x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ask Ali: How to publish pictures of Emirati women

Cultural sensitivities mean one must tread carefully when taking photographs of Emirati women.

Dear Ali: I've lived in the UAE for five years, but I'm still unsure of the etiquette with regards to taking and publishing pictures of Emirati women. A friend of mine works for a company that is to host Emirati students and they wanted to take a photograph of the group to be used in the press, but I've heard that a close male relative would have to give his permission for a woman to appear. Please help! SA, Abu Dhabi

Dear SA: I bet you are expecting a long and complicated answer. However, this problem is simple. All the company would have to do is announce that it will be taking photographs. That is all. If only all the answers I gave were so straightforward. Actually, this situation would have been even easier if there were no male students in the equation. With both sexes involved, things are a little different. Some won't want their faces to appear, so taking a picture from behind is fine. And you were given some false information, I have to say. In this context none of them needs to call anyone to get permission, although some families are more conservative than others.

Here's what to do. Ask to take a group shot and whoever doesn't want to be in the photograph - and plenty of people hate staring at a camera for all sorts of reasons - will simply step out of the shot.

Some female students post their pictures privately on Facebook or even get their photograph published in university magazines and the like. But it's a bit different when they are asked to stand next to men. Some feel uncomfortable and shy, though many do not.

Come to think of it, most people would like to be asked permission to be photographed. Not everyone looks as good as me in front of the lens!


Dear Ali: I am a teacher from the West whose school is about to host a class of boys from the UAE for six weeks. We were informed not to single out the boys in front of the class if they misbehave as that would cause a "loss of face". I have taught in the UAE and know this is important. However, I still need to keep control of the classroom. What is the best way to deal with this without me, the teacher, losing face? Anonymous

Dear anonymous: If only you could have taught me at school. I was such a good boy and never once got in trouble. Ahem. First of all, don't panic. I think the memo was sent to avoid misunderstanding between pupils and teachers from different cultures. As you have taught here in the UAE, you will know that saving face is crucial to us. However, it is worth repeating just how important it is. If you embarrass Emiratis in public, you not only bring disrespect to them but also their family and, indeed, country. Since these boys are visiting a western nation, they might think you were going out of your way to make their people feel bad if you publicly scold them. However, I'm well aware that boys can be boys. The trick is not to single them out when applying discipline.

That's not to say you let them walk all over you. If a boy's behaviour is really inappropriate, speak nicely to him and calmly ask him to change his ways. Note the difference between "Ahmed, don't throw paper" and "Ahmed, please keep still". It might even be better not to name the student, but rather say, "Guys, please keep your paper on your desk". Good luck.


Language lesson

Arabic: Khbal

English: Ridiculous, crazy

Usually used when describing a funny or silly situation. For example, if you're explaining to a friend that you hosted a children's birthday party where all the kids were shouting and acting wildly with games and fizzy drinks, you would describe that scene as "khbal". A second meaning of this word is used to describe a person: "khbel" for man, and "khibla" for woman. It means stupid.