In our previous blogs we’ve discussed why so many teachers are thinking about moving to the UAE and Dubai particularly. But the UAE is attractive to many professionals not just those in education and the oil industry. So following our guide to moving to the UAE, we thought that we thought we’d explain a little about the history and culture of this amazing country.
So if you are relocating to the UAE here is our guide to what to expect when you arrive UAE to start your new life.
Before the “oil economy”
Up until the emergence of the oil economy in the 60s there were two main cultural axis within the UAE. Broadly speaking these cultures were the Bedouins of the desert and then the people who lived near to the coast and who were mainly focused on sea based trading and the pearl industry.
Both the sea and desert cultures were closely linked and very much interdependent on one another which meant there was a single common culture influenced from within its borders and by the larger Arab communities beyond its borders.
Following “oil” – the UAE now consists of seven emirates – of which Abu Dhabi is by far the largest representing 80 – 90% of the total land mass. These seven emirates united as a federal state back in late 1971.
The demographic of the UAE is interesting and very much influenced by its recent past. Up until the oil generation, the population was extremely small and measured in the thousands.
With the emergence of commercial oil production, the population grew but the new populous were mainly overseas, male workers. The result: a multi-ethnic population where nationals are outnumbered 5:1 and females by at least 2:1.
Most of the immigrants are Asian though the language of business is English.
Architecture – a nod to the past
Symbolism is important within the UAE. Visitors will find images of the camel, Arabian horse and falcon everywhere often accompanied by the pearl fishing boat, coffee pot and date palm. These images represent the history of a nation that survived very difficult times, times that should not be forgotten despite the relative wealth enjoyed by many today.
Much of the modern architecture, despite its ultra-modern design, is flavoured with the influences of the past – a very deliberate and distinctive projection of times gone into the current and future.
Indeed, urbanisation has occurred at an unprecedented speed with villages built with mud and sand transformed into some of the most modern metropolises in the World. Most of these are based along the coast. For more images of the architecture and culture of the UAE visit our Pinterest image gallery.
These cities are typically divided into housing areas for nationals and areas for immigrants, this is then further split down by class, social standing, nationality and ethnic origin.
Food and drink
As with architecture, the diet has also changed dramatically. The present day UAE offers the same variety of food in supermarkets and restaurants as you would find in any British city. Though many Emiratis still traditionally eat with their right hand and there are strict Muslim rules forbidding pork and alcohol.
It will surprise many to learn that 70% of the GDP is delivered through non-oil sectors. Since oil prices began to fall the government successfully tried to reduce dependence on oil by focusing investment into tourism, construction and communications.
However, average income remains among the highest in the world and the UAE is the third largest exporter of oil and gas in the Middle East.
Employment amongst citizens is almost entirely within the state sector whilst Immigrants are employed in both the public and private sector.
Immigrants are referred to as Al-Wafadeen or incomers. Nationals are known as Al-Muwateneen. Nationals are then divided in four groups
- The ruling sheikh families – fabulously wealthy and powerful
- The merchant class – whose background was in the pearl trade but who are now involved in the shipping of consumer goods abroad.
- The middle class who are made up of professionals
- Low income groups who are typically recently resettled Bedouin nomads.
Male nationals are clearly identifiable by their dress, white robe, white head cloth with black rope and accompanied by short beard and moustache.
Interestingly, in education females outnumber men by 2:1 but their role in the workforce is very low at about 1:20. Despite incentives and encouragement females tend to opt to marriage and child raising – roles which are held with very high regard with the UAE.
Women who do work tend to choose roles that do not involve mixing with the opposite gender and that are an easy commute – most therefore tend to work in education, the civil service or the health service.
Officially men and women have equal rights but this not necessarily realised – men occupy most of the key roles in politics and religion.
Marriage amongst nationals is encouraged with substantial cash incentives and although men are allowed up to 4 wives the vast majority only have one. The extended family unit is in decline though most families have 6 – 8 offspring and a strong sense of kinship means that many live within in the same neighbourhood.
The UAE shares many of the same social customs with the other Gulf states. Men greet each other with a handshake and a nose to nose touch though it is rare that they will shake the hand of woman in public. Women greet one another with at least one kiss on each cheek. It is good practice to ask about their health and that of their family following the initial greeting. Visitors or guests will often be offered food before starting any serious discussions.
When talking it is common for Emiratis to stand very close to one another which can make Westerners feel slightly uncomfortable. Elders are respected and women often entertain in separate rooms. Shoes should be removed before entering an Emiratis house.
Religion and the arts
Islam influences every attribute of Emirati life though tolerance is shown to other religious groups who are allowed their own places of worship. Prayer is observed five times a day at a mosque or at home.
The state invests and supports the arts in a very proactive, financial manner. Writing, painting, acting and dancing are all encouraged and celebrated on the UAE National Day on 2nd December. The spoken word of poetry and storytelling is still extremely popular.
As you can see, if you’re thinking about moving to Abu Dhabi or anywhere else the UAE you will be entering culture that is diverse in many ways. Ultra-modern and yet deeply influenced by the past and Islam. This makes it a fascinating place to live and work.
If you are lucky enough to be one of the British citizens who has found or been offered a job in the UAE – Atlantic International Shipping are an experienced international removals firm that specialise in removals to the UAE.
For a free no obligation quote – call us on 020 8804 4321 or simply complete this removals quote form and we’ll get right back to you.