So you’ve moved to Dubai, you have a great job – well, a great paying job at least – and now you want to enjoy the fast-lane life that Dubai has to offer.
…Or maybe you don’t want the high-roller lifestyle, but something more “normal,” even though you’re thousands of miles or kilometres away from wherever home is. How, as an expatriate, do you forge a new network of friends and acquaintances to provide the social contacts you need to perform your work in an effective and productive way?
Start with your workmates and colleagues
If you are the lone “newbie,” stepping into a group of people who’ve already been working in Dubai for months and years, some will welcome you openly, others will treat you courteously (but be a bit more distant), and there may even be rare cases where you sense some hostility.
If this happens, shrug it off. You’re new!
Whatever is bugging that person, it’s not your concern. Some people just have their demons. Accept whatever kindnesses and invitations are on offer, because in the coming weeks and months, you will pass through the various stages of that disconcerting feeing of alienation known as culture shock (in the case of Dubai and the UAE, you can prepare yourself in advance by reading this.)
Workmates and colleagues can be very helpful in passing on all those vital tips to settling into your new home: practical stuff like “do this, but don’t do that,” “it says you need this but actually, you don’t,” and the like. Chats over coffee and lunch can quickly segue into invitations to do things in the after work hours and at weekends.
Children are great social magnets!
If you have arrived in Dubai with a spouse and family, your children, depending on their ages, will bring about opportunities to meet new people. Babies and toddlers are great conversation starters in playgrounds or even the corridors of entrance lobbies to apartment buildings.
If your toddler is attending a pre-school group or is formally enrolled in one of Dubai’s kindergarten or pre-school centres, there are bound to be other parents in attendance, either during the sessions or at pick-up time.
It’s a good idea, if it feels right, to be proactive and start the conversations yourself. You never know where such small beginnings might lead, and it never hurts to be friendly.
Older, school age children will bring home names of other children they like and don’t like. If it’s practical (and don’t underestimate how far some children travel to attend certain schools), after-school invitations home are points of contact with the parents.
These may or may not lead on to other adult social gatherings and interactions directly, but can help establish new friend networks – so go for it!
Clubs and community groups
“But hey! What about the bar-scene and nightlife? Isn’t that a great way to meet people?” If you think so, go right ahead, but it’s not my scene.
Here’s a link to Dubai’s bar and club scene. The bar scene in Dubai may be a great way to meet casual contacts, but few meet soul mates or good friends that way.
I’m thinking more about groups, primarily of expats, where a common interest in some aspect of UAE life, or an interest with a UAE focus brings a diverse group of people together. I suppose you could say it’s a bit like speed-dating: go along to a meeting or two, and if you like what you see and hear, then take the next step and commit to a year’s membership. If not, no harm done to anyone and try another on the list.
The invaluable Dubai Time Out site has a Community page, which keeps track, week by week, of what the numerous special interest groups are doing in Dubai. Go to any of the events listed and you certainly won’t be alone. Will you make friends and possibly start relationships? That’s very much up to you.
It’s a reverse of the old Kodak promise; in this case, we provide the people, you do the rest.
Here are a few I have some personal experience with:
The Dubai Natural History Group – A long-standing UAE institution. Monthly lectures on a very diverse group of topics are supplemented with field trips and overnight camp-outs. Birds, fossils, flora, fauna – you name it. If it has anything at all connected with the geography, geology, and ecology of the UAE (and also Oman), there will be other people that share your interests – and enthuse you with their own.
Sailing – The old Jebel Ali Sailing Club was a great and very reasonably priced expat meeting point in Dubai until it was forced to close and give way to the Dubai Marina developments in the early 2000s.
There are plenty of other sailing clubs in Dubai, but the one that has most closely inherited the spirit and atmosphere of the Jebel Ali Club is the Dubai Off-Shore Sailing Club. DOSC is a whole lot more than just a club for people who are into boats. You can learn to sail, your kids can learn to sail, or you can enhance your own sailing skills on a wide range of types and sizes of boats.
Even if you never venture onto the water, there’s a thriving social scene involving a large and varied group of people from all points of the compass. The club compound on Jumeirah’s Beach Road is also a great place to go to if you find yourself feeling “shut in” as an apartment-dweller.
Taking photographs – Dubai has several clubs and associations to foster the craft and skills of photography. Here’s a sample:
The Emirates Photography Club’s mission statement is that it’s “a social photography group; we work hard to make it enjoyable, yet beneficial.”
The Camera Club of Dubai may be a little more serious, but the focus is on sharing photographs and jointly learning.
The Dubai Photography Club aims broadly similar to the Camera Club above. Try both – remember my speed-dating suggestion above.
Sports clubs – golf, tennis, football (soccer), and rugby are probably the ones with the highest profiles, but there are plenty of others, land-based and aquatic. This Sport and Outdoor link from Dubai Time Out will give you a better idea of what, where, when, and how to join.
Without a doubt, we all feel most comfortable with people who share, however broadly, our own national and cultural heritages.
It’s a simple fact of expat life: Brits feel most at home with other Brits, Kiwis with other Kiwis, and so on. Then there’s the wider pool of common culture, language, and experience. New Zealanders do actually quite like Australians, despite common misconceptions, and Scots can actually get along with the English, despite a few hundred years of to the contrary.
Americans, Canadians, South Africans, people from the UK – even the Irish – can mix and interact, share experiences, and make friendships fairly readily in the UAE.
So long as language isn’t a barrier, it really isn’t much more complicated including other nationalities in the social mix. We’re lucky in Dubai in that English truly is the lingua franca.
Religious practices and a few other cultural matters can call for increased understanding in very mixed social gatherings, but sensitivity to these will make you a better global citizen. Like Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”