Patricia Varley, consultant, speaker and contributor to our book, Upside: How to Zig When Life Zags, recently visited and spoke at a conference in Dubai. Here are some of her impressions regarding life and work.
What cultural differences stand out?
Dubai is like a melting pot similar to the USA in many ways.
- 80% of the population of Dubai is ex-pats from US, UK, Europe, Asia, Australia, etc.
- 20% are local Arab Emirates. You can experience the culture through their dress. Both women and men dress in local garb and all the women have Berkas covering everything but their faces.
There is no unemployment in UAE. You must have a work visa or work sponsor to stay in the country. Therefore, there is very little crime and minimal poverty compared to USA.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are more conservative than US, especially around sex and advertising, clothes, women, etc.
If you bounce a check they can and do through people in jail!
What experiences were meaningful?
I visited the Abu Dhabi which is the 5th largest and most beautiful mosque in the world. All the women entering had to cover up in the black Berkas. I felt very emotional the entire time I was wearing the Berka. I had a strong feeling of grief, suppression and repression of women. It was a very meaningful and intense experience for me.
I celebrated New Year’s Eve by going on a safari in the desert. What an experience to be among lots of camels! I also saw Dubai by water.
What were some impressions of women’s lives?
In some ways the local Emirate women are repressed because they must cover themselves with the black Berkas. The husbands can have up to 4 wives provided they are all equally taken care of. In other ways women seem more respected in UAE as they are not sexualized– unlike the US and other cultures.
Regarding careers and dress, the expat (non local) women are more like Europe and America. However it is still a more conservative environment.
Men and women unless they are married cannot show any signs of affection in public. Husbands and wives can only hold hands.
What can you expect to experience in Dubai?
It feels like NY meets Miami, meets Las Vegas, and meets Disney World. It is opulent, wealthy and very materialistic with expensive cars, shopping malls, skyscrapers, and 42 five-star hotels. It has a big city environment, yet, it is on the Gulf of Arabia in the desert.
The common languages are English and Arabic. The money exchange (AED,dhiram) is similar to the US dollar. Even though 80% of the people are not local it is a friendly and very diverse culture. (Many Americans) Transportation is easy with a large metro and taxis.
Are there business opportunities?
Yes. It is a growing business culture with lots of commerce. Making money is why people go there. In 15 years Dubai will be out of oil so they are growing other businesses such as retail, construction (everywhere!!), tourism, financial, sustainable energy, leadership, business, University education and women’s issues. There are many work opportunities.
Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi has 120 years of oil left. It also has more traditional Arabian culture and is very wealthy!
How safe did you feel?
Very safe—there is low crime and it is very clean. It is a police state though you rarely see police.
Did you encounter any anti-American sentiments?
No. It appears they were not only trying to be like America but working to “out do” America by having a multitude of buildings that are bigger and better. There are a multitude of American products and advertising.