Sunday, July 20, 2008

The culture of the queue

One thing a westerner living in the UAE quickly notices is that in many places there is no concept of a queue. And if a queue is formed sometimes individuals will jump to the front of the line and demand to be served next.

The Abu Dhabi flagship paper, The National has taken note:

Dr Abouallaban, 44, the director of the new American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology in Abu Dhabi, says it is all about stress, disappointment and a lack of respect for others.

Most of the passengers using the buses, he says, are low-paid workers who are boiling with frustration. “They come to Abu Dhabi thinking they will make good money,” he says. “But they find they are not saving anything. They are disappointed. Their families are back home. They have a low tolerance.”

Dr Abouallaban was born in Syria, but has spent most of his career in the US. He moved to the UAE three years ago. So he has both a Western and a Middle Eastern perspective.

The wealthier and better educated might not suffer the same sort of stress but, he says, often they share this disturbing lack of respect for others. “You see it on the streets when people are trying to catch taxis. Sometimes people have almost run over me to get a taxi. They just do not respect others.”
Local pride that the UAE is so much more polite than the West is, he thinks, misplaced. “People here are more polite than in the States when they are in their family setting. But they are less polite in the street.”
queuing, in its many forms, is alien to the UAE, says Dr Alnajjar. This does not mean the country is rude. On the contrary, he says, the UAE, especially Emiratis and Asian workers, are scrupulously polite. But there are sharp differences between the Gulf perception of politeness and the West.

“Every society has its own ideas on what is polite,” he says. “In the UK, it is polite to ask a lady on a date. Here it is not. In the UK, it is polite to say to a lady, ‘You are beautiful’. Here it is not. If you go to a man’s house and invite his daughter out, he might kill you.

“In the UK, people will eat in front of you. Here, it is impolite not to offer food if you are eating.”



Anonymous bb said...

So in the UK it's polite to queue but here it is not?

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't care if the "dr" is brilliant and has both a western and middle eastern perspective, as if that were especially difficult to achieve in this day and age, but honestly to only take examples of hitting on women and eating and differences between different understandings of polite and impolite in different cultures is very simplistic and borderline silly.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous different anon said...

I disagree. I think the article pointed out ordinary yet significant differences between the cultures, examples that reflect the difference in mindsets.
Expats complain too much, it is shameful, but they do have a valid objection when, after waiting in line, a local thinks its perfectly okay to jump ahead of the ex-pat without even asking. That is so rude!! Aren't there universal laws of respect? Maybe not, the article seems to say. To an ex-pat, waiting one's turn seems like plain common courtesy.

3:20 PM  

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