If you’ve lived in the Gulf, you’ll know what this is: the traditional headgear worn by Omani men with their dishdash.
Oman is a welcome respite from the UAE which, surprisingly, most expats I’ve met in Dubai or Abu Dhabi have never visited.
And it’s a shame because its one of the best memories you can bring back from the Gulf. I’d hazard “authentic” but it’s a stupid, overused word.
For one thing, I’ve uniformly found Omanis to be extremely nice, helpful and engaging (Bahrainis are a close second). Most Emiratis are courteous, and extremely polite if you ever have to engage with them. But Omanis genuinely will go out of their way to be nice and helpful.
We once spent a week in Oman where our hotel of choice was fully booked for the first night. We had to take a room close to the airport and arrange a transfer the second day.
Our SUV drives up with two young guys, in ghandoura and the classic cap Omanis wear.
Our driver with his cousin.
We pile the family in the back of the seven seater. And off we go, from one side of Muscat to the other. The usual banter: “what’s your name?”, “where do you come from?”, “do you like Abu Dhabi?”, “have you ever visited Oman?” …etc…
After a while our driver says: “Look, we’re close to my uncle’s farm, I need to stop and pick up some vegetables or my mother will kill me. Only 2 minutes stop”. Of course we don’t / can’t say no … and we take some side roads, ending up near a house with some land and pens around it: sheep, chickens, peacocks – wait – what – peacocks?
I don’t think we ever figured out exactly what the peacocks where for (food or ornaments) but when my kids found them, they were given a tour, and some feathers.
The uncle was nice to us, even nicer to the kids, and for our trouble we found ourselves with a bag of cucumbers and tomatoes we couldn’t really use. And a 45 minutes detour – par for the course…
Arriving at the resort, the bellboy had to take up four suitcases and a very surprising bag of veggies, and goodbyes were hard with our new found friends.
I have two related explanations for this, although they’re not backed up by any serious research.
The first is that Oman (like Bahrain) is a gentler environment. You’re not surrounded by the desert, even if it is hot most of the time. And there are pockets of genuinely nice climate (Jebel Akbar in the summer is a treat, Salalah is green as can be, and even Mascat is livable). By contrast most Emiratis my age grew up without air con in desert conditions, and Saudis even more. I know I sound like (Montesquieu)
and it’s simplistic, but remember the history of these nations is very short.
The second thought, probably more realistic, is that economic hardship forces most Omanis (and again Bahrainis) to work in “menial” jobs. I know firsthand that most Emiratis refuse to work in service oriented jobs and want to be “managers” at least (it’s a huge risk for the UAE’s economy, but we’ll go there another time). On the other hand, Omanis and Bahrainis drive taxis, work in hotels and man shops in the souqs. Apart from Al Ain, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Emirati work a till.
The bottom line is that there’s a sort of natural arrogance born of the desert hardship of the Bedu tribes and the vast easy wealth generated by oil and finance since the 60s that you don’t find in Oman or Bahrain.
It makes the country refreshing both in its geography, vastly different from the endless desert we know in Dubai, and the relationship you can have with “locals”
In short: go, visit Oman!