Reflections on Culture Shock in Dubai, the USA & Italy


Culture shock is the experience a person has when moving between social environments. Difficulties allied with moving to different settings include technology and generational gaps, language barriers, informational surpluses and response provision ability. Each traveler has to be exposed to different stages of culture shock - which include the honeymoon, the frustration stage, the adjustment stage and finally acceptance. In the honeymoon, visitor’s may be overwhelmed due to the difference in cultures and the way of life of people in the new environment. He or she might feel how special the place is and fall in love with it until frustrations pop up. This is one of the most difficult stages, experience by many if not most people who travel abroad. This stage is linked with the exhaustion of not accepting the language, symbols, and signals in place. People feel irritated by minor things, such as missing a bus, problems in ordering food in a cafeteria, and misplacing keys.

During the adjustment stage travelers try to adapt and learn a few things to blend with the rest of the people. At this stage holidaymakers are more contented since they are acquainted with the people, food, cultures and languages in their new setting. Frustration is thus subdued. The traveler can easily move from one place to another, and has established friends who offer support and the local language can easily be recognized at this stage. Acceptance stage is the final stage of culture shock which often comes after months or even years of struggling with the three stages above. At this stage travelers are 'more familiar with the new environment and can easily bring together resources they need to be at ease.* This does not mean that they understand the new cultures and environment rather it signifies that in order to thrive in a new environment or surrounding one does not necessarily need to completely understand everything.

This is notable to say that person’s perspective of a visited place may be different from another. This is related to his or her gender, previous experience, education level, religion, and many other factors. Thus  different travelers may give different accounts of what they saw or experienced in a new environment.

I was born and raised in the Middle East, and my native city is Dubai. Only a few decades ago, few people on earth could even knew where it was; now it's a magnificent, mostly hypermodern city which attracts millions of visitors every year. The city is young and that is why there is a rise in the number of skyscrapers for people to buy apartments to live in and/or do business in them, and streets are plentiful and wide in order to handle the heavy traffic. Travelers from all over the world come to see Dubai’s beauty, and that is why its laws regarding clothing are not as strict as in other parts of Middle East. However, Dubai, as the majority of other Middle Eastern cities, is planned around utility alone. Dubai infrastructure for pedestrians is very developed. Local authority takes care of the citizens and tourists by constructing sidewalks, bus-stops and other places of common use contain air conditioning systems to make people feel comfortable at any time of the day in the constant oppressive heat (it also helps to have your own personal vehicle).

However, all this modernity can be deceiving. In the United Arab Emirates, religious traditions are strictly followed for locals. Communication between men and women is reduced to minimum. Most public schools remain not mixed, though there are schools where children of both genders can get education sitting in the same classrooms - usually private international schools like Hartland International School, Dubai International School, and many others. There children learn from teachers both male and female; learn proper role models; and gain academic excellence. That said, Islam is taken very seriously in Dubai, with most people holding strict religious values; women mostly dress in hijab while most men dress in white robes known as thobe. This can occasionally lead to foreigners running afoul of local rules, especially involving indiscreet consumptionof alcohol or other drugs, as well as sexual liaisons outside marriage. It's also true, though, that this is changing, as evidenced by the November 2020 relaxing of some rules, such as those against unmarried cohabitation, and drinking alcohol, both for foreignto ers and Emiratis.

Each visit of a different place makes me feel like a stranger because I am an Arabic speaker. This was a challenge for me to communicate and study when I came to Michigan a few years ago. Democracy in everything made me feel confused at first time there. But I managed to learn the language and how to live an American lifestyle. However, Rome has become another challenge for me when I came to the most wonderful city I have ever visited. As a male from Middle East, I have experienced particular culture shock when being there. It was related to the way of living, level of servicing, relationship between people of different genders, and many other interesting facts.

Rome also embraces history, especially reflected in the ways their buildings are adorned, and unlike in Dubai and the USA, many of these buildings are ancient, though well maintained and renovated. They have a very rich heritage as well as natural beauty. The city is made of beautiful buildings which have statues that are well curved. It is rare to see buildings with statues in America and especially Dubai. Cathedrals are nothing like I have ever seen before. Statues staring down are well curved into the facade of the building which towers over the city. Most towns like Sienna are small and beautiful while the streets are empty and very quiet. Streets in my city are mostly congested with so much noise which comes from the traffic. The biggest culture shock in Rome was during meal time at restaurants. You would wait twice as long as it would be in a restaurant in America. This is due to fresh ingredients being used for cooking. Most dinners have multiple courses that are taken at leisurely places. After taking your meal, it is a custom to ask for the check they do not bring it before you ask for it while in America it comes with the meal ordered, which was also a culture shock for me.

Even though, before going to Italy I read that they speak English in Rome, language has become a serious barrier for me. Moreover, the majority of Italians refused helping me or even listening to me when I tried to speak English with them. Neither in the USA nor Dubai have I felt as helpless as in Rome. Some people were even racist, trying to ignore me when I spoke English. Due to this my honeymoon with Rome was quickly over. I faced a necessity of learning local language in a short time which was difficult. Communicating with the locals and even ordering for food in a restaurant was not an easy task as I had to use a Google translate app most of the time.

Unlike in the Middle East, where touching in public is often frowned upon if not outright prohibited, in Rome there is no personal space. It is customary for Romans to kiss on the cheeks and acknowledge every person. ‘If you enter or leave a group, it’s important to acknowledge everyone before sitting down or leaving the party.’** This is accepted as normal, similar to saying hello and goodbye in the societies I was used to. As for me, even after my American and Italian experience I still feel weird when my personal space is infringed upon like this.

Another difference: Neighborhoods in Rome - especially in the suburbs - also have a lot of trees. Dubai, unlike Rome, is not characterized by trees due to its climate, but in Rome and other Italian cities trees are common. Another thing is electrical lines are seen everywhere - so much so that it's a lot of fun to hang around the city with friends at a night time.

I was also surprised when learning that unlike the Muslim world, in Rome shops may also be closed on Sundays and during afternoon times or any time they want. ‘Sunday is not only a day of rest, but also a day to hang out with your family, and this tradition applies to everyone from businessmen to waitresses’ (Biscevic, par.8). Italians love their families. That is why employers show their respect to family values and make a break every Sunday. To me, not Sunday but Friday is the day off, as it has traditionally been in the Muslim world.

Other novelties novelty for me include:

- Tthe Italian way of doing things slowly with no hurry - except of course when speaking and driving. The rest is done without rushing, unlike in the USA, where for the most part things are done quickly and on time.

- In terms of food, Italian groceries are cheap, but soda and frozen drinks are more expensive than in the U.S. And speaking of drinks, wine is one of the cheapest in Rome - comparable to the price of water.

- In the home of some of the world's top fashions, Italians embrace style more than in the States and even Dubai, and there's a broad diversity in the way people dress. Shops have beautiful displays of shoes and clothes where fashion is considered big and sometimes can be over the top.

- Italians love to cook and also teach foreigners on ways of cooking their food. They mostly use fresh ingredients and their food is simple. In the Middle East and also America the ingredients are not always fresh. It is common to use frozen ingredients. Italians have a law which prevents excess use of preservatives and colorings in their food. Hence, people can find fresh food products that come at very cheap prices. 

- Italians are also known for their social behaviors. They are very social people who love having chats with friends, dinners with families or just strolling down the strip.

- In Italy more care is taken of the environment. This is rather difficult to find a person who uses electricity irrationally. Thus, when being in Rome one should ‘charge electronics at night while other electronics aren’t being used to ensure charging, and be careful about having too many things plugged in at once’ (Biscevic, par.10). When I am in Dubai or anywhere in the States, this is not an issue; we can use as much electricity as we want at any time of day.

All in all, traveling is a challenge for me as a male Muslim. I was raised amid strict traditions, and I cherish them. When I came to Rome I was forced to face a variety of challenges almost immediately that is why my honeymoon finished quickly. The period of frustration was sharp because of facing racist attitudes of some Italians. However, I still enjoyed my stay in Rome because of its wonderful places to see and extremely tasty things to eat. That is why I want to say thanks to the whole nation for taking care of their traditions and making this place special for visitors.

Joan Young is a professional copywriter who found a path to work in the field of journalism. Being highly interested in social sciences and technology progress, she provides international students with professional writing help. Currently, she is following her heart for her writing career at Some of her best tips and tricks on the art of writing can be found in her online blog.


Works Cited:

* Chapman, Anne, and David Pyvis. Enhancing Quality in Transnational Higher Education:             Experiences of Teaching and Learning in Australian Offshore Programs. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013.

** Biscevic, Liz.
Culture Shock:  9 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Rome. Sourced from

*** Dutton, Edward. Culture Shock and Multiculturalism: Reclaiming a Useful Model from the             Religious Realm. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub, 2012.

**** Ogbonnia, Eze. International Students' Studying Abroad Challenges: Culture Shock. 2016.