We’re not in Kansas anymore – learning the hard way

So, a Canadian man was recently jailed in Dubai for calling an Etisalat employee “useless” and swearing at him. Read the article here. And two weeks later, another similar incident occurred, this time involving an American Mother. Read that one here. Yes, by Western standards it does seem a little extreme for jail to be the punishment after what would be considered such a small incident in many other countries, but as expats living in the UAE we have a responsibility to remember that we are no longer in our home country and that the laws and sensitivities of the culture here are very different to our own. To be respectful of a culture and to learn and be mindful of the differences is one of the things we sign up for when we make the decision to move to another country. Yes, being sent to jail in these situations is an extreme punishment but one that is reflective of the culture here, of the standards of respect and decency that are expected.

These articles manage to generate heated debate on twitter and other social media platforms. After tweeting one of these articles I received this response: “What? jail for that?” followed by “I would not last in that country”, which started me thinking… OK, so twitter is not exactly the ideal forum for an intelligent debate when you’re limited to only 140 characters, but it did open an interesting argument. As someone who has lived in the region for a number of years – and loves living here – it’s hard to understand how anyone could think that they couldn’t last in ‘a country like this’. It’s one of those things that seems to be most shocking to those who have little understanding or knowledge of the UAE.

In so many countries swearing is commonplace now – in society, in films, on TV, with friends and so on. But just because it’s everywhere and everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t mean it’s right, does it? I’m not condemning the use of swear words, of course there are always situations where they seem appropriate, there will always be a place for these types of words in language – but there are also many situations where it’s just not necessary. Vocabulary is a rich and wonderful thing and there are some brilliantly descriptive words that will enable you to express yourself far better and much more clearly in certain situations. Just because I may be able to get away with behaving badly and swearing at public service figures at home without going to jail doesn’t make that behaviour acceptable. Even in most Western countries I’m sure that most shops and service outlets would ask a person to refrain from speaking to them like that and if that failed to work, would then probably request that they leave. And does being able to behave like that in public without being arrested make the world a better place? No, I’m fairly certain that it does not.
As far as I’m concerned there’s always going to be an argument for expressing any grievances or complaints you have more eloquently and calmly than resorting to swearing or shouting, and in my experience dealing with situations in this manner tends to result in more favourable outcomes too!

The final response I received on Twitter was “I imagine it would make you feel safe knowing people are too scared to do wrong”. I found this very confusing and as though the person had missed the point entirely. Imagine living in a place where people are too scared to do wrong. Why would anyone live there unless they didn’t have any choice? But it’s got nothing to do with being too scared to do wrong – people do wrong here just as they do anywhere, and as you can see from the articles, they get punished for it with no uncertainty. The standards of what is deemed unacceptable here may be different to the ones you are used to but where does fear come into it? As far as I’m concerned it’s got nothing to do with fear and everything to do with living in a place where people are expected to be respectful towards each other. Again, it comes down to understanding. And it always amazes me to hear people’s ideas of what life is like in the UAE, to hear what they think. Usually it’s a mismatch of news headlines from other countries in the Middle East taken out of context and ill-thought perceptions grown from a lack of knowledge and understanding. The majority of these ideas are misplaced. You can’t live your life in fear, and I see no evidence of anyone living like that here. Yes, the laws and rules of respect are different here in this Islamic country. The UAE is more conservative than you will probably be used to if you come from a Western country, but not so much so that it will greatly impact your life (see my earlier post here also on this subject). But take a moment to consider the benefits of living in a country like this too, rather than just seeing the differences as negatives. What’s wrong with living in a country where people are expected to be respectful towards each other?! Couldn’t a country where people are respectful of each other and are expected to speak in a civil manner towards one another in public actually be a rather nice place to live?! Yes! Or at least I think so.

What do you think?

3 Comments

  • A country where people are respectful of one another is a great thing. A utopia even! In the UAE public decency and respect is highly valued, however I feel uneasy is when the ‘rules’ (expectations, standards and even laws) don’t apply to everyone equally or are interpreted differently according to a racial or nationality hierarchy. I guess I’m sceptical that the two examples went down the way it was reported on the news website. But, be rude, arrogant and obnoxious in this country – take the risk – and an expat who lives here should know better. I just hope I never find myself in a situation where it’s my word against a local one, because I’m not sure how that would play out.

    I’m all for people being respectful, patient, considerate and kind. I try to practice this every day myself (sometimes successfully!) and I hope that as long as I stay true to that, the local laws would support me if I ever found myself in an altercation with my phone provider, or the police. Am I wrong to sound so paranoid?!?!

    Keep the observations coming LP……

    • Thank you for your comment! Yes, I think you make a valid point about expectations and standards etc not always being applied equally – my point certainly only covers one aspect of a subject that is much more complex dependent on the variables. I would write far longer posts if I was going to get into the nuances of every single situation each time so I try just to focus on one thought or observation. My main point here really simply being that regardless of the specific ins and outs of how the examples I have used above played out, there are definitely far too many people that come to live here (and to other countries!) without so much as picking up a local paper, watching local news or taking the time to inform themselves about the local culture, sensitivities or laws. There are sadly too many people that move overseas who seem to want to transport their home country with them wherever they go – which for me, sort of defeats the object of travelling overseas at all.

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