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Cross-cultural sensitivity for society at large

Cultural sensitivity is a two-way street. Treat others as you expect to be treated, and society at large will benefit.

Taxis are often strongly associated with the cities that they serve. New York's yellow cabs and London's spacious black taxis are two obvious examples. In the UAE, the industry has been standardised over the past 10 years, with professional companies now imposing new training requirements and stricter regulations on their drivers. It seems, however, that many customers are not convinced.

As The National reports today, newly hired taxi drivers in Dubai may soon have to attend cultural sensitivity and customer service classes before obtaining permits, in what the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has said is a response to complaints by passengers.

"We are attaching huge importance to enlisting cab drivers into training courses before hitting the road," said Mohammed al Mulla, the RTA chief executive. "We are also considering subjecting them to a variety of courses about the etiquette of dealing with customers and how to properly communicate with them."

While Mr al Mulla's words will be welcomed by many, passengers should recognise the importance of showing cultural sensitivity and manners themselves. Many complain of uncleanliness in taxis, barely acknowledging that passengers at the end of their work shifts, returning from the beach or heading home after a long night out might be less-than-pristine themselves. And engaging the taxi drivers in a friendly conversation will always receive a better response than barking orders.

Taxis are a special case because they bring so many residents together in close proximity with a common destination, a microcosm of society at large. Not only taxi drivers could use a lesson in cross-cultural etiquette.

The Emirates is an extraordinarily cosmopolitan country. Not only can this be a source of strength, but invariably it means we will be rubbing shoulders with people of different backgrounds and cultures. In order to get along, not just tolerance but genuine goodwill might be required. Whether it's letting a car into our lane, helping a family get the groceries to their car, or offering a smile instead of a glare in a crowded queue, the little things can be very important in life.

Companies across the spectrum should encourage culturally sensitive training for employees; equally, patrons have a responsibility to treat service staff with respect.

Cultural sensitivity is a two-way street. Treat others as you expect to be treated, and everyone will be treating each other a whole lot better.

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