It was something I didn’t expect. When I moved to Dubai in the spring of 2017 with my wife and son, I felt well prepared for my assignment due to my experience in the Israeli and Palestinian markets which are seen as the gateway to the Middle East. I even received intercultural training especially designed to help me handle Arabs. However, when I arrived, I was proved wrong. In fact I have hardly any contact with Arabs as our customers are almost exclusively of Indian or Pakistani origin. And my team is also extremely internationally oriented. Every day from a business and cultural point of view this mix is equally a challenge and enrichment.
The Middle East: differences and similarities in the region
As Managing Director for the Middle East I run the MANN+HUMMEL branch office in Dubai and responsible for aftermarket sales for the Middle East and East Africa. For the last six years the 14 colleagues in my team have been looking after a market the size of Europe which stretches over 26 countries, from Libya to Kenya and Pakistan.
But it is important to differentiate between these countries. This is because even though Dubai is very polished and highly modern, one of our biggest customers in a neighboring country does not even use a computer. Political unrest and economic instability also contribute to make the aftermarket in the region in comparison to Europe relatively underdeveloped. The thing which unites the countries is a pronounced bazaar mentality which goes well into the way business is conducted. As a result, each individual product is negotiated down to the last cent. The idea of customer or brand loyalty does not exist here. The cheapest product is purchased, regardless of any good arguments which are presented.
My daily routine in Dubai
The day here is strongly influenced by the Arabian culture. In the month, for example, when Ramadan is observed, during the day the world nearly stands still. After all, our religious colleagues are not allowed to drink or eat from sunrise to sunset. This is particularly noticeable on the customer side. There is simply no activity for the duration of this month. Even the law stipulates shorter working hours. Nevertheless, apart from Ramadan, here people work longer hours than those worked in Germany and it is not uncommon to work until 8 or even 10 pm.
The Arabian culture naturally also influences life outside the business world and that is despite the fact that 80 to 90% of the population of Dubai is made up of foreigners. For example, it is possible to find a mosque on every corner because by law a mosque must not be further than 10 minutes away by foot. Therefore, when the time comes for prayers the Muezzin call is to be heard everywhere, even at night. So when choosing where to live, this should be taken into account.
Despite abundance, not everything is available
In strong contrast to the rather more traditional picture influenced by Islam, here luxury is the order of the day. If something can be purchased, it will be available. Therefore even with temperatures above 50 degrees centigrade it is possible to go skiing, or, and I’m not pulling your leg here, you can embrace a penguin. The offer changes constantly, which can be quite exhausting. Yet with all this abundance sometimes I miss a down-to-earth atmosphere, a simple bar, or the ability to discover a new area of the town on foot. Here you can forget walking outside in a forest, or a park. I like living here, but would I like to stay here forever? For that I would simply miss the nature too much, even though I never thought that that would be the case.