way we deal with conflicts by showing us the various options and given boundaries. To analyse the conflict you have to pay attention to the given cultural influences of each perspective.

Nevertheless, whenever a conflict happens, there are always so many different perspectives involved and despite the differences, it's always better to try to focus on the commonalities.


Dear Ali: I hardly see Emiratis in the UAE. What is the secret? By the way, I'm from Bahrain. BL, Bahrain

Dear BL: Thank you for your question. I would be more than glad to exchange contact information with you so I can introduce you to other Emiratis. See, there are major cultural factors that influence this assumption: the language, values from what matters to us, dress code, social etiquette and how to build friendships.

Some natives might feel that they can't communicate with non-Emiratis based on their English skills, which they believe aren't good enough. Even though I believe many Emiratis do speak very good English. But its definitely a reason therefore, the language is one possible barrier. If you are a Bahraini citizen the situation should be easier for you to make friends, since you would be able to speak Arabic, and being from the Arabian Gulf gives you that one step further of trust to the counterpart that you would share a lot of their values as well.

In the general picture, most Gulf people would take some extra time to build trust and friendship, and this is all based on how you carry yourself, from the way you dress and greet people to how you speak and share what you like and don't like. Again, its all about building a long-term friendship and not just someone to know and soon forget.

The reason you hardly see Emiratis is because we are a minority in our country, and we live with more than 200 nationalities. Since many Emiratis work in government entities, during much of the morning till afternoon it's really difficult to find many Emiratis in shopping malls or doing outdoor activities. However, once the evening starts you will see many Emiratis hanging out at cafes, restaurants, malls and football matches. And as the weather is currently so pleasant, many like to walk down by the Corniche.

In all cases it's always the same when it comes to friendship. It requires some introduction by others so you get to know others. As I promised, I would be happy to introduce you to my friends and you take it from there.


Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow //www.ask-ali.com">www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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