x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ask Ali: Arabs, parental affection and queue jumping

Our culture columnist takes readers' questions on who is an Arab, public displays of affection, and queue etiquette.

Dear Ali: I'm getting confused over who is an Arab and who is not. Sometimes, I meet an Arab who then goes on to say he is an Asian. The Arabs I have met in the Gulf profess to being Omanis or Syrian and then others say they are Emiratis but not all say they are Arabs. Therefore, please explain what an Arab is. BH, Sharjah

Dear BH: I would put it thus: an Arab is an individual born of an Arabic mother or father who is a national of an Arab state, has a good command of Arabic language and is culturally aware of Arabic traditions, manners, customs and social systems. He or she must be loyal to his nation and the whole Arab region. The Arab world exists mostly in what is referred to as the Middle East - even though I'm not sure which middle we are east of and which east we are middle of. Anyway, there are 22 countries that make up the Arab League, although Syria's participation in the League was suspended last November. The Arab League has played a huge role in preserving our cultural heritage and encouraging cultural exchanges between the member states. This is why it is commonly believed that an Arab is not, and has never been a nationality or a specific people. It is more accurate to specify the country we come from when we talk about ethnicity or nationality. Therefore, a person from Qatar would be called Qatari; a person from Oman would be an Omani, and so on. Also, do remember, not all Arabs are Muslims and vice-versa, and there are Christian and Jewish Arabs.

Dear Ali: I am moving to the UAE with my husband and two children. We have heard about displays of affection in public between couples, but what about towards children? Is it appropriate to kiss one's child on the cheek in public or to hug, or hold our child's hand in public? VC, New York, USA

Dear VC: It's perfectly fine to show your love for your children in public. Feel free to hold, carry, hug and kiss your baby as much as you want. You will find that Emirati men are complete softies when it comes to their kids, and they often spoil them rotten. When we see cute children out with their parents, for instance in a mall, we have no problem saying hello. If the opportunity presents itself, we will even hold or kiss them. To make a good impression when you come into contact with our children, be sure to say "mash'allah", which means "as much God wishes". It's a bit like saying: "touch, wood" and is used to ward off the evil eye, which might jinx the child. You could say: "Wow, your child is gorgeous, ma'shallah" to tell the parents that not only is their child beautiful but is also as God intended. May God bless you and your family.

Dear Ali: When I go shopping, someone always tries to jump the queue. Usually, it's people who are buying one or two items but in my culture, you wait in line no matter how few things you are buying. When this happens I just stare at the queue jumper in disbelief. Is this a cultural thing? I just get angrier each time it happens. RZ, Al Ain

Dear RZ: You are absolutely right in diagnosing this problem as a cultural issue as we are not the greatest when it comes to forming queues. Then again, I think we are better than other Asian cultures. Ever tried catching the train in India? Pure chaos. In the Western world, time begins at a certain moment and stretches to another in the future. Time reflects progress. "Time is money" and "one thing at a time" are common sayings that express the understanding that time is necessary to maintain order. This is why one should queue patiently.

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.