x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dispelling myths means getting to know you

Many non-Emirati's hold misconceptions about the UAE's people, the greatest of them being that all Emirati's are rich.

As an Emirati, you rarely hear what non-Emiratis in the country genuinely think of UAE citizens. From fear of offending the natives and suffering some unknown and unjust retribution at the hands of the state, many expatriates opt to hide their negative notions.

But while sporting western clothes with an even more western American accent, thereby assuming the guise of a non-Emirati, I am privy to the many misconceptions some have of citizens.

The most common of these is undoubtedly that all Emiratis are rich. As in all nations, a disparity of wealth among different regions and individuals exists. Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, control 83.2 per cent of the UAE's wealth.

Although the less affluent districts are assisted, a quick drive through the northern emirates quickly reveals the discrepancy. I have spoken to struggling Emirati fishermen in Ras Al Khaimah who have difficulties in providing for their families, been approached by an elderly Emirati begging at an Abu Dhabi petrol station and listened to others so far in debt they can't get out.

A study conducted by the Dubai Economic Council found that of the 16.9 per cent of residents considered poor (those who make less than Dh80 a day, or Dh2, 400 a month) 7.2 per cent were Emiratis. The idea that all citizens have more than enough should be dispelled, once and for all.

Another misconception relates to the role of Emirati women in the family and society. Some still believe that UAE women are predominately stay-at-home mums and daughters, subservient to the men of the family. In reality, local women are a cornerstone of the nation's development and aspirations. They are significantly present in the workplace and education system, making up 66 per cent of the public workforce - the UAE boasts the largest number of businesswomen in the region and possesses the highest rate of women in higher education in the world, at 77 per cent. Helping them achieve these great heights is the deep-rooted support and respect they enjoy from Emirati men, the government and society as a whole.

When dressed back in my kandura, a further misreading is made apparent when many expats do not even make eye contact, let alone strike up a conversation with me. This undoubtedly stems from the idea that locals are unapproachable because of a culture or language barrier. This couldn't be further from the truth for many Emiratis, as our people have been living alongside foreigners from across the globe for generations. Through our differences we have not only become familiar with a multicultural setting, but also feel at ease in it. This has also aided in our comprehension of many languages, with many of the older generations able to speak Urdu, Hindi and Farsi and the majority of younger generations being fluent in English.

Many of these false impressions can be dispelled by attempting to learn about the local people and their culture - something one should do in any country. Although the fact that citizens make up less than 20 per cent of the UAE's population can make it arduous, the task of getting to know us is easier than you might think.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US.