Mingling with the locals

Meeting locals and/or making friends with them was such a remote possibility for me, even after living in Dubai for more than two years.

“Locals” as we call UAE nationals only compose a small fraction of Dubai’s overall population. Think ONLY 20% of the entire population. So here you could see so many Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, American and other expats from about 200 different countries and a handful of locals in one city.

I see them in malls and in the streets but they seem to be aloof and naive – it’s almost impossible to engage in random conversations with them or better yet make friends with them. While we (expats) live with them in the same city, I always felt that they live in a different, parallel world.

Just an FYI, Emiratis work in the government sector and there are only a very few of them in the private sector. There’s no local working in the company I work now. Be aware of the fact that there are more jobs than the number of locals so expats are needed.

My husband volunteers for an organization teaching Japanese to the locals every weekend.


~ an Emirati student writing Japanese on the board ~

Since I always have to work on Saturdays, I only got to hear the stories from him like some of the locals are actually nice and easy to talk to, that they are fluent in English, that they talk alot about their country and how they think about themselves being the minority, etc and how his students are so eager to learn about Japan and the Japanese language.


~ local male students hard at work ~


Last Saturday, I took an off from work and went with him. For the first time in my stay here, I met and interacted with Emiratis. Interacted means I didn’t only met them in the eye or bumped shoulders to shoulders with them but actually spent time with them and talked to them! They were there to learn Japanese and I am amazed by their diligence learning a difficult foreign language. After 8 weeks, (despite only having once a week classes) they were able to memorize, read and write the two sets of Japanese alphabet!

After the 2 hours class, they had a class party to celebrate the end of the curriculum. We had Arabic and Japanese food. Yum. These beautiful cupcakes were brought by one student and I post them here just because.

There I got to mingle with the locals and got to know some of them.

I told one of them (a guy) that this is my first time actually talking to someone from the UAE and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not nice of us.”

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, how to or what to talk with them. I don’t know why I fear if I would upset them with my conversation or something like that. There’s this invisible wall between them and me (I know most expats would agree) that’s difficult to explain. In fact some locals are aware that expats are intimidated by their presence, find them unapproachable or sometimes arrogant. But you know what? They think the same. They think it’s not easy to approach expats as well (although some Emiratis do not see the need to).

The local I talked to said, “Why? We’re all the same. Some locals are eager to talk to expats too and ask them what they think of our country. Wouldn’t that be a good conversation?”

While talking to him I thought, not all locals are arrogant and unapproachable. There are bad and good people, regardless of nationality!

I talked to a group of young ladies and asked so many questions. Will they want to work after marriage (I got a big YES on this one)? Do they love traveling (yes they do! and so many of them have traveled extensively over Europe and the Americas!), why do they study Japanese, etc. We had an hour of lovely conversation. They even agreed that I take a photo of them with Pristine.


~ friendly Emirati young ladies I met (photo altered to protect their privacy) ~

At the end of the day, as we were saying our goodbyes, they invited me to visit them in their houses. Some of the ladies want to hear my Japan story and want to spend more time with me.

I’m glad I came to that class/party. It was a precious experience and an eye-opening one, too.

If  you’re an expat in Dubai, do you have Emirati friends? Where did you meet them?


  1. That was such a nice thing of your husband to do. I think it’s such a great idea to reach out. Sounds like it’s such a great experience to you. Kudos to you and your hubby!

    He likes teaching and I am amazed by the time and energy he spends for the students even without any monetary compensation.

    Amy @ The Q Familys last blog post..The World of Coca-Cola



  2. An incredible experience for you, and I’m glad you finally got the opportunity. I think by all means you should visit some of these new friends in their homes. It would mean quite a lot to them to offer you hospitality, I’m sure.

    I think I should go too. It would be a lovely experience – not many expats have that chance so I’ll grab it.

    Desert Songbirds last blog post..Breakfast With My Peers



  3. Great post, grace and very enlightening. I only watch about the UAE on TV, and I kind’a know that the locals are the minority and the most privileged in that country, they don’t pay taxes and everything is free for them (?) or something like that… anyhow, maybe that is the reason for that invisible wall and intimidation. It’s fascinating that you got to know them a little bit more… it’s like interacting with the royalties.



  4. Wow…I wouldn’t know how to feel if I were a minority in my own country. Perhaps they are shy and “aloof” because they feel like strangers in their own country?

    I learned a lot from this post…thanks for sharing your experiences. The more I read from your blog, the more I want to visit Dubai!

    Jackis last blog post..Living in Suburbia



  5. hello again!

    As you know, I live in Dubai. I have been fortunate enough to meet a fair number of locals whether it is through work, friends marriages or just in passing. I met an Emirati girl at a stand in a mall during Ramadan and she invited us to her family home for Iftar – that has been one of the highlights of our time here so far. You are right though – it is not easy…as a visitor you are aware of the cultural and religious expectations/line and so we often tread carefully when it comes to attempting to make friends with the locals. The Emiratis are very friendly, warm, generous, kind and gracious. They are deeply traditional and their traditions are extremely interesting to learn about.

    To all the readers of this blog who don’t live in Dubai: you should definitely consider a visit. Dubai is an intriguing place – there is no other place like it.

    Where is your Japanese class held? Do you any help with eating those cookies? ^_^



  6. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you should continue to build bridges with the locals you met – I always think the locals are the best source of course – but it sounds like mingling with them where you are is a challenge. Now that you’ve found an opening, keep walking through it.

    Bumbless last blog post..ON BLOGGING ~ Suggestion Box…



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