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 leave with 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 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, and now she was not only flouting the hotel rules by taking more food with her – but she was actually demanding that the waitress package it up for her!

Sinister levels of snobbery emanated from this gluttonous, arrogant being as she dismissed the girl nonchanantly with a contemptuous 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 as she cleared my table just minutes later.

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

She mustered a smile and replied that she had to be as it was her job. She was in a lose-lose situation. Another hotel policy was the old “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 like this that I’d heard 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 verbally abusive to one of his staff members at breakfast but that she’d handled it really well.

I’m not sure whether he really listened to me, and took a mental note, or just pretended to – but he seemed receptive anyway.

“But Muuuh … This is only one experience. Mah feelings.”

This happened in Kuwait and if I got a hair follicle back on my balding head for every time I saw a local abuse a foreign worker as if they were sub-human, then 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,” announced the Bangladeshi taxi driver.

He elaborated. Whenever the company he works for feels like it – they deduct a big chunk of his paycheck as a fine for supposed ‘negligence’.

When he finds time out from his grueling 4am-4pm, 7-days-a-week job he drives to the office (if he can manage to catch them before they close) and asks the reason for this latest deduction.

The best answer he’s had so far is “Well, if you don’t like it, you can always leave …”

I play devil’s advocate and ask him if he was ever late, but he’s artless in his protestations. After my wandering around the Gulf States and seeing for myself just how appallingly immigrants are treated, I’m inclined to believe him.

I can’t really comment on Qatar. That was a quick visit. 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. He said I should be careful because people will always speak ill of their enemies.

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

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

And as for Kuwait, Bahrain saand UAE, I think working immigrants just don’t have the best of time there, at least not in the hospitality industry.

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

Now I must admit that I thought twice about writing this article, given the strong, well-organised voices in the professionally-offended-loser brigade. But they can seek comfort in their unicorns – the truth ain’t always pretty and I’m always going to write about what I see – whether it’s sweet or sour, delightful or distressing.

One of my main reasons for visiting the Middle East (other than eating copious amounts of next-level hummus) was that the mainstream media on both sides tends to spin the truth, and I wanted to make my mind up for myself, instead of being told what to think. I thoroughly enjoyed my time over there. This story is merely one chapter.

On my final day in Kuwait, a young boy around 10 years’ old strutted over to the cashier in the cafe I was in, and, in a clipped authoritative tone, barked: “Gimme straw!”

He then snatched the straw out of the cashier’s hand without a word. No please. No thank you. No grateful nod …

“Little shit,” I thought to myself.

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



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4 comments

  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.

  4. Katrin Reply

    This is so sad, and makes me so angry. And I know it’s kind of living-up-in-the-clouds, but why can’t we humans just appreciate the shortness of life and spread love, compassion and happiness instead of looking down at people and making their lives miserable. All of our lives would be improved by that, cause it can certainly not be a harmonious soul who treat others badly.

    Thank you for being a voice for those who cannot afford to speak up for themselves