How to deal with odours in taxis and on modesty in advertising. Dear Ali: Sometimes when I take a taxi, the driver's body odour is so strong that I need to cover my nose. What can I do? And while we're on the topic of hygiene, how can I stop people from spitting? It's gross. KH, Abu Dhabi Dear KH: People come to the UAE from many places where standards of personal hygiene may vary. Deodorant might be a luxury some cannot afford, and the body odour you find repugnant might be deemed natural where they are from. Try to sympathise with the taxi drivers. They drive in hot weather and some days sit in their cars for 12 hours or more. They deal with the stress of traffic and are away from families for months, even years, at a time.
Taxi firms should do more to educate drivers about standards here, but it would be impossible for the police to monitor such things. There are more than 7,000 silver taxis in Abu Dhabi alone. I would take down the driver's name and number and call the company so that they might deal with each case in a discreet way. Our government is trying to improve the situation through education campaigns, and I hope the problem will improve with time.
We do have laws against spitting, but again, we simply don't have the resources to enforce these laws. Spitting is not "gross" in all parts of the world. Like body odour, it might be seen as perfectly natural to expectorate. Some can't afford to buy tissues. But I do admit, whenever I see a person open his door while waiting in traffic and make a big show of spitting, I drive next to him, wind down my window, honk on my car horn and offer him a tissue. But usually it's that moment when the traffic light turns green so I just make my point and drive off. Don't tell anyone I told you this, though. My point is that if we want to change behaviour, we need to come together as a society and educate people, not scold them.
Dear Ali: The international brand chain I work for has asked me to devise an advertising strategy for our new products to be introduced in the Middle East. Does modesty influence advertising as much as it does social life here? SA, Johannesburg Dear SA: Gulf culture is intrinsically linked to Islam, as demonstrated in the greeting: "Assalamu alaikom wa rahamtu allahi wa baraktuh," which means "Peace and blessings be upon you from Allah."
Our faith also influences the way we do business. The modesty you ask about means much more than wearing conservative clothing and refraining from alcohol or swearing. In our culture, it is considered inappropriate to argue out loud or in front of others. Even if you are arguing with your colleagues at work or business partners, it should be done in private. And - surprise, surprise - even when it comes to joking, we tend to tone it down in public. Anything that brings attention in this way is not appreciated.
It is important to consider this conservatism in your campaigns. For instance, I wouldn't advise using half-naked women to sell a product, as you might in the West. You might also want to avoid comparing your product with a competitor's. Knocking a competitor is viewed as a bad intention - not a good way to make friends in the Gulf. Companies still do this type of advertising, but cover the fake product with white paper and call it Brand X. Lastly, consider the elements of a product that are especially prized here: quality and functionality. If you focus on these two elements in your campaign then you should be successful.
Arabic: Ashoofak Ala Khair. English: See you in good health, status, etc. When two people say goodbye, the first can say: "OK Ali, I'll call you next week." The other could reply with: "Sounds good, Ahmed. Ashoofak ala khair." Ashoofak means "See you." Ala means "on or in". The word khair loosely means good or well-being, so good health, good status, etc. If you are addressing a woman, you would say "Ashoofeek." If you are addressing more than one person, use "Ashoofkom". So until the next column, "Ashoofkom ala khair."