Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Chapter II?


Nationality plays the biggest role in your life in Dubai, with it being one of the most racist multi-national societies on the planet, if not the most. Walk into any coffee shop or restaurant and survey the tables. The first thing you’ll notice are how each table has its own nationality and invisible borders seem to separate each of the races as starkly as black on white. This mentality spread as far back to my days in an International High School there, where the school cafeteria was just as divided. I remember disliking this reality as a naive teenager and attempting to change it.

A new Indian girl had joined a few weeks after school started. She didn’t seem to click right away with those of her own nationality and it wasn’t uncommon to find her eating alone during lunch. I invited her to eat with us, partially out of sorrow and partially because at that time, I believed I could fix the world of all its ailments. She refused. A few days later, I attempted again and to my utter surprise she jumped up and screamed at me that I hated her and I did so because she was Indian. She then burst out in tears and ran out of the cafeteria. Coming from Canada and before this instance not really grasping the depth of racism I was shocked and disgusted by the accusation. I never did talk to her again. It was only years later that I realized how it must have felt for her, after having her parents beat it into her that all white people thought they were superior and since we thought so, we must be. I shit you not, later in life I have come across Asians who argue that the only reason Canada is a better place to live than the UAE is because Canada is run by white people (a complete loud of crap, but believed by many just the same) and the UAE is run by brown people.

Despite that being as far from the truth as possible for most new comers to Dubai, eventually westerns are given a superiority complex and find themselves in an ongoing battle with locals about who in fact rules their country, because despite the largest part of the population being Indian or Asians, they simply aren’t competent enough to take on the roll – it must be the Arabs or the westerners. Look at any job listing in the local papers and three out of four times, you’re going to find a requested race. Next to managerial or leading high paying positions, Westerners or locals are requested. Next to low paying administration or secretarial jobs, you’ll find Indians, Pakistani or Filipinos being requested. I dare anyone to find a domestic help, construction labour, or table waiting position in a restaurant, offered to locals or westerners. No, no, those low paying, low respected jobs are reserved for the lesser races – who cares if they have experience and degrees that make ours look like they came out of a cereal box!

There is an invisible racial hierarchy in Dubai that tourists may fail to see, but those living there know where they stand. And there are a number of generalizations that can be made about each race based on that race living and working in the emirate. At the top of the racial hierarchy you’ll find the locals and the westerners, each of which complaining that the other thinks they rule the UAE. Most other nationalities will simply call it even between the two, once they put aside their own racial preferences.

Just below them, you’ll find the Arab nationals from countries like Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. This nationality takes up few of the moderate to low paying jobs, and can somewhat rarely be found in the higher paying, more prestigious ones. However, when they do land such a job, they’re the first to flaunt it by taking out excessive bank loans to create the facade that they’re living the high life. This nationality is the one that drives beat up, old BMW’s and get ridiculed for thinking their cars are the shit, or should they stumble on a big enough bank loan, they’ll drive Mercedes spending their very last dirham (local currency) on it, along with a matching brand-named wardrobe, while having a barren flat to live in and little food to eat at home. And at the end of the day, who can blame them? If you don’t look good in Dubai, you must not be anyone!

The next tier is where the eastern Europeans fit in. The women in this category are more often than not accused of prostitution and you’ll rarely find them working a job away from serving tables at a shisha or coffee shop. They’re widely believed to have one purpose in Dubai, and that’s to find a rich local to marry for the sake of getting that all too famous Emirati passport. I lived with a Russian girl once. She was one of the hardest working, innocent sales people I’d ever come across -- but I must be wrong about that because UAE society says so.

The lowest form of life according to this hierarchy, are the Asians, whether they be from India or China, labourers even get their own lower-class, cheaper shopping centers. You’ll find that these are people who built this country and continue to make it thrive. They’re also the least paid the least respected and for some reason (perhaps the long, underappreciated days working in the sun?) the worst smelling. God forbid! Many of the major shopping malls have forbidden bachelors (another loose term given to the labour workers who build the country) from being in them – God forbid they clash with the shiny, picturesque interior. No nightclub will allow them entrance and many residential buildings have forbidden them from taking up residence in them. On the other side side of the coin, Asian or Arab taxi drivers will bypass another Asian or Arab for a western looking traveller a block or two down the street, based on the generalization that Westerners travel to less congested places, and they tip better*2.

One of the more complex observation of a society as racially fucked up as this one, are the numbers of people who actually seem to suffer racial identification crisis. Ask an Indian or Arab who has a Canadian passport where he’s from and he’ll tell you he’s Canadian, despite not having ever lived a day there. Ask an Eastern European who has married a national where she is from and she’ll tell you she’s local, despite having no local blood in her. In Dubai, there too much attention is paid on race, denying your race, judging others by their race, or denying you’re racist, when the truth be told... If you’ve spent enough time there and still come out claiming you’re not racist, you’re a liar and no Dubain (excepting those in denial) will believe you.

I’ve been back in the West more than a year now. I’m still trying to shake the idea that life is really only skin deep. I know some former Dubains who despise the UAE based solely on that that disgusting transformation of their once non-bias personality, conceived while residing there.


Should I continue? I think I'm going to have to. I'm just having too much fun writing... (And it's been a while!)

14 words of wisdom:

Anonymous said...


Spot on!

Long time reader by the way , delurking :D

Tainted Female said...

Hello darling. A pleasure to meet you. I just left a note for you on your blog and I'll be sure to stop in and read more often.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Sabah said...

Please, please, continue! Maybe at some point I'll figure out where do I fit in? I should try as it doesn't look like we're going back to Sharjah anytime soon :(

(it's me, former samoum)

CG said...

I don't fit into any category at all. I come from no-mans land. It is a sad place to be.

Back to my hole.

Tainted Female said...

Sabah, where did you move to? And how are you? Again, it's been a long, long, long time... Last I looked you weren't blogging anymore. I'll have to check on your new profile soon.

And CG, you lie. You don't live in a hole. Stop being so modest. ;)

rosh said...

Has this post, got anything to do with my comment in the one prior?

rosh said...

May I add, you are quite generalizing here? don't you think? 'cause there are the haves and have nots, amongst all races......perhaps moreso in one, than the other.

That said: spot on, re: race borders across UAE. Very hard to erase or overcome - it sucks.

Tainted Female said...

No darling (I had to re-read the last posts to get what you were asking about)... This is an observation I made long, long ago.. :)

rosh said...

ha! you on-line? Hope BC is having better weather - it's an oven here at NYC :)

It's funny you wrote this post today. I had an amazing week, meeting people of a particular race, raised in different cultures/places. I got along quite well with them, these past few weeks - more so this week. Finally feels to have found, my lost crowd. There is an "identity" now. I am very close to this particular girl - she is of Taiwanese Origin, born/raised in Uruguay.

CG: I think, we may truly belong to "no-mans" land :)

Am beat, off to snooze.

Tainted Female said...

That's the scary part Rosh.. you can find that in the west.. in UAE you can't seem to find that no matter where you're from. I'm Canadian, but believe me, I know what you're on about.

Sleep well...

A world of Symphony said...

N is for Nationality...

A revealing commentary, kiddo!

I think we’re all racists if caught at the right moment!

This connotation was borrowed and modified courtesy of ’The Hero’. The key replacement being the R-word in place of Heroes.

Imhotep said...

I just dicovered ur blog..very interisting and charm writting...

I guess it is not so dark..jobs per race has changed a lot in the last few years... many of asian have very high paid job..finally managers realized "Black cat or white cat: If it can catch mice, it's a good cat" !..

I agree the society is disconnected that each ethnic gather with it self ..i guess that's ppl attitude..they might not have a choice when they come since UAE has unidentified life style and culture.. even among minority locals (ultra religious or ultra liberal)!..if u go to UK..canada..oz..there is life style which most expats or immigrants follow.. but in UAE it is just a bizar ...

keep it up...

Tainted Female said...

AWOS, thanks for the link to that movie. I think I'm going to have to look for it next time I'm in a video store. And yes, we're all racist (especially in the UAE), no matter how we look at it. It's saddening.

imhotep, welcome to my blog. :) I'm glad you enjoyed what you read and were even inspired to share your thoughts on it. Perhaps you should blog an entry about race and how you see the current changes in Dubai? I would be interested in reading it, for sure!

Mars said...

exactly. and i'm born in the UAE. which is why for future prospects, i'm working till I can get everything done and leave. It's my home, yet never my home.


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