Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Culture Shock

I recently had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Dubai en route back to Zambia from my Christmas break in the UK. I was visiting a friend of mine who moved there last year; and it was a good way of breaking up the long journey. My friend Lisa was a fabulous host; there was a glass of champagne waiting for me on arrival and chocolates on my pillow!

Sunny Dubai

Exploring Dubai

We spent the first day at a luxury beach resort. We swam in the sea and the pool, drank cocktails and rode a pedalo. Later on we wandered through The Dubai Mall which is the largest shopping mall in the world. Amongst other things it contains one of the largest suspended aquariums. Dubai certainly is extravagant! In the evening we went to see the Burj Kahlifa, the tallest building in the world with dancing fountains that move to music.

At the aquarium at Dubai Mall

The Burj Kahlifa

On my second day I explored Old Dubai on my own. I went to the Cultural Centre for a traditional Dubai brunch and fascinating introduction to Arab culture. I visited the Dubai Museum, and went in an 'abra', a traditional wooden boat, to cross Dubai Creek so I could visit the souks (traditional Middle Eastern bazaars).

A traditional Dubai brunch at the Cultural Centre

Abra boats crossing Dubai Creek

Contrasting Locations

Dubai is glitzy and glamorous, and is a real contrast from Zambia. The landscapes are almost polar opposite. Dubai portrays a stylish 'cityscape' scene with skyscrapers that light up at night, man-made beaches and huge numbers of hotels lining the coast. Zambia’s natural beauty is much more rural. It is a landlocked country, mostly high plateau with rugged terrain and diverse wildlife. Both Dubai and Zambia boast tropical climates but because Dubai lies within the Arabian Desert, it is hotter and drier. Zambia is wetter, with its rainy season lasting for almost half of the year.

Dubai in the evening
Landscape in Zambia

Dubai and Zambia also look vastly different because of their levels of wealth. As a visitor you can see that the typical lifestyle in Dubai is more upmarket, whereas poverty in Zambia is more visible. Personally I don’t believe that wealth can buy happiness. Whilst I enjoy nice things and enjoy going to nice places, surface level wealth itself doesn’t particularly impress or depress me either way. 

Dubai Marina

Rural life in Zambia

People and Culture

It's actually the subject of people and culture that intrigues me far more. What I do find interesting are some of the cultural differences between Dubai, Zambia and the UK.

An example of this is attitudes towards different races and skin colours. In Zambia, white people really stick out. They are frequently referred to as a ‘muzungu’ (white person) and assumed to be extremely wealthy. There is a greater variety of people from different countries living in Dubai but I found they can also be treated differently according to their nationality. Apparently Emiratis (citizens of the United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai) are given preference and it is sometimes overlooked if they break strict cultural rules. Although poverty might not be evident to tourists, many Africans, lower class Indians and Filipinos actually live in Dubai's labour camps with very basic accommodation, food and low pay.

Spot the muzungu

Whilst I know that sadly some racism also exists in the UK, I think the majority of people there would challenge this thinking. Overall, the UK promotes positive attitudes towards other cultures. 

The people I met in Dubai were very welcoming and Dubai has good relationships with the other emirates in the UAE. Similarly, Zambians tend to be hospitable and have a strong sense of community. In both Dubai and Zambia, people tend to be more expressive and vocal about their religion compared to many people in the UK. Dubai is predominantly Muslim, evidenced by the number of women wearing burkhas and men in traditional dress. Zambia is very open about being a Christian nation and most people who live there attend or are associated with a church.

Traditional dress in Dubai
A very friendly welcome at a church in Zambia

Culture Differences

Living in or visiting other cultures can make people realise the strengths and weaknesses of their own. But it has also given me a fondness for my own familiar British culture because my understanding of it is much deeper. I ‘get it’. 

That said, everyone is different and life would be boring if we were all exactly the same. Surely the variety of cultures and races that exist make the world a richer place for it. 

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