A uniquely cosmopolitan oasis in the dessert and historically a great connecter of East & West, Abu Dhabi continues to bring people together to live, work and do business from all corners of the world. I recently lived in in the city for over a month opening a new restaurant for an international hospitality group at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Living and working in the city, in the heart of the middle east, changed my perspective on people, culture, religion, food, race, and America’s influence in the world. Im excited to share with you all a few courses of my experience.
As a result of US involvement in the region since the end of WWII, there is a lasting American influence from a culturally cultural standpoint. Abu Dhabi has the largest presence of US military and diplomatic personnel in the Middle East, and is considered the safest city in the region. The safety associated with and provided by the American presence has paved the way for American and European countries to set up businesses in the region. Without those assurances and a large military presence in the region, I double Abu Dhabi, and Dubai for that matter, would have grown in to global cities they are today.
There is a very evident and vibrant local culture, largely played out in local restaurants and family homes. Combined with traditional values and a general way of life, the locals crave and idolize american brands, especially as it relates to food & fashion. Over the past 10 years or so there has been a huge boom in the presence of American and European based hospitality concepts setting up shop in Abu Dhabi. As one local told me “If its good enough for America, we want it to”
To be clear, I was not a vacation, I was there too work. I learned very quickly that almost all of the service jobs in the country are outsourced. The vast majority of local Emirates enjoy generous government jobs and benefits, funded by the Sunni Monarchies massive Oil wealth. Abu Dhabi has one of the largest reserves in the world - over 500 Billion. These programs and systems combined with a relatively small number of locals (only about 20% of the total population) has created conditions, culturally speaking, where the vast majority of locals consider themselves to be “above” traditional service industry jobs - like restaurant servers, valets, and cooks.
People are flown in from all over the world, largely from south east Asia and eastern Europe, to work for an Emirate companies or private local families, or those of the westerners who were living and working in Abu Dhabi. A friend of mine, who happened to be a fellow Bostonian and the local station chief for the FBI, had several caretakers from the Philippines for his wife and two kids, who attended an private school for Children of Americans and Europeans. The company or family will act as a sponsor and pay for housing, food and beverage, transportation, and give employees a weekly salary.
I was learning first hand of a new way of life. My learning curve had just started.