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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

UAE 101: Emirati and Italian neighbours co-author book tackling culture and customs

Neighbours turned writers team up to help open up the Emirati way of life to all nationalities

Roudha Al Marri and Ilaria Caielli are helping to bring cultures together with their new book. Leslie Pableo for The National
Roudha Al Marri and Ilaria Caielli are helping to bring cultures together with their new book. Leslie Pableo for The National

A barrier-breaking book penned by an Italian and an Emirati aims to get the UAE's multicultural society on the same page.

The co-authors of UAE 101 Stories and Cultural Learnings: A Guidebook to the Emirati Culture, have amassed a huge haul of anectodes and cultural tips to help make the UAE even more united, whether you are from Dubai or Dublin.

The book was the concept of Illaria Caielli, 38, from Milan, and Roudha Al Marri, 36, born and raised in Dubai, who struck up their own connection as neighbours.

The literary duo are aiming to bridge the cultural gap between citizens and those who have come from further afield to call the UAE home.

The introduction to the book, launched at Dubai’s Myocum Café on Monday, acknowledges there is a mutual respect between the Emirati community and people from other countries, but that many barriers still remain when it comes to dealing with different cultures and customs.

The authors describe the book as "101 stories and cultural peculiarities put together to explain and display UAE customs for foreigners through real-life experiences".

“The idea behind the book was very spontaneous, ” said Ms Caielli.

“I was living in the UAE and was very interested in the culture and history but I noticed it was not easy to make friends with locals and I began to wonder why.

“Then I got the chance to meet Roudha and we exchanged our feelings and ideas and the book came from that.”

Ms Al Marri said that the book is aimed at people “who wonder about our culture and wonder why we do the things that we do”.

“We want to let people know things like why we women wear so much perfume, why our Fridays are so special and what do we expect people to do when they visit a local for the first time,” said Ms Al Marri.

“Sometimes as locals, even with the way we dress, we put these boundaries up. It gives an impression that we are not approachable when the opposite is the case, we love making friends and grew up in a multicultural environment.”

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The collaboration between an Emirati and an Italian living in the UAE gives the book an extra dimension, according to the authors, who met as neighbours when they lived in Abu Dhabi.

They suggest the book will also act as a guide for families moving to the UAE on how to make friends.

A key aspect of the book, according to Ms Caielli, is blending facts about the region with stories from people who live here.

The book is broken down to several chapters focusing on issues including history, traditions, lifestyle, folklore, food, drink and religion.

The authors said they had no desire to bring another travel guide to the UAE because the genre was already well catered for.

“We wanted to write a book for people who are genuinely interested in discovering local culture,” said Ms Al Marri.

“We realised that even people who have been living here for a long time didn’t know that much about local culture, but there is a big interest underneath the surface.”

The book closes with a list of top 10 cultural experiences in the UAE.

These include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, The Etihad Museum, Dubai Old City Centre, Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, the Bastakia Quarter and the Al Ain Palace Museum.

The book also lists a number of taboo subjects that should not be broached in case they offend the Emirati community.

Other tips in the book for those keen to embrace the Emirati way of life include recognising that when a local is stroking his beard when you are talking, this means you have his full concentration.

Also when someone places both their hands on top of their head, during a conversation, this means they respect what is being said.

The book is to go on sale across the UAE this week.