Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cooling off in Dubai

Hey, Al ! Get a load of this one: on Tuesday it was cooler in Dubai on an early July day than it was in Central Park, New York City. Anything wrong with this picture? Probably.

Am on my 7th trip here in so many months, and we are in the thick of it from a summer weather perspective. I started my journey in Abu Dhabi this time, the new HQ for our company Gulf Sports Media. Arrived early evening Monday and the atmosphere was like the proverbial wet sponge. As thick and soupy as anything I ever experienced in the tropics.

The air is like a furnace here, broiling us during the day and slow cooking us by night. Even at 10pm, hot breezes are blowing from god knows where. The myth of the desert rings false in this part of the world----it does not cool off at night.

OK enough about the weather. Since I am playing tennis with Lee tonight, this might be my very last entry before collapse and death by heat stroke, so will try to make it a good one.

Am slowly but surely adjusting to the customs of doing business in this region. Lee gave me a book last night titled 'Don't they know it's Friday', which describes local practices and attitudes in both a humorous and serious manner. The Friday reference, of course, alludes to the out of step Mon-Fri mentality we westerners have in a region where Friday and Saturday are the weekend days. I still cannot get used to going to work on Sunday mornings.

Negotiation in Arabia is an art form in itself, and I am starting to get a bit good at it. Business decisions and agreements here follow a timeline all their own. It's the equivalent of trying to bake a cake in an oven that does not switch on when you expect it to and sets itself to a temperature over which your intention has little to do with the outcome. One can work weeks on an agreement which might appear to be at an impasse, then weeks go by, and suddenly one day the phone rings, the deal is done, and you are expected to make up for lost time at lightning speed. Not for the faint of heart, ladies and gentlemen.

Being perenially late is an existential state that also requires adjustment, in my case major adjustment. I am the type who calls or texts a person if I think I am going to be more than five minutes late. Contrast this with the case of an interviewee who arrived 7 hours (!) late for a meeting with our editor last week.

I like the business people here. As long as you are very careful in crafting agreements, the process of organizing, managing, and dealing with professionals here is mostly a pleasant experience. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones, since not everyone shares my views.

The Lebanese are like the Israelis---tough, shrewd, emotional, bright, and sometimes arrogant. Love them. The Emiratis mostly warm and welcoming, though occasionally a bit out of their depth. And the Indians---thorough, professional, very hard working, honest, though surprisingly rigid and formulaic at times. Many of our new hires are Brits and Indians. And, in the course of these hiring decisions, I have discussions with my colleagues and other media professionals here about ethnic and racial balances that would have me out on my rear in the US.

What a privilege to be doing business so far from home in a land different in every way.