From law enforcement to everyday customer transactions, things work differently in the Emirates than the United States – and for the better.
UAE's flexible, humane approach generates acts of trust and faith
Most people enjoy living in a country with order. Being able to predict what comes next provides comfort and security all members of a society need and benefit from. People like knowing they can safely drive through a green light at an intersection without worrying about being broadsided by a car running through a red. A well-planned and organised society allows its members to not only live in security, but also to thrive in an efficient environment.
While living in the US, I was able to enjoy a highly organised system where very few surprises occur. My transition from the States to the Emirates was made easier because I had moved from one progressive society to another. But what I liked more about the Emirati system is its greater capacity to be flexible, trusting and humane.
Dealing with law enforcement was a prime example of this.
I had recently arrived in the US when I was pulled over by the police. When asked for my driver's licence, I tried to explain my circumstance as a newly arrived foreign student and presented the officer with an Emirati driver's licence. All the officer could see and hear was I did not have an American licence and proceeded to ticket me instantly. No matter how hard I tried to elaborate on my situation, he stood stone-faced and said: "You can't drive with that licence."
I found myself in a similar situation soon after returning to the UAE.
Now with a US licence and without an Emirati one, I again explained my circumstance of having just arrived. This time, the officer replied as if he was more man than machine - he let me off with a warning and even welcomed me back to the country.
This suppleness of structure is also evident in the UAE's private sector.
The US had got me accustomed to "money first, product and service last" transactions. So I was surprised when, after realising I had forgotten my wallet, a shopkeeper told me I could take the item and come back to pay later. I had never met this employee in my life and he was willing to trust I would return.
Another example was a car cleaner in a mall car park. Trying to save time, I opted to take advantage of his services. When I returned to my gleaming car, all that was left of him was his phone number on a piece of paper. He had trusted I would call him, and risked losing Dh25, most likely not a measly sum to him.
Once, a mechanic let me drive off with my vehicle so I could withdraw the Dh2,500 I owed him for repairing my car.
As the UAE continues to develop, it should make sure it doesn't sacrifice the more humane and personal elements of society, such as these acts of faith, which create trust and cohesiveness among its people.