Wednesday, April 30, 2014

More dispatches from the United Arab Emirates

Last week I shared some of what I have learned while in the UAE.

Since then:

  • Though some aspects of the culture are ancient, the country itself is only about 40 years old. Before that, a lot more of the region was desert.
  • Some schools have been pressured into removing World War II books or blacking out mention of Hitler and the Holocaust (not to mention Israel, which, if it must be mentioned, is referred to as “the entity”). I said the word “Jewish” in a presentation and was later advised (but not forced) to omit it in the next presentation. I did not...and afterward got a most enthusiastic reaction anyway.
  • All pig products (and sometimes even mere mention of pigs) are forbidden. However, some food stores have a back room just for expats…and just for pork.
  • One international school was reprimanded for inviting the students to dress up for Halloween because the government education counsel saw no educational value in that.
  • The country seems to be struggling with its identity. On the one hand, residents maintain great respect for Muslim traditions, some of which seem dangerously outdated by some non-Muslims. On the other hand, Emiratis want to attract tourists and foreign business so find themselves compromising (as a culture) at times. In the malls, you see fully covered Muslim women walking side-by-side with Western-looking women in tight T-shirts and short shorts. At airports, you may see women preparing to travel to a more religiously diverse place by shedding their abayas (coverings) to reveal contemporary fashion underneath.
  • When multiple fully covered women are in one area, children can identify their mothers by their handbags.
  • At several schools, teachers asked students to welcome me by saying “Have a clap” rather than “Let’s have a round of applause.” (But that may be British rather than local custom.)
  • Dubai is more liberal than Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has more trees and green space (which must be vigorously watered) than Dubai.
  • Crime is virtually nonexistent here. (The consequences, including deportation, are severe.)
  • License plates are status symbols. The lower the number, the closer the owner is to the royal family.
  • Everyone (in schools, hotels, restaurants, taxis, and so on) has been lovely to me.

Also, April 27 was a milestone in my author visit history: the first time I spoke at a school on a Sunday (when the school/work weeks begins in the UAE).

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