As previously noted in the blog the UAE is a monstrously cosmopolitan place where several million different cultures are all thrown in the bag together. Once in the bag we are all expected to get along just fine and automatically understand the customs of others without let or hindrance. I must say it’s a jolly exciting concept being all knowing, but is it really possible to understand all the customs? Can some be misinterpreted as rudeness? Yes. Very much so.
The other week I found myself staying in a 5 star hotel for a few nights. Be under no illusion, this is not something I can generally afford but through various means I found myself being there and treated like a dignitary. After a 17 week drive to reach the hotel and after a short boat ride we were checking in at the front desk when the happy man in the smashing waistcoat took our bags. We were led up to the room and shown around, and then the man in the waistcoat went back downstairs for our luggage. He returned in a jiffy so I thought I would flex some western muscle by giving the man and his waistcoat a reasonable tip.
I held the folded note between my fingers and went to offer my hand, as if to appear über cool. I extended my hand to the waistcoat; he took the money avoiding eye contact and continued to walk to the door. I heard a murmur that could have been interpreted as “thank you” but I couldn’t be sure as the door closed behind him. I was slightly shocked to say the least. I thought what an ungrateful bastard he was. Ok the man brought my bags upstairs for me, a task for which I had thanked him, and then tipped him also for good measure; I expected thanks in return.
Now, I may be an un-educated oaf from the capital of the late British Empire, but where I come from not looking someone in the eye as they tip you whilst saying thank you is appallingly bad manners. Maybe my heritage is the problem, maybe he was still angry that we invaded 200 years ago and therefore I am solely responsible? Maybe he thought I was a neo-colonial overlord and he had to rush to his friends to warn them that the British were at it again? Was my tip insultingly small? Or maybe where he comes from is it a sign of respect to not look your tipper in the eye? After some digging it turns out the latter is indeed correct. He was merely being respectful to me, as dictated by his own interpretation of good manners.
It got me thinking, how are we to know what’s right and what’s wrong? How do we know if we are insulting someone? Neither the waistcoat or I could lay claim to the UAE as our homeland, we are both expatriates so who is right and who is wrong? Hell, is there even an answer to that question? I fear not.
I suppose what we should all be aiming to do is learn some tolerance and maintain the decent manners that we were taught when we were growing up. Ok, if someone bumps into you in an alley, stabs you and takes your iPhone then the odds are that they have no interest in good manners at all. But if you tip someone and they don’t look you in the eye then they are likely being respectful to their own upbringing, so refrain from berating them; even if they’re wearing a silly waistcoat.
So just to clear the air with the former colonies, invading your land and taking all your gold is just a British way of saying “good morning”…