Some of the most strident opinions I have heard about Qataris, Emiratis and other citizens of the Middle East are made by expats who do not know even one such individual personally. When I drove to Abu Dhabi a couple weeks ago, I had to change the radio dial because a DJ show was full of invective towards Emiratis. The list went on; they were spoiled; full of entitlement; disrespectful; loud and obnoxious. What slays me about the opinions oft-expressed have been made by expats in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain who often are spoiled; full of entitlement; disrespectful; and yes, loud and obnoxious.

The truth, obviously, is far more nuanced, and it is easy to attack a group of people when you do not bother, or have made no attempt, to develop relations with them personally.

Anyone visiting the United Arab Emirates should spend time at the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) while they are in Dubai. Visitors to the breakfast or other programs the Centre organizes are free to ask just about any question they wish. Everything including history, culture and dress is fair game. Answers given include the background of the red and white keffiya; women’s roles; Islamic finance; the logic behind dishdashas and abeyyas; and under Islam, why a man may marry up to four wives. The answers are far different, and more pragmatic, than many of us who live in the West would assume. You may not accept the reason, but it is only fair to hear an Emirati’s side of the story.

Visitors who have their own notions about leadership, gender roles, democracy and yes, sustainability in the Middle East, would do themselves well by scheduling a breakfast or tour with the SMCCU. Their stomachs benefit, too: the Emirati breakfast (which is hard to find here) is hearty, and best of all, you can take leftovers home--the Centre would be a great hub from which lessons on food waste could start. If you travel to Dubai, make sure an event here is on your itinerary. This is a great example of how countries can build upon their cultural sustainability.

An Australian expat tries on an abayya while our hosts explains its purpose

An Australian expat tries on an abayya while our hosts explains its purpose

Read about how Dubai’s sustainability agenda must start with public health on Triple Pundit.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.