Asmaa Al Hameli | January 31, 2013
I was an intern at The National a year ago. Before my internship, I drew a picture of the newsroom in my mind. I imagined I would be surrounded by people who were far from my culture, who barely smiled and were busy, with no time to eat properly. I imagined the newsroom to be very elegant and expected to see people dressed professionally.
But, things turned out to be quite the opposite. When I first stepped into the newsroom, I was not sure I was in the right place. My mentor came to welcome me and she introduced me to other colleagues. All of them wore a smile and emphasised: “Just shout out if you need any help.”
I was kind of confused by my colleagues’ kindness. As an Emirati, I find people do not usually approach me because they are unsure of how I will react. This was weird.
I was also aware that some mysterious people have been telling expatriates that Emiratis are self-important and can get anyone deported.
I thought my colleagues’ good treatment of me was due to their fears that I might complain about them and get them in trouble.
Once, in the cafeteria, I was waiting to pay my bill. I met eyes with a Western reporter who immediately looked away. I thought to myself: “Does she fear I will deport her if she looks into my eyes?”
Some people say ignorance is the mother of a stereotype. So I approached the reporter the next day and tried to talk to her. I could sense her nervousness when she saw me walking towards her desk. Maybe I looked scary?
Now, we get along well. I made an effort every day to be friendly and offer my help. In the end, I was successful in breaking the barrier between us.
I was also right about people barely smiling here –– but they do laugh and chit chat. I expected it to be stern and quiet.
Once, I was so caught up with my work that a sudden burst of laughter distracted me. It was scary at first because I was not used to such weird laughters in my house (we laugh more quietly). It is fine now. In fact, I have started laughing with them these days. Once, a sports reporter sitting near me started laughing out of nowhere upon remembering the joke he shared hours ago. I found that attitude relaxing because I thought only I did something like that. I was pleased to discover there are more people like me.
Another issue I had to cope with in the beginning was nose blowing. In my culture, blowing your nose is a private thing. Once I heard a blast from the online section. That time, my friend Ayesha was also part of the company. She and I looked at each other in surprise. We were trying to figure out what that noise was. It turned out to be someone who had a leaking nose. We laughed really hard that day.
It is worth mentioning that many people eat at their desk in a newsroom. In the Photography section, you can find some people typing with one hand and eating with the other. They are always generous and share with others. Sharing is indeed caring!
Some people dress very casually. If you go to the Sport section, you will see lots of coloured clothes, and many T-shirts. I have seen very few people wearing a suit.
We have people from different nationalities, but that does not seem to bother them. They chit chat, take breaks, eat more than enough, blow their noses. Each culture has its own quirks, but what matters at the end of the day is their performance. Most of them work wholeheartedly, I must say!
Today, there are three new female Emirati reporters (the other two are my best friends) and everyone treats us kindly. This is not because they fear we will deport them, but because they consider us one of them. This is what makes the newsroom an interesting place to work and learn.