x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Ask Ali: Cultural norms are same same but different

Our culture columnist offers advice for living and working in the UAE.

Dear Ali: I am confused by the variation of social and cultural norms across the Emirates. For instance, why is Dubai more liberal (with hotels offering alcohol and parties), but Sharjah bans alcohol and has a law relating to dressing modestly? JA, Al Ain

Dear JA: Each of the seven emirates in this country is free to set its own policies. Dubai focuses on tourism and fostering an international appeal. Therefore, its government opted to make more concessions towards different cultures. Sharjah rolled out a "decency code" - not to punish, but to create a better understanding of what is expected. I think Sharjah has simply put in writing what other emirates hope to get without asking for directly. If anything, this is why the UAE is so unique. It can accommodate everybody's needs and likes, providing our culture and values are not threatened.


Dear Ali: My Asian friends, a couple, are citizens of the UK and are British passport holders. They are planning to visit Dubai on their way to their home country for their marriage ceremony. They would like to know if they can have their nikah (as it is known in Islam) marriage conducted in Dubai, with the aim of registering the marriage legally when they return to the UK. FS, Dubai

Dear FS: In Dubai, as well as in the whole country, nikah marriages are registered by the court. Since both of your friends do not hold a residency visa in the UAE, they will not unfortunately be able to register their marriage here. In addition, the courts in the UAE require either the bride's father's presence or an unofficial letter of agreement from him, and medical certificates from both spouses. If the couple is just passing through, these documents could be difficult to obtain in the time available to them.

Registering a marriage in the UAE is only possible if at least one of the spouses is an Emirati national or holds a valid residence visa.


Dear Ali: How does living in Al Ain compare with Ras Al Khaimah with a view to providing support for family and young children? I want the best location that would provide support for a child with special needs. HM, Dubai

Dear HM: To decide where you want to live is a very personal matter but I would get a list of all schools and centres for children with special needs. The Hope Centre in Al Ain might be a possibility, or the RAK Autism Centre in Ras Al Khaimah. If I were you, I would visit both of these. Ras Al Khaimah is on the coast and therefore, wonderful for children. On the other hand, Al Ain, as the green garden city, is also a fine place to raise a child.


Dear Ali: How important do you think it is for expatriates to receive cross-cultural training when they arrive in the UAE? FS, Al Ain

Dear HM: I think it's very important, as it helps newcomers to settle into their new home more easily. Cultural codes are different from legal statutes; they don't exist in the form of a manual one can read and understand. Cultural codes are much more subtle in how they define our dealings with one another. To appreciate them, one needs to know a bit about the background of the society; its heritage, its traditions and its values. I think that cultural awareness courses can mean a positive start, but we need more than that for further harmony in living and communicating. Our goal should be to unleash cultural codes to first create an understanding that should lead to an appreciation of that culture. So yes, I think cross-cultural sessions should be mandatory for everyone who comes here to live and work.That way, we can ensure that no one has an excuse for failing to show respect to the country or appreciating its culture.

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.