Netflix's 'Dubai Bling' merges English and Arabic dialogue for multicultural audience

Cast explain why they alternate between the two languages - often in the same sentence

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Dubai Bling, released on Netflix, follows the lives of 10 wealthy residents in Dubai.

The big personalities are predominantly Arab and include some well-known faces from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq as well as expatriates from India and Australia “who now call Dubai home”.

The reality TV show depicts Dubai's melting pot of cultures with a side of luxury cars, runway-fresh fashion, exotic resorts and exclusive access to the city's most popular restaurants and late-night hotspots.

Cast members frequently switch between Arabic and English, often mid-sentence, in a way that may be familiar to those in the Arab world — and baffling to those outside it.

The National spoke to the cast to see why they chose to express themselves in such a fashion.

Kuwaiti-American Ebraheem Al Samadi, best known as The Blooming Man, built the flourishing floral firm, Forever Rose.

Speaking with the founder, 34, he said he cherishes the Arabic language but finds it hard to master it.

“I’m an American citizen born in Kuwait and raised in America. My mother is American,” Al Samadi said.

“When I entered Dubai in 2010, I couldn’t speak a word of Arabic and I struggled to watch TV, reality shows or whatever.

“The difficult thing about learning Arabic is that it has different dialects. When people hear me speak Arabic they laugh. People would wonder where I am from.”

During filming the programme, Al Samadi said that the crew urged him to speak Arabic.

“I absolutely tried to speak Arabic. The reason why we had to speak Arabic is that the programme is under Netflix Mena, which means there has to be an Arabic content.”

Often English had to be used in the show because it was the only way two people could communicate, he said.

“Take for example, Safa Siddiqui, the Iraqi-British influencer and fashion designer. She was raised in London. Her husband Fahad is from India and the only common language communication between them is English.”

Describing the reaction to the programme on the international level, Al Samadi said it has been a shock.

“Oh my god, Dubai Bling is blowing up. I never expected what happened yesterday at Nammos restaurant in Dubai. I was walking and I heard people on tables say, ‘That’s Ebraheem from Dubai Bling!' I walked up to them to get their feedback about the show. 99.99 per cent were positive saying ‘We love you.'”

Emirati entrepreneur Danya Mohammed, who is known as Diva Dee and married to Marwan Parham Al Awadhi, known as DJ Bliss, explained why she switches between Arabic and English.

“Since Kindergarten till I graduated, I have been in the American International School in Abu Dhabi and all my teachers were American. The way we used to express ourselves was usually in English. Arabic is our first language, so it has always been there. But sometimes, I feel like I express myself better in English.”

Switching between Arabic and English can sometimes attract criticism though, said Mohammed.

“Each language has some emphasis on what I’m trying to express. Some people may think that ‘Oh, she’s trying to be better than us by speaking English’. But in my case, it’s not that. I’ve always been around people of different nationalities, and I’ve always spoken English to them."

The entrepreneur also said she faced some difficulties while filming Dubai Bling, meaning she had to repeat herself.

“There were certain situations when I talked in English and the staff would tell me ‘Say it in Arabic’.”

Mohammed recalled a funny moment during filming.

“The funny thing on the show is when I said the word “femininism” [feminism]. I cannot pronounce that in English so I’m like ‘How do we say it?’”

Mohammed's husband is a well known DJ on the Dubai nightlife scene. He said that speaking English intertwined with Arabic is kind of like a habit.

“It's not prestigious when I speak English. I think it's a habit. I grew up speaking English with my brothers at home.

“Honestly, I think that a lot of people like it because they don't have to read the subtitles,” he said.

Updated: November 01, 2022, 3:49 AM
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