Scandinavians bringing a little of home to Dubai

Two entrepreneurs are seeking to help build a sense of community among Scandinavian expatriates through an annual skiing competition.

Dubai, 11th January 2011.  (Left to right) Rohit Beri and Oskar Andermo ( Organizers of the Scandinavian Skiing Competition) at the Ski Dubai.  (Jeffrey E Biteng / The National)
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DUBAI // Two entrepreneurs are seeking to help build a sense of community among Scandinavian expatriates through an annual skiing competition.

While about 6,200 Swedes, Norwegians, Danes and Finns call the Emirates their home, a lack of clubs and events keeps many of them isolated from socialising with their compatriates. The organisers of next month’s event at the Mall of the Emirates are hoping to change that with a skiing contest followed by an party featuring a Swedish band.

“Skiing is close to the heart of many Scandinavians so I think it will be a great way of getting people together,” says Oskar Andermo, a Swede who is helping to set up the event. “To be honest apart from the Swedish Church in Dubai there is very little in terms of social groups where Swedes, or any other Scandinavians for that matter, can meet.”

Famous skiers such as Sweden’s Anja Paerson, Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt and Finland’s Tanja Poutiainen, all Olympic medalists, have helped establish the sport in their homelands. Mr Andermo, a former Starwood Hotels employee, was inspired to bring that spirit to Dubai after talking to friends in his home country who had spent part of their holidays on the slopes.

"I was in Dubai this Christmas so when they told me about the skiing I thought a lot of other Scandinavians were in the same boat, so why not do the next best thing?"
Linda Nordin, the Swedish Business Council's (SBC) executive director, said the competition's organisers had approached the group to help get their message out. The organisation promotes business and governmental relations between the UAE and Sweden.

“We have around 130 members on our books and we plan to send out the request for sponsorship and of course the invitation itself to the businesses under our umbrella,” she said.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, unique and very Nordic, and it’s something I know people would like to attend.”

News of the event was pleasing to Else Nielsen, a Danish housewife who moved to Dubai three years ago. She agreed that there was not much in the way of social activities for Scandinavians in the Emirates and expressed enthusiasm about the concept.

“We had met a number of other Danes when we first came over but then things fizzled out,” she said. “I think the skiing is a great idea because I’ve only tried to ski once and it would be good to learn. Apart from a gala and Christmas dinner there isn’t much else that Danes or other Scandinavians can do together, so this will be really welcomed.”

Together with his friend Rohit Beri, Mr Andermo hit upon the idea of booking the Ski Dubai area and a bar for a party with a live Swedish band at the Grandeur Hotel in Al Barsha. Setting up the affair was old hat for Mr Beri, who runs the event organising company Oh My Goodness.

“The skiing was Oskar’s idea but the after party was mine,” said Mr Beri, an Indian. “We will completely transform the bar by giving it a Scandinavian theme so hopefully it will be a home away from home for guests. All the Swedish people I’ve met have very big hearts and are really friendly, jovial people.”

The event, open to non-Nordic participants as well, is scheduled for February 4. The organisers are also looking for sponsors to help with the project and have had some interest, Mr Beri said.

They are hopeful of attracting about 50 people for the skiing event, which will probably cost about Dh180 per person, and about 300 for the party at Dh50 each.

"Although the skiing has a competition element we will keep it fun," Mr Beri said. "There will be awards for the slowest and clumsiest skiers as well as other categories like that."
Rikard Westerberg, 22, Swedish musician who will be performing at the after party with his band Rich N' Told, believes the event will help to get Scandinavians better acquainted.

“I’ve been here for about eight weeks and I’ve only met about five or six Scandinavians by chance,” said Mr Westerberg. “I think it’s a wonderful idea to get the community spirit going among the Scandinavians. I think it will be a great success and we are looking forward to playing on the night.”