Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hating Expats?

Yesterday, "anonymous" posted a comment that I found really interesting. It's a follow up to the comment about the joke among expats:
Q: What's the difference between and expat and a racist?
A: About three weeks...

To turn it around, "anonymous" (same one or different?) wrote this:
"Injustice,stigma and discrimination against expats, which is institutionalised in Oman. Hence, an average expat is "perceived" racist by Omanis in the spirit of blaming expats for every ill of Omani society."

I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but it's a very interesting topic, that definitely has some truth to it. Do Omanis hate expats? I think there are two totally different sides to this. There are some Omanis who do indeed blame expats for causing many problems in Omani society. There are also the Omanis who idolize expats (the western ones) and seek them out intentionally. Then of course there is everyone inbetween, as there always is.

But let's take a look at the 2 extremes:

Expat Haters--There are Omanis who look upon expats (western and eastern) as the source of depravity in Omani society and distortion of Omani culture. I've been there. I've been told to my face that I am making Omani women impure and am leading them to be perverted like women in my culture. The entire population of Oman (you find figures anywhere from 2.5 to 4 million) is only about 70% Omani (again, very difficult to find consistent census data). That means there is, in fact, a decently large foreign influence of the people in Oman (particularly in Muscat), although this does not even compare to the UAE, where the Emirati population is closer to 10% of the total.
Nevertheless, the distain for westerners as poluters of the true Omani culture and heritage is not as prevelant as it could be. I think most Omanis, even those who would prefer a pure Omani nation, can accept that Oman just would not be where it is today in terms of development and progress if it were not for the influx of western companies and investments, which of course bring people along with them. There are those Omanis who would rather be undeveloped than have western influence, but I think there are very few who actively blame westerns for the ills of Omani society and who would bring that sentiment to the table when forced to deal with them.

Expat Lovers--Now this is even more interesting, in my opinion. I would say the the majority of this brand of Omanis lives primarily in Muscat and are generally well-educated and wealthy. Many Omanis (although, again, not as much as in other Gulf nations)enjoy the "bling" that comes along with western-style development. Cell phones are everyone. Many men own more than one for their differnt category of contacts. One for the family, one for the shabaab, one for work, and maybe one for the girlfriend. Gucci, D&G, and Armani all make abayas, or at least you can find knock-off labels to sew onto them. It's hip, even de rigeur in some circles, to be western in certain elements of style.

Now most Omanis, men and women, who sport this western bling do not necessarily associate it with being western as such. It's just the popular style. The thought process often doesn't go much farther than that. The hypocrisy of buying an Armani-designed garment which generated from one of the most conservative streams of Saudi Islam...doesn't cross their minds.
Nevertheless, there are Omanis, mostly men because they have the most freedom to circulate in a variety of social groups, who actively seek out friendships, and of course business partnerships, with westerns. They pride themselves on being remarkably open-minded and accepting of other cultural mores and customs. And a lot of the time, they are. You can see them sitting in cafes, with western men, or even with each other, most talking in English...just to show they can roll.
In any case, they definitely don't hate westerns. (They still might not want their wives and daughters hanging around men though...)

Enough for now. Let me know what you think. What has been your experience, for my expat readers? And for my Omani readers...what do you think about all this?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cheerful Indians

Have you ever wondered what makes so many of the Indian (and I really mean Indian in particular, even moreso then Pakistani, Nepalese, Bangladeshi..) laborers here so smiley? I've noticed it before, but it isn't until the last few days that it's really struck me. The Indian workers here at my new job (whether highly-educated professionals, chauffeurs, or toilet cleaners) are all invariably cheerful.

Why is that? Some of them get paid a generous salary that could easily support a family here in Muscat (the professionals) but the vast majority of them get paid pitance. Granted, it's more than they would likely get in their own country doing the same or even higher level work. But...they certainly aren't living in luxury.

I've spoken in particular to three Indians here at my work about their family situaion as well. One was a professional, one a transport driver, one a cleaner. All three of them have their spouse and children living back in India. They haven't seen them for months and maybe only see them twice a year if lucky. And yet, they are happy, and polite, and have genuine smiles spread across their faces.

I just spend the summer away from my fiance and that was hard is hard to imagine doing that with children added to the equation. Am I just spoiled? Having what I want when I want it? Do I have a higher standard of what is acceptable, in life-style and relationships? I don't know. But I also don't know how they do it.

I would be fascinated to read research about specific cultural influence on mood and life satisfaction levels. If I were in their place (and I think this goes for a lot of people), I would be miserable.

How do they stay happy?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Moving to the Big City

I arrived back in Oman this week, and am finally living in Muscat. For some reason, the weather isn't as blisteringly hot as I expected. This is my third Omani summer and I think I might actually be getting used to the 50 degree weather, as impossible as that sounds. In any case, it's great to be back.

While I was away on holiday, I realized that Oman sort of feels like home now. I missed my flat here, my friends, and even just Oman. I never thought I would feel homesick for Oman, but maybe this means I've finally graduated to being a real dyed-in-the-wool expat.

I've started a new job as well, and am relieved that the environment is professional, cheerful and delightfully not insane. If you've read my previous posts about my work and a particular few of my anonymous colleauges at Rustaq College, you know what I'm talking about. No doubt this job as any will have it's pitfalls, but I so happy to be in a professional, efficent and friendly environment. It's tough to find that here.

Although even in the three days I've been back in the country, I've already had several of those "God, I hate this country!" moments, overall, being away really made me appreciate a lot about this place. The people are friendly, life is calm. the beach is always 10 minutes away, and being late isn't a crime. While there is plenty to frustrate you, especially during Ramadan for non-Muslims, this place really isn't so bad....

....of course, however, in the weeks and months to come I'll do plenty of complaining. Maybe Muscat and I are just in our honeymoon phase. We'll see how long it lasts before we get sick of each other.