5 Jun 2019, 9:00 CET

Hi from Dubai

Did you know that the United Arab Emirates is home to over 200 nationalities? Or that Emiratis only constitute about 20% of the total population? When living and working in our Dubai office for one month, I got a real insight in the advantages and challenges of working in cross-cultural teams in a city that has grown its own size multiple times over the last 10-20 years.

I’m Caroline Blomström, a trainee within BillerudKorsnäs Logistics department. For me, Dubai and the Arabic peninsula was a new encounter. I admit, before leaving, I was a bit worried on how the cultural differences would play out and how I would find myself in this new environment. To ease my mind, I did my fair share of research before going on this adventure to learn some basics about the Arabic culture.

Picture of Dubai Marina where I stayed during the month. It was a beautiful scenery that I got to enjoy during evening walks (when the temperature dropped to 30-35 degrees…).

My first week in Dubai was a “normal” week. I realized I had worried a bit too much on beforehand, as the city is very used to tourists. However, I was very glad I had done my research that helped me understand certain new behaviors and allowed me to be respectful in the ways I could. During that first week, I spent most of the days in the office getting to know our in-house sales team. They were all very welcoming and happy to have a visitor in the office. Our in-house sales team handles more or less all documentation and order registration in our IT systems, and had very much experience and knowledge they gladly shared with me.

Me enjoying the dazzling heights of the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa!

The second week started on Sunday (yes, in the UAE everyone works on Sundays) and on the agenda for the day was two customer visits! I joined one of our Dubai based sales managers to two different customers in the area. The major take away from that day is that in this part of the world, relationship is the key to everything. The day after the customer visit, the holy month of Ramadan began. During this month, whether you are fasting or not, you are not allowed to eat nor drink in public (not even chewing gum), not allowed to work more than 5 hours per day and you must dress conservatively not showing the knees nor shoulders.

Adapting to Ramadan meant several changes to the daily life. My colleagues worked shorter days, we could not visit any customers as it would be rude for them not to offer us any drink and against the law if they did, I could barely be outside during fasting hours as the heat (40 degrees) would require me to drink water. It was very interesting to get a close up experience of Ramadan and I can’t imagine the dedication of those fasting every day for a month in the heat that is in Dubai.

During my last week, I traveled to Mumbai, India, to spend a few days with one of our Sales Mangers there. We visited customers and prospects and he shared valuable knowledge of the Indian market. He also introduced me to Alphonso mangoes – have you ever tried those? Trust me, they are the tastiest mangos I have ever had, almost too tasty to be real. I even brought a case with me back!

Me and my colleague Zaheer who works as a Sales Manager covering part of our Indian market.

Going back to Sweden, the key lessons I take with me regard working in cross-cultural teams. As per my analysis and experience, in the end, it is all about mutual respect and willingness to give and take. Some things work very differently in different cultures, it is therefore incredibly important to lay down some common grounds where everyone is comfortable.