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Debate helps break down cultural barriers and build bridges

Ask Ali debated Emirati and expatriate culture in Abu Dhabi this week.

ABU DHABI // Noura Al Kaabi wants to encourage cross-cultural interaction and ease the sometimes cautious relationship between Emiratis and expatriates.

Ms Al Kaabi, the head of human development and Tawasol, the customer service section, at twofour54, hopes to bring an end to negative perceptions.

"Emiratis and expatriates in the country can build a bridge."

She was speaking on the sidelines of the Ask Ali & Friends live discussion, Cultural Razzmatazz, hosted by Ali Alsaloom, the UAE cultural ambassador, at the Beach Rotana hotel.

The event also featured Mohamed Parham Al Awadhi and his brother Peyman Parham Al Awadhi, the owners of the popular Dubai shawarma restaurant Wild Peeta, and Mishaal Al Gergawi, a current affairs commentator.

"Basically, some expatriates fear talking to Emiratis because there is more to learn and understand about us," said Ms Al Kaabi. "And this makes them hesitant to make the first move to understand the culture."

She called on Emiratis and expatriates to "explore each other's cultures". Emiratis welcome their guests, but most of them are "a little bit shy", Ms Al Kaabi said.

"Of course you will find one or two or three Emiratis in a different crowd," she said. "We have to take the first step."

Alsaloom, who also writes the Ask Ali column in The National's weekend M magazine, said that after five years, he managed to build a brand to which Emiratis and expatriates could relate.

"The most difficult thing that I faced as an Emirati is becoming an entrepreneur, especially when you're building a brand," he said.

In addition to a web portal - www.ask-ali.com - Alsaloom has published guides to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and appears on the new video welcoming guests aboard Etihad Airways flights.

Alsaloom previously worked in hospitality for the Beach Rotana chain.

During the debate, which touched on the dearth of Emiratis working in the hospitality industry, Ms Al Kaabi wondered about the cultural implications of the profession.

"If I had a daughter who wanted to work in a hotel, the first thing I would be worried about would be the work shifts," she said.

She added that family plays an important role in the career choice of young Emiratis.

Ms Al Kaabi is a board member of Abu Dhabi Media, the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and ImageNation. She also sits on the Advisory Board for the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and Tawteen, an initiative by Emirates Foundation.

At twofour54, she helps support and expand the media industry talent pool in the UAE. "I would like to encourage Emiratis to step up, to show their talent and creativity," she said.

rruiz@thenational.ae

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