Community-minded Meet Up group hopes to shed light on different cultures
Time Out staff
In a deeper quest to learn more about UAE’s cosmopolitan communities, Kelly Crane talks to the founder of the barrier-breaking Meet Up group, Cultural Mix.
‘It’s a giant melting pot’ could well be Dubai’s most common cliché. Whether in line at the supermarket, on the cross-trainer at the gym or sat enjoying coffee at a local eatery, ‘melting’ and ‘pot’ are two words you wouldn’t be shocked if you heard spoken together on a daily basis.
We live, work and play among citizens from almost every country on earth, but do we actually know anything about ‘the others’, or the culture they come from? And how can we change that? Book a table at La Petite Maison for petit-déjeuner or déjeuner (brekkie or lunch for those non-French speakers), in the hope of striking up a conversation with a Parisian? You’d be forgiven for finding this suggestion horribly stereotypical.
Alternatively you could simply click and join Dubai’s Cultural Mix. It’s an awful lot easier. The social group’s founder and organiser, Ali Okhravi, 39 – or ‘Mr International’ as he’s better known – started the group in 2011 as a way of connecting people from different cultures. ‘Living in the UAE, one gets an abundance of learning opportunities about different cultures, and yet we sometimes take it for granted and limit ourselves to our own communities,’ says Okhravi.
‘The UAE is a melting pot,’ he says. There it is. ‘There are different cultures. As a citizen here we all need to improve our understanding of other cultures, or what technically is known as cultural intelligence.
‘This will help individuals to get on better each day, avoid lots of misunderstandings and, at times, serious conflicts.’
According to the group’s Meet Up webpage, Dubai Cultural Mix was set up to ‘celebrate the similarities and treasure the difference’. With more than 600 members and about 60 nationalities represented, Okhravi says they aim to widen perspective on life to a more global level. ‘It’s the only Meet Up where you can freely ask “where are you from?” not to differentiate but to appreciate,’ he says. ‘We try to learn from our little United Nations.’
Themed meetings and discussions take place once a month at restaurants around the city. Topics debated cover anything from women in different cultures and traits you appreciate about cultures, to gestures and facial expressions. ‘As a member you commit to do your share and contribute something to the group about your own culture and nationality,’ says Okhravi.
In order to keep a balance of nationalities, seats are limited. Aged mainly between 20 and 50, each member is titled Mr or Miss followed by the nationality they represent – for example, Mr UAE – in an effort to maintain a balance of one male and one female from each nationality. However, some regions of the world are better represented than others.
‘We are missing people from South American countries, and some southern countries of Africa,’ adds Mr International, ‘but we welcome everyone, as each individual has his or her own unique experiences to share.’ For more information or to join visit www.meetup.com/cultural-mix (050 946 6894).
Three more cultural groups
New in Town This group welcomes a diverse, balanced membership who obeys just one golden rule – treat all people the same way you would like them to treat your mother, sister or daughter (and father, brother or son). Members come from more than 75 countries. Visit www.meetup.com/dubai-new-in-town.
Dubai International Women Club This group does exactly what it says on the tin. For women living in Dubai from all over the world. Search for the group on facebook or phone (04 344 2389)
The Art of Living Foundation Offers everything from yoga to positive thinking. But most importantly it’s about promoting a violence-free, stress-free world where all nations live in harmony. Visit www.artofliving.org or phone (050 455 6783)