Jobs and nationalities

Here in the UAE, certain nationalities (or groups of nationalities) tend to fill certain roles in society. By law, nannies can only come from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia. Gardeners are Pakistani. Housekeepers from certain agencies are Indian. Taxi drivers come from all over the world, with emphasis on Nepal, Pakistan, India, and non-GCC Arab countries.

Emiratis tend to work in less visible jobs, tucked away in government offices or in white-collar companies. We have met two Emirati women clerks at the big Carrefour in Mirdif City Center, but that is rare. You would certainly never see an Emirati driving a taxi or cleaning a house for pay. It's just not done.

This very clear division of labor makes for an interesting, sometimes stratified society. It's easy to fall into the "this kind of person does this kind of job" trap. It's something that I get very used to here, and then all my paradigms do a major shift whenever we visit the US. Wow, an American serving me food at a restaurant?? So exotic.

Here are a few examples of the kind of thing that happens here. Our old nanny Carol said she was in line at the grocery store and someone asked her if she was a Filipina. She said she was. Do you know what they meant by that question? They were actually asking her if she cleaned houses because they wanted to hire her. But they used the shorthand of Filipina to mean "woman of the nationality that cleans houses."

When out and about, American friends of mine who are of Southeast Asian or Latino ancestry are sometimes mistaken as their own children's nannies. It's just assumed that when a brown woman is out with small children, she is their nanny, not their mother.

All this is introduction to this video, which I love. It was filmed in Bahrain, where, like here, you can pull up to a store or restaurant, honk your horn, and the probably Southeast Asian clerk will come out and take your order. Because there is such a clear line between nationalities that do that kind of job, and those that don't, I think it's sometimes easy for all of us to forget - even as an egalitarian American! - to turn on the common courtesy toward our fellow human beings. In the video, a Bahraini spends a day working as a grocery store clerk and finds that many of his compatriots refuse to be served by him.

So if you're interested in seeing a GCC national break down some nationality-based employment barriers, have a look at the video. It has really made me think.

All the Hats

March 6th, outsourced