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What makes our united emirates different

Tips and advice for living and working in the UAE.

Dear Ali: What are the differences between the seven emirates? KA, Dubai

Dear KA: Well, each emirate is ruled by a different Emirati royal family and has its own characteristics, including its individual role in UAE history. The seven emirates used to be called the Trucial States before the federation was formed in 1971.

Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate and supplies most of the country's oil and is ruled by the Al Nahyan family.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, lives here. Another prominent feature of this emirate is that it is known as a place of business opportunities. Dubai is ruled by the Al Maktoum family and is more of a tourist attraction. As the second largest emirate, it is also the hub for UAE trade due to its many free trade zones and, of course, is home to the great Burj Khalifa.

The other emirates are much smaller than Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Sharjah is ruled by the Al Qasimi family. It has two coastlines, the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It is the primary centre for Emirati culture and educational institutions. Its architecture is rather traditional in comparison to that of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Ajman is ruled by the Al Nuami family and located along a creek. Ship-building firms are quite popular in Ajman. Umm Al Quwain is ruled by the Al Mualla family. It has the smallest population and is the quietest emirate since it is far away from the vibrant city life. Ras Al Khaimah is ruled by the Al Qasimi family. It has many hills and mountains, and this is why it rains more often in this part of the country. Fujairah, which is ruled by the Al Sharqi family, is close to the mountains and is located on the Indian Ocean, the only emirate that doesn't share the same coastline as the other six emirates.

Both Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah are known for great outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and mountain climbing. For me as an Emirati, I simply urge everyone, Emiratis and expats, to pay a visit to all seven emirates. Our country has many attractions and unique spots, including the Al Ain Oasis, the Empty Quarter, the Dubai Creek and more.

Dear Ali: Should expats be required to speak Arabic in the UAE? KM, Dubai

Dear KM: A short answer would be "I wish" but sadly, there are no requirements, although many of my expat friends wish to learn it.

It is our national language, but since English is becoming more widely spoken in the UAE and our children are increasingly receiving an international education, many Emiratis fear that we are losing our Arabic language, which represents a great part of our identity.

So while you don't have to speak Arabic because English is enough to get you around, this also has a downside; many expats feel discouraged to speak Arabic because most of the time people still respond to them in English and not in Arabic. If you do speak some Arabic, then I would recommend you to still use it here if the opportunity arises.

Learning it can be an advantage and there are many Arabic classes that you can take at the schools at the Eton Institute, for example, or even online.

For the Emirati dialect, you can find the best courses here: Learn Emarati is a course that has been started for adults by its founder, Shaima Al Sayed, in March 2011. For more info, visit www.learn-emarati.com.

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.

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