Language barrier in Dubai

Sprinkling your emails with emoticons is not 'cool'

The Knowledge

A couple of years ago, while at my first job in Dubai, I was reprimanded in the workplace. And no, I hadn’t enjoyed myself a little too much at the annual Christmas party or failed to meet my deadlines. It wasn’t that exciting. Instead, I would like to think of my perceived wrongdoing as a generational misunderstanding.

Yes, people: I had used the word ‘cool’ while on the phone to a client (who, I hasten to add, was the same age as me). Unfortunately my boss, who had about 20 years on me, was far from stoked at my word choice.

This started me thinking about appropriate use of language in Dubai offices and how it’s all connected to one’s age. Here at Time Out, for instance, I work with like-minded people of the same vintage, and we use terms such as ‘cool’ or ‘no worries’ at the drop of a hat. At times we’ll even go so far as to say ‘pleasums’ or ‘romantical’ – the latter is a particular favourite of mine. (Of course, when operating in a formal situation, we choose language that makes us sound far less like the Kardashians.)

It’s not that I have a problem leaving these words out of my vocabulary when the time calls for it, but the truth is that they make life more fun. In fact, for most ‘Gen-Y’ers in Dubai, ‘cool’ is the accepted 21st-century term for ‘okay’ or ‘I agree’. Even my mum says it.

Emoticons and ‘kisses’, on the other hand, are a whole different ball game. Back in Australia at my old fashion magazine, it would be very rare to receive an email – even from my editor – without a little ‘x’ planted at the end. Heck, it should really have been embedded in the email signature. But here in Dubai, isn’t that illegal?

As a result, I’ve had to train myself to reach for the smiley face instead. Yet I’m gradually trying to wean myself off that too – let’s face it, it’s not very professional. Even so, there are lines of work where this type of language is more appropriate to use than others.

It could also be that I’m Australian and it’s part of my national make-up to shorten words as much as possible. Exhibit A: my sister, who is also based in Dubai, once emailed her team to tell them she’d see them tomorrow ‘arvo’ (afternoon), for which she received a number of emails asking exactly when that would be. In Dubai we’re lucky to benefit from a smorgasbord of cultures, but that also means we sometimes collide with a language and emoticon barrier. So, if you’re going to speak casually, pick your victims wisely. Your hear me? Cool.

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