Culture Shock - UAE


Fraser Clarke

‘Culture Shock’ can be a major factor in preventing expats from getting the most out of their new life overseas. Defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”, it’s something that will have been experienced in some degree by anyone who has previously taken their career to a foreign environment.
In order to try and help you and your family work through the symptoms, we’ve taken a look at the most common factors likely to affect you in each country we work with, and how to combat them. After all, preparation can be the key.
In the second of our new ‘Culture Shock Cures’ series we’ll look at one of the most popular countries with expat medics globally. The United Arab Emirates.

A Different Working Week

The working week comes as a bit of a shock to many expats who haven’t done their research - especially if they haven’t worked in the Middle East before. Unlike in the Western world, the working week runs from Sunday to Thursday, meaning that the weekend is Friday and Saturday.

This isn’t a huge issue for most people, but it certainly can take some time to get used to! Of course life as a medic can result in fairly unique working hours anyway, and so it shouldn’t be much of an issue

Top Tip: There’s little you can do to alter this. However having a set routine for your first couple of ‘new’ weekends should help you to settle into the Sunday-Thursday routine, and make the weekends feel more ‘weekendy’!

Living in an Islamic Country During Ramadan

Living in the United Arab Emirates during Ramadan can be less challenging than many other Gulf locations, however it can still come as a shock to many first time expats in the Emirates.

During the holy month (which usually runs from the end of May to the end of June) Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Nothing is an exception to this rule, not even water!

As a result you should avoid eating or drinking at all in public during the month when it’s daylight. This includes in private cars.

Things aren’t as tough in the UAE as they are in locations like Saudi Arabia however, and some employers may provide a break room for non-Muslim staff. Likewise the laws don’t cover the compounds where most of the expat community reside, allowing you just as much freedom as normal away from the city streets.

Top Tip: Try and get involved a bit, by spending time with Muslim colleagues and fasting yourself during working hours. When you are eating, make sure it’s in a suitable place, and try not to do so in front of fasting colleagues and friends.

Heat and Dust

The prospect of year round sunshine is hugely appealing to lots of people - especially those of us from Northern Europe! In reality however it can become a big hurdle for expats.

Average temperatures in summer can exceed 40°C, with little wind to help cool you down. In the winter they drop slightly, but still remain over 25°. Commonly it only rains for a few days each year too meanwhile, and so the climate can get very dusty, potentially causing respiratory issues for people with pre-existing conditions like asthma.

Almost everywhere in the country is air-conditioned, and houses are built to be as shaded and cool as possible. That doesn’t detract from how troublesome walking even a short distance in the heat can be however, and the temperature is something that causes many expats to leave before their new life has truly got underway.

Top Tip: Try and visit the country prior to committing to a move if you’ve not yet experienced temperatures that high. This can help you to gauge how you deal with the heat. If you’ve already arrived, leave it until the evening or night until you go out for walks, and gradually allow your body to adjust to the intense heat. 

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