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- On the road #5: Dubai (2) - 4. April 2013
In my constant travels to Europe, especially those involving work, I am often met by a unanimous question, or expression, or exclamation of wonder, delight and curiosity. “Wow, you are from Dubai?” Often said with excitement, it has always been my kind of warm welcome from new acquaintances, no fail! Time and again, it signals the perfect segue to regaling newfound friends with truths and anecdotes – truths like “No, Dubai is not the entire Middle East,” and anecdotes like, “In Dubai, a warm and proper greeting between two Arab men who have not seen each other for quite a time is to rub against each other’s noses, more than to shake each other’s hands.” Always often, these truths and anecdotes wind up as long and engaging conversations where I end up more enriched about other nations’ cultures, probably even more than what I was able to share about living in Dubai and thriving in the mythical land of plenty called the Middle East.
So what do I want to share with you about Dubai, and the Middle East? Well, maybe I should start with everybody’s favorite fact – or trivia, if you may call it. Dubai is but one of the 7 Emirates of the United Arab Emirates, which joins the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar as one of the 6 member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is only a fraction of the entire Middle Eastern region which also includes the Levant countries of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Jordan. So yes, the Middle East is huge, and much like Dubai, it is a region of ironies.
Ours is a region that is so people-centric we are known to be a relationship-driven culture. What I love the most are the flowery words and commendations we exchange as greetings to start our business meetings. I have to admit I find it really amusing to watch the looks of surprise and disbelief from our foreign guests, especially when these greetings are uttered in English and not in our mother tongue, Arabic. I must say, we are not a poetic people, for nothing.
It’s quite normal, as an example, to be asked by an Arab business partner – after meeting them for the first time even – if you’re married, have children…so much as asked about the names and ages of the children… and the list goes on and on. It’s quite unusual for non-Arabs to ask “personal” questions when meeting for business. One of the business colleagues from our group in Munich came over for a visit, had a meeting with the colleagues in our Dubai office and within the first hours, “personal” questions were flying around….she came to me and was quite surprised that people are so “open”…she gushed to me: “Rami, they told me the names of their children, which grade at school they are….they even showed me their pictures!!!”
So when you ever find yourself in a business meeting with some Arabic businessmen, I’d say do not hesitate to offer compliments to your host, nor be embarrassed to be the recipient of such favorable commendations. Dispense of your pleasantries quite generously and accept greetings of tidings and cheers in the spirit they are given. Such is the Arab culture, rich and intricate as the finely carved minarets you see in its world-famous architectures.
But then again, I digress –because I really wanted to talk about how communications in the Middle East is also highly relationship-driven. It is a subject so fascinating and engaging – especially for an advertising man like me who gets really excited working with clients who fully understand this one, deep-seated insight about my region – the truth and the fact that the “collective” and not the “individualistic” mentality is what makes the Middle East flourish from among the rest of the world.
Apply this to business and the same principle holds. I say build your relationships not only with the decision-makers. Take time to get to know the highly interesting and diverse people surrounding them. Develop true rapport even with those who provide wise and genuine advise to them.
Appeal to the emotional, rather than the rational well-being of the Arab youth’s parents and you satisfy an Arab Digital Generation who has turned increasingly online in the way they express themselves, voice their social and political beliefs, and share their sentiments to the rest of the curious on-looking world.
So the next time you hear Dubai calling, forget the city of splendor and bring to mind instead a region of diversity that is easily understood for its sheer simplicity. Respond to its call with a sense of wonder and adventure in your heart, ready to explore the beauty of its seven sands and the inspiring traditions of its fascinating people. And oh, when you’re in your metro ride from the biggest mall in the world to the Dubai Media City to meet with a potential advertising agency, feign your surprise when you happen to be seated next to a man in his impeccable suit, fiddling with a Blackberry and an iPhone at the same time. Because now you know, in Dubai, as in the rest of the Middle East, staying connected to both your social and business circles is just an iPhone and a Blackberry away.