Reflections on Dubai
Part Two. Trying to Wrap My Head Around Things.
Preface: I´m in Dubai on behalf of Omnicom Media Group. Amongst others, this post contains a passage about my working environment. I want to point out that I´m in no way prohibited from criticism or compromised in any way. What you´ll read, is basically just the way I experience things.
This post is part of a series. Find part one here.
As I´m one week into my Dubai experience I can say it has been pretty interesting so far. To be honest, the impressions are so manyfold that they made me reconsider my approach of writing this blog. While my first idea was to tackle major topics one after another (work, politics, public transport, you name it) in individual posts, I came to the conclusion that this doen´t even remotely match the way you experience a foreign city, let alone an entire region. So let´s try sth. different, let´s consider this more of space I share my experiences as they come across.
Let´s start with some early impressions. In general, people in Dubai are incredibly welcoming and easy to access. Literally everybody asks you where you come from, what you´re up to and invites you out on various occasions. For Europeans it can be little overwhelming at times, but if you´re no stranger to travelling you might come to the conclusion that Europe (Germany) is not directly welcoming is more of an exception to the rule. At home, I rarely encounter people helping out strangers in public, or just inviting you over barely knowing you. On the other hand I probably don´t know another country where people are so keen about making deep connections instead of random acquaintances.
So how come that Dubai feels so welcoming?
Well, there are many reasons for that. One being that everybody (especially expats) is sort of in the same situation and remembers the way they felt when setting foot in this mesmerizing town.
As for me, I live in Dubai Marina, a buzzing quarter very popular with expats. When you´re going out, you´re much more likely to encounter expats than locals.
As literally everybody around here speaks very good to perfect English, this helps a lot as well. Woudn´t it be for the weather and the occasional Arabic you will hear here and there, I´d think I´m in a major American city. So thanks to the people I met here, fitting in is fairly easy.
Another reason for the ease of making connections is that in general, Arabic culture is very hospitable. As for strangers, it is very socially expected to start a conversation, invite you over and spend time together. Again, there´s a downside to everything which in this case would be that the perception of personal space differs fundamentally between Arabs and Europeans. But in the end it´s all about finding common ground and getting over yourself, and boy is that a good thing to do.
In my last post, I wrote a lot about clichés and how they can turn out for the better or worse. Well, being a German seems to be a door-opener from time to time. Literally everywhere I have been around the world, Germans were admired for reasons still a mystery to me. Seems the grass is always greener on the other side, but people tend to express their respect for German achievements and think that as a German you´re representing one of the economically, politically and technologically most-advanced places in the world. So depending on my mood I try to share some insights on what´s really going on or just let it be.
If you want to know what my thoughts are on this one, feel free to read it in the next paragraph, if not, just skip it.
Detour — What´s going on in Germany?
Phew, that´s not an easy one, but let me try to put it in a nutshell: In my opinion Germany is living in a bubble of past accomplishments, telling itself the story of success, innovation, security, stability and so on. As a German you get the feeling that the country is a Winter´s Tale once again. We are wasting our future big time, missing out on digitalization, technology and the will to really push forward on a joint vision for ourselves, let alone the European Union in General. The country seems devided by so many cleavages, left and right, young and old, innovaters and convervatives, active and passive elements.
Let me also add that I´m not very fond of Merkel. (I get asked this frequently here.) The only thing she´s done which is noteworthy is to make a stand against the refugee-related prejudices but failed to turn that into sth. sustainable. I think her tragedy is a pattern you see reflected in many German businesses and decision-makers as well: In general, we have lots and lots of excellent managers, able to allocate resources and, you know, run things. But in general that´s sth. reactive.
Similar to Merkel´s style of politics many Germans wait for external impulses and react to them, instead of creating stuff, questioning everything and challenging whatever the status quo might be. Merkel never developed a new social vision for the German people, let alone for the Europeans and we look back at 11 wasted years, which will hurt the country badly in the future.
So maybe the times of visions are over, but I don´t want to live in a country that feels managed. I care for being part of sth. bigger, a movement. I care for creating stuff, trying things out and — although it´s hard–not grow cynical over the absurdity of life itself. With Merkel it feels like she tries to compensate her lack of vision by silencing people through rocking them to sleep. The rise of far right parties offering simple solutions is a direct consequence of that style of politics, or better: management.
To be fair, it´s not an easy task to convince people that change is neccessary. The reasons are similar for you and me being lazy from time to time and not sticking to our new year´s resolutions: If you are fairly well off, why change sth. and why pivot to make a difference in the future?
Then again: Politics should not only ask how we best react to current challenges, politics should be the place of debate on how we want to live. I wish for a leadership that acts brave, forward-thinking and changes people´s mindset towards embracing change, not fearing it.
So that is — in general––what I think is wrong with Germany.
Now back to Dubai.
As people are approachable and friendly, that basically goes for my work environment.
As I only mentioned it very briefly before, allow me to share some detail on why I´m here in the first place. I work in the realms of digital transformation. Long story short, I´m not so much into communications and/or advertising (as is Omnicom) as much more into products, business models, technologies and changing societies, somewhere between geek and consultant. As such, I try to explore and observe as much as I possibly can and then try to let observations, ideas, random thoughts and my gut (also: big data, studies, you name it) flow into concepts for new hotizons to explore together with clients. (Please excuse that I can´t get into more detail, because that would indeed be sth. not cool to do. :) ) A big, important part is empathy for cultural specialities, that´s why travelling is an essential part of my job.
So as gloomy as it sounds, the challenges my work tries to answer are pretty much universal, leaving me able to work pretty much anywhere. (At least that´s what I hope.) Then again you should consider this more or less of a given, because if you weren´t to offer sth. worthwile you shouldn´t ask to be integrated into a living, working, breathing organization.
Which brings me to my next point: Around here I get the feeling of a vibrant place. There´s just so much energy around and the place is buzzing. Maybe you waited tables once in your life as I did and had the chance to peak into a well-running kitchen… Well that´s exactly the feeling you get working here. It can get a little chaotic from time to time but then again, show me one workplace where that´s not the case.
By the way, working hours are quite good for an agency, I usually start at 9.30 am and finish work around 6–7 pm. At least, that´s the time I spent at the office. Luckily enough, my position more or less evolves around the same topics I´m into anyway. That includes but is not limited to: the digital world, gadgets, tech, change, innovations, start-ups, that sort of thing. So work and personal life tend to blur here and there. Also back in Germany I have neither fixed working hours nor workplace, so I´m used to working indenpently.
So it´s fairly easy to get into new environments here for the reasons mentioned above. Also this might be a general thing with the advertising business. The majority of people I met in my career are pretty nice folks, even including some close friends. So to everybody giving me an easy time, thank you, much appreciated. :)
It´s worthwile to mention that Omnicom MENA was recognized the 3rd greatest place to work in the region. You can see why once you enter the company gym, attend one of the free sports classes or stumble upon the fact that an entire (big) part of the agency was rewarded with a trip to Sri Lanka for their exceptional work.
Btw. — contradicting a popular Dubai-related cliché– I can easily get to work by public transport. In general, you can get around Dubai bei Metro, Tram and if it´s really neccessary, go take a taxi, they´re reliable and dead cheap.
Allright folks, that´s it for now, time to hit the company gym…