Sunday, March 08, 2015

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.


Nancy said...

I don't remember if you ever met Jaehee or if she left before you go there, but we used to get that a lot when we'd go out in Cairo. Like, people would wonder why she wasn't doing more of the work—lazy nanny!—when she was really just a friend tagging along on an outing and my kids weren't her responsibility at all.

Crys said...

Here in this country people sometimes mistake me for my children's nanny...especially before I got my two youngest. Back when it was just E and G I often got asked at the library if I was taking on more kids. Love the little video...looks like you have a budding Morgan Spurlock.

Susanne said...

Very interesting. This is slightly-related, I think. I actually thought of you when I read it this morning.

Liz Johnson said...

So... what's up with that? Like why can nannies only come from those certain countries? Is there a reason given for these kinds of rules?

Unknown said...

Oh and there are some Emirati ladies that drive pink (ladies and families only) taxis in Dubai.

Bridget said...

Nancy, yes, we knew Jaehee and I can totally see how that would happen. Lazy nanny indeed. :/

Liz, I think it's actually up to the other countries whether they send nannies here or not. For example, the Philippines has put a hold on Filipina nannies being allowed to work here, due to poor treatment. Now you can only get a Filipina nanny if she's already here. No new ones are being allowed in. And the Philippines consulate is cracking down on contract violations - they are confirming that every nanny gets the minimum salary of 1500dhs/month and one day off a week.

I asked my students about the female taxi drivers and they said they are not Emirati. But who knows?

Unknown said...

I only know about the female Emirati drivers because of a gulnews report that was writen back in 2007. The article is titled "Families now allowed in Dubai's pink taxis" and is still available online.

Sarah Rose Evans said...

There was a similar sort of question in Korea, except "Are you Russian?" meant "Are you a prostitute?"

American and Canadians were teachers and the French were all high-speed train engineers.

Bridget said...

Yes, that question implied the same thing more or less when we were in Syria.

And that reminds me that when we were in Russia at an embassy party one time, some guests came in and started handing me their coats, because they assumed I was the Russian help. Nice.


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