The UAE prides itself on having a rich culture and heritage, which is often influenced by their Islamic beliefs. Arabic is the most commonly spoken language at home and at work. The culture permeates every aspect of life here in the UAE. From the traditional outfits worn by both men and women to the way people greet each other one cannot be in the UAE and not experience aspects of the culture. The people in general are friendly and accommodating to expatriates.
As teachers, our job involves interaction with parents who are both locals and expatriates. In some instances in which we interact with local parents, the language barrier and ignorance about cultural differences can result in additional challenges. Most of us expats are not too proficient in Arabic.
Perhaps one of the biggest hurdles I have faced when interacting with local parents was that of the language barrier. Over time, I found some creative ways to improve the relationships with my students’ parents by taking into consideration the culture and traditions of the UAE and Islamic beliefs. I also learned a lot from my students.
Here are some pointers that may prove effective in ensuring a positive outcome during a meeting or when interacting with the Emirati parent.
Breaking the ice with a warm greeting in Arabic will put them at ease and build trust. Words like “Marhaba” which means “Hello” or “Assalamu Alaikum”, the most popular greeting in the muslim world, which means, “Peace be on you”, are typically well appreciated. If it is the morning then “Sabah Al-Khair” can also be used which means “good morning”. When leaving a simple “Ma Salama” will suffice as a “good bye”.
People generally respond well to respect. Locals consider giving and receiving respect as an integral part of their belief system. Asking them to have a seat and giving them a cordial smile will further your cause very nicely. Listening without judgment is also very important.
According to UAE traditions, it is customary to dress in conservative and modest clothing. It would be prudent to dress accordingly if you are meeting with local parents. Some parents may be put off completely if they feel the discomfort of sitting with a man or woman who is not dressed modestly.
The local customs dissuade physical contact between the sexes apart from family. So it could be that you may go in for a handshake, but it may not be reciprocated. The safest bet would be to extend your hand towards the chairs when asking them to have a seat. The women especially will not shake a man’s hand and may even take offense.
UAE is one of the most ethnically accepting and tolerant countries in the world. They also have a strong sense of nationalism. Having said that, they don’t usually take well to the ‘stiff upper lip type mannerisms’. An open and friendly demeanor can make your meeting a lot easier. Show them you have patience and that you are there to serve a common purpose.
Not Taking Offense
It is natural that parents will have issues that involve their children and/ or the school. I have found some Emirati parents to be somewhat more emotional when discussing complaints that they have. It is paramount not to take offence and try to calm the parent down along the guidelines mentioned above. These parents are also the easiest to placate. Another key factor is to talk diplomatically without hurtling accusations.
Parents main concern is usually the welfare of their children. If nothing else, this at least is a common ground between you. Going that extra mile will show how professional and accommodating you are, and will make interacting with Emirati parents and indeed parents in general much easier.
By Rahima Jabeen
Ms Rahima Jabeen is a primary grade school teacher and blogger. Her blogs are Yet More Makeup and Young Islamic Minds.