The existence of the West and the Near East in the same place is very interesting.
It is not possible to call the GCC a melting pot of the world because even though people for all nationalities live here, and the expats in most country are the majority of the population, there is as such “no mixing” of cultures and/or celebration of diversity.
WARNING: THE POST BELOW MAKES A LOT OF GENERAL STATEMENTS. THERE ARE, OF COURSE, EXCEPTIONS AND THERE ARE MANY GREY AREAS.
However, it is possible to observe various cultures and one can learn a lot. Given that there is no mixing of culture a lot of people that come here tend to maintain their own culture completely. There are “ghettos” of individual communities that can be found all across the GCC.
Interestingly, there is very little of “Gulf” or “Middle Eastern” culture in the GCC countries. Much of what we in the West consider ME culture is more Iraqi, Levant or Moroccan culture. I have to yet experience the GCC culture and to me (at least) the culture seems to be western materialism without the social and philosophical values of the West. There is, of course, the Arab stereotypes that exist e.g., women in abayas and scarfs/veils, men in white robes, dates and camels. However, I don’t think that is culture. They are just superficial things.
The value system in the GCC is unique. It is not the “Islamic” value system. I find it very difficult to give it a name. It is a value system where Islam is talked about very frequently to define the society and determine right from wrong. However, in practice the application of the system depends on who you are.
The GCC Arabs are for most part very respectful of the other GCC Arabs (even though each country in the GCC thinks they are better then the Arabs of the other GCC countries). They would naturally make an effort to include other GCC Arabs in their fold.
The Westerners of Caucasian background get a revered outsider treatment almost like Kipling’s Gora Sahib in pre partition India. You are not included in the Arab fold but you are treated as if you belong to the top of expat food chain.
The attitude of GCC Arabs to the other nationalities varies depending on where one comes from most other Arab come before all of the other expat then come the westerners of non Caucasian origin. After that is everyone and your place in the good chain depends on your job.
It is possible to stay in the Gulf without actually meeting a single person from Gulf. I routinely meet expats who have lived here for a long time and have actually never met a GCC national. They know that their company is owned by a GCC national but they have actually never met the owner or interacted with them.
What is very interesting about the place is that even though we all live in the ghettos – there is no space to be different. We all have to conform to one of the roles that we are supposed to play. In the expat community – the roles are defined – the working dad, a high maintenance stay home – spa going mum, the young teenager waiting to leave for university and the outsiders – these are the women who work, dads who stay home, etc.
I like the outsiders.