Oil-Rich Gulf States Treat Their Economic Immigrants Like Crap

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“I’m sorry Ma’am, but you aren’t allowed to take the food from the breakfast buffet. It’s hotel policy.”

The Filipina waitress said this in various polite ways, at least 5 times.

But the disgruntled lady in question wasn’t so amiable and each time she spoke to the the waitress, it was with an air of contempt as if she wanted to strip her of any remaining dignity.

It was an absurd request, her large family had already eaten a mountain of food from the breakfast buffet, she wanted to go against hotel rules and not only take more food with her – but she also demanded that the waitress should pack up the food herself in a paper bag and give it to her!

Sinister levels of snobbery emanated from her gluttonous, arrogant being as she shoed the girl away with a rude hand gesture while repeating loudly; “go away and do your job, I don’t want to hear from you anymore!”

The poor girl was clearly holding back tears, 2 minutes later as she cleared my table.

“Wow, you’re a lot more patient than me,” I said.

She mustered a smile and replied that she had to be as it’s her job, but she was in a lose-lose situation. Another hotel policy is “the customer is always right” bullshit and she was pretty sure she’d lose 25% of her wages if the woman complained. Apparently it happens a lot.

This wasn’t the first story that I’d heard like this in the Gulf States and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.

On my way back to my room I asked to speak to the hotel manager. When we met I informed him that a customer had been abusive to one of his staff members at breakfast and that she handled it really well.

I’m not sure if he listened to me, or just pretended to – but he seemed receptive anyway.

“But Muuuh, This is Only One Experience. Mah Feelings.”

This was in Kuwait and if I got a hair follicle back on my balding head, for every time I saw a local treat a foreign worker as if they were sub-human – I’d be Durham’s answer to Daniel-Day Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans.

*Flashback to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) a week before…*

“The greatest business in this country is the fine business,” anounced the Bangladeshi taxi driver.

Apparently when the company feels like it – they deduct a big chunk off of his pay check as a fine for supposed negligence.

When he finds time out from his gruelling 4am-4pm, 7-days-a-week job he drives to the office (if he can manage to catch them before they close) and asks why this is so.

Allegedly the best answer he’s had is; “well if you don’t like it…you can always leave.”

I try to play devil’s advocate and ask him if he was ever late, he protests not. After my wandering around the Gulf States and observing the interactions; I am inclined to believe him.

I can’t really speak for Qatar, as it was a quick visit and I caught up on work and Netflix crushes during my time there (the gorgeous specimen who plays Carly in ‘Travelers,’ you’re welcome).

I spoke to an Omani guy about all of this in Salalah and he said I should be careful because people will always speak ill of their enemies.

I found this a little too simplistic and of course I witnessed most of these accounts with my own eyes. Also, in my experience Filipinas are one of the least likely groups of people to be unnecessarily catty.

I will however say that I didn’t really see this kind of aggressive classism in Arabic countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Oman. Parts of Lebanon and Jordan still struggle in many ways financially – but I sensed more of a brotherhood/in-it-together energy over there.

As for Kuwait, Bahrain and UAE – I think working immigrants don’t have the best of time over there, at least in the hospitality industry anyway.

My heart really does go out to them because I understand a great deal of them are doing it to make more money and live a better quality of life (also Filipino culture dictates that they send a decent wedge of cash back to their parents when doing this).

Admittedly I thought twice about writing this article, due to the strong, well-organised voices in the professionally-offended loser brigade. But they can seek comfort with their unicorns – the truth isn’t always pretty and I’m always going to write about what I see – be it beautiful, or uncomfortable.

One of my main reasons for visiting The Middle East (other than eating copious amounts of next-level hummus) was that the mainstream media from both sides of the coin spins the truth and I wanted to make my mind up for myself – as opposed to being told what to think. I thoroughly enjoyed my time over there, this story is merely a chapter.

On my final day in Kuwait a young boy around 10 years old strutted over to the cashier in the cafe and dictated; “Give me straw!”

Then snatched the straw out of the guy’s hand with no please or thank you.

“Little shit,” I thought to myself.

But in reality it’s not really his fault. He’s young and impressionable and he’s only mirroring what he sees from adults on a daily basis.

Song For The Moment: Rude, by MAGIC!
Notable Lyrics:
“Why you gotta be so rude?
Don’tcha know I’m human too”

Join the Conversation


  1. Cate Brubaker Reply

    I have a million similar stories from the two years I spent in the region. Most notably are the squalid, overcrowded camps where the single, male laborers live and the night I saw thirty or forty dead-eyed young women crammed into a bus emblazoned with the logo of a popular mani-pedi chain. Then there were the men who were tasked with everything manual around our housing complex. Nine of them shared a room less than the size of a two car garage.

    Too few people are willing to talk about this bleak side of luxury in the Gulf states and I get it. It’s an issue of modern day indentured servitude and it’s hard for many to even wrap their heads around that concept let alone the fact that it even exists in modern times.

    I’m glad to hear that you stuck up for the server. More visitors to the region need to do that. Hell, more visitors just need to be aware that servers exist. A smile, a please and a thank you, and a cash tip in their hand (as opposed to what’s included in the bill, because we all know they never see a penny of that) go a long way to help boost a soul who is literally struggling to hang on by a rapidly fraying thread.

  2. Raymond Reply

    Kuwaitis are pretty much dicks all around. Just my experience. I lived in Oman for 2 years, and you’re right — the class system isn’t nearly as prevalent there. But have I mentioned what dicks Kuwaitis are?

  3. Shailesh Reply

    Aah good sum up…. Damn inhumanly treatment of immigrant workforce is real and troublesome…. Have heard lot of narrations from sufferers myself. Feels bad.

    Good article… Keep blogging.