Cultural differences are present everywhere, however it is best to keep the differences aside and embrace individuals for who they are rather than where they come from.
Ever since I was young my parents encouraged me to make friends with people who were not from the same school, same nationality, same neighborhood, or even same religion. As a young girl, like many others, I was shy to talk to or approach people whom I didn’t know well. I limited my circle of friends to school friends, my cousins and close neighbors only. However, my parents constantly encouraged me to accept others regardless of their differences and treat them with respect.
Today I can easily open a conversation with anyone regardless of where they are from. Nevertheless, will you, as an individual, be open to such conversations? I keep noticing that people will group themselves based on similarities and neglect the others whether at school, university, or at work, and that is normal. Yet, we currently live in a diverse community, and I believe fostering cultural understanding should be vital for everyone. I host, attend, and participate in meetups and workshops that involve interacting with diverse individuals, yet I repeatedly notice that there is a gap in the habit of interaction.
People don’t want to interfere with others if they don’t know them; the assumption of being misunderstood overtakes the willingness to learn about each other. Moreover, UAE nationals themselves are resistant to each other. Coming from a different Emirate, different family, and a different upbringing also plays a role in not reaching out to each other. We tend to stereotype each other unconsciously which shapes our behaviors towards others. Therefore, I can only suggest we shouldn’t assume before attempting to know others. As long as respect is present during conversations, other factors shouldn’t matter.
Perhaps the flexibility to reach out to others is also not very well-practiced here in the UAE. There are clear boundaries that are set in the minds of people that they should not talk to others outside of their circle. Some other people lack confidence, while others are not sure of the do’s and don’ts of some cultures so they avoid interaction altogether.
For instance, during one of my meetups, a French person told me that he was afraid to reach out to Emiratis because he believed that we would consider it as an insult. That is complete nonsense, right? Another incident was from a young Emirati girl who mentioned that she did not know how to speak to a non-Emirati because she wasn’t put into a situation where she had to, thus, it was hard for her to communicate with non-Emiratis even though she spoke English fluently. As a result of these imaginary boundaries, assumptions are created, which limit the inclination to interact with others. There are in fact many workplaces that foster cultural understanding and we are very fortunate for that, yet I would love to see more harmony in places where it is not practiced.
I suggest we instill in our children and ourselves the ability to be culturally competent, which is to be willing to learn about others, accept, and respect differences. At some point we will have to deal with people who are not from the same background as we are, so it is important to acknowledge these differences at an early age because diversity will always exist.