As my wife and I settle into our new life here in Dubai more and more, we are on the one hand very pleasantly surprised by this hybridisation of European, North American and Arabic cultures, but on the other hand there are things from certain origins (particularly the US) that we are starting to feel lacking from this new international way of life. Most particularly is home entertaining, the art of the kitchen supper or the apero – these English and French traditions (respectively) are (or were) a key part of our social lives back in Paris and smething that seems to be sadly missing here – so I wanted to ask myself why? What is it that makes people not want to eat in? Or not want to eat at other people’s homes?
There are clearly a number of different things at work here – particularly when we notice that our friends who seem to hold onto their bastion of home (some french in particular) do still manage to deliver on the concept of home entertaining very well, some even better than at home due to the fact that we have (a) much more space here than we were accustomed to in European cities and (b) the advantages of home help that cannot be overlooked.
Dubai is a city of hotels – around every corner there is a hotel with a plethora of restaurants and its own beach – and this is where the alcohol flows. This may well be one of the initial reasons that people here flock to eating out rather than bringing you into their homes; additionally the problems around getting a license to buy alcohol and then the drinking & driving zero tolerance means that the hotel setup is more adapted to a night on the town and a taxi home.
Strangely enough from a cultural point of view, the arabic cultures are very much about family around the table and sharing food (think about the ‘Lebanese Mezze’), but on the flip side, North American cultures have been about a large number of ‘acquaintances’ with fewer close friends and hence people are ore likely to meet on neutral territory than bring them into the inner circle that is their home. Both my wife and I experienced this when living in the US.
Finally from a communication angle, there seems to be no western (read English) communication around home entertaining, maybe because the ex-pat messaging always needs to be the stark opposite of arabic messaging and hence we can’t talk about family or coming together in the majlis.
So what has happened to bringing people into your home – we are going to try and turn the tide!