Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oman - Stratifications of service

I've sometimes mentioned that parts of Omani society remind me of Victorian England. The sexual repression. The high rate of divorce and prostitution. Maids. Gardeners. Drivers. Patriarchal and a Monarchy. High rate of industrial and technological change. New found wealth. Lots of infrastructure to be built.

But another characteristic is the class system. To those who live in Oman, such news is not news. It is as obvious and un-newsworthy as the fact the sky is blue.

The prevalence of class is also common in the Gulf, and in the society of our neighbours. It is also prevalent still everywhere else pretty much, but in the West these days it is much better hidden. In India as well, the caste system is alive and well, and is partially imported into Oman too.

Lets be honest - if you're not obviously a man of means, it helps to be white in Oman. Or even better a white female. You get better treatment - at pretty much any service establishment - than if you happen to be - as Maz Jobrani so aptly put it in his upcoming comedy tour show ... "brown and friendly".

Omanis have their own stratifications too. Perhaps a few of my Omani readers are better placed to enlighten us on that. And the relative positioning and conditions we can debate. But there is a tremendous class system in Oman.

As one tiny way of supporting my outrageous statement, here's a recent story of an Expat (not white) Accountant visiting the ROP:

Dear Dragon

An incident that happened to myself the other day when i visited Oman Traffic Office (not very sure the department it goes by) to renew my registration. As it was a weekend (Thursday) for me i visited the office in Seeb to renew my registration. I approached the officer at the front desk who offers you a ticket number. He looked at me and said "You need to leave the building NOW". I was surprised and i asked him what happened. He told me i was wearing shorts !!

I was wearing Capri Pants (AKA 3/4 shorts). I was decently dressed with a proper haircut and spoke well mannered. It was a shock to myself and a friend who accompanied me. I quitly walked out of the office and my friend went to a higher official to inqury about this. An office with 3 stars asks him "HE ENGLISH OR BRITISH" (the two mean the same) and he says NO.

The officer says "he has to change and come back".

Well i understand racial discrimination in certain countries. But lets look at it this way.. Out of 9/10 Omani picked randomly from the street they have a brown skin tone. So why is a "WHITE MAN" allowed to walk into a traffic office in shorts and a person with brown skin tone being asked to go back home and dress appropriately.

I would note the officer could just be discriminating on the basis of Nationality, not skin colour, according to the written report...

Photo: Cops in Bermuda: would those shorts would only be acceptable in Oman because he looks British?

Its just that the services sectors - including Government - could make a bit more of an effort to reduce the racism. I know there are issues of variable levels of illiteracy, sophistication, education and behaviour.

But we could start to treat each other with a bit more respect, on the basis of our common humanity.


  1. We do have a level of racism in Oman, just like the rest of the world. but usually its not based on color of skin. Its the background. Ex: you can be black but from Royal Family (no racism) but if you are black & from Sirilanka then you might get the boot.
    Same goes for locales, white black brown.
    now my advice to anyone who faces any kind of discrimination (don't accept) simply get into a fight (no fist plz)& usually it works. Know your rights.

  2. agree & disagree. yes - brown "expats" are not normally "real expats"... according to "real (white) expats".

    no - my white English male colleague was thrown out of the ROP for wearing 3/4 trousers as well.

    oh, and trust me, women do NOT get it easy here! (except at the ROP & Fingerprint palace)

  3. A friend of mine told me of a similar situation at the traffic place, and she was a white british female wearing business dress (coming straight from the office) with long sleeved blouse and skirt (below knees).
    Plus another British friend of a friend who was dressed in long shorts - had just come back from the beach - turned away on a Friday for being too casually dressed.
    It seems the dress policy applies to everyone - however, the policeman was obviously being racist towards this gentleman in tis instant.
    Shame. Ignorance.

  4. I can not say there is a certain racism in Oman. There may be like there is all the world. Everybody knows that If you are British you have some advantages in all the world.I think it is just because pover of the your country

  5. Racism is BIG in Oman!! Please!! Come on... How many times have I not seen workers - on the street, carcleaners etc - beeing treated really bad!! Also maids are beeing treated poorly... If that is not racism, I dont know what it is... Treat people like you want to be treated your self!!
    And I am sure that the basics of all religions is about that!!

  6. I was really shocked at one of the National Banks a few days ago when I went for a transaction. I just went to the reception, took the token and waited. There were few counters with assistants and few were vacant. I waited for a few minutes but the token number of none of the counter advanced. So I thought to give it a try at a teller where there were no queue. Being a moderate and brown expat. I just waited there to be called by the teller. To my surprise she looked at me and called a white omani who was just sitting there in the reception ( I even felt that he just came for enjoying the interiors of the bank rather than for any transactions). I don't know whether to take this is as racism or mere ignorance. Just thought to put it across since the matter came for discussion. Thank you UD for putting up a nice article.

  7. We may not call the selective treatment in Oman "racism" or "class system" or "stratification" as coined by you. Basically if you are white skinned it is obvious that you are well paid and hence you will get preferential treatment.

    In certain organisations whose Chief is Baluchi there is perennial shadow boxing and politics with Zanzibari group. If one group guy becomes CEO he will recruit all new guys from his group and use them to spy on the other group. In most of the companies in Oman all powers are vested with CEO and the managers are not delegated power even for committing one rial.

    Basically if you are well dressed and look good you will get good treatment and that is universal rule.

    The funny thing is, well to do Omanis and British are the most polite and less discriminating when they talk to poor Indians.

    If you have flat tyre or some some other problem on the road, a fellow indian will never come out of the car, it is always an Omani who will come to help without looking at your colour.

  8. Maybe the cop thought he was Omani (we have lots of Dark Omanis too). Any Omani visiting government offices must dress up in traditional clothes, what’s wrong with that?
    How can you criticize Omanis for being racist while it’s a known fact that westerners are the most racists of all? I think you guys should have some respect to our culture and dress up appropriately when going to ministries or ROP and please get it in your thick heads that we are not in UK or US where you can go to respected places in your underwear and no one will say a word.

  9. Actually, Omanis are rather funny. With 'expats' Omanis are definitely racist. White expats are treated with respect. Darker skinned expats like Indians or Sri Lankans are treated badly. I hate it.

    But within our society we are not racist with one another. We're tribal. High-class tribes (regardless of whether they're dark as the night or not) are treated with respect. Look at the Royal family! In Dhofar some of the highest tribes are dark skinned, and some of the lower tribes (that no one mingles with) are very pale.It all depends on family, connections, and tribal name (unless you're a millionaire)

    Then our third level of racism is dealing with former slaves. There aren't many former slaves in Muscat, .. they're mostly in Salalah and Sur, but it has been a struggle over the past 40 years to include them in society and treat them with the respect they deserve. Some ignorant people still use the term 'slave' when referring to a black person simply because their grandfather was a slave.

    However, dear Dragon, it must be noted that Oman has changed A LOT over the past say ... ten years (for the better), and it's changing everyday.

  10. I happen to be brown - born and brought up in London. It's quite 'interesting' the treatment I receive when I walk in somewhere and then open my mouth with a v. British accent. You come to take it for what it is and am working on polishing my indian accent to bargain at the souke.

  11. Also consider VIP culture vis a vis all are equal for Omanis. That is an admission of guilt in a glorified way!

  12. Having been a long time lurker here, today’s post finally motivated me to actually write. I recently experienced the local fascination for the "white man" when I went to collect my id card upon returning to Oman after 7 years abroad and the anger has been stewing in me ever since…START RANT:
    For some reason they seem to have abandoned the organized system they used before and the whole process seems to be a free for all where the numbered tickets are of no consequence whatsoever.
    After watching the officer berating and herding people like sheep throughout the fingerprint/photo procedure (during which he was actually smacking their hands as if they were his ill mannered toddlers and each ROP guy that sauntered by the waiting area rearranged the same line to suit his whims by physically dragging people about and yelling at them), I went to the waiting area to collect my card.
    As I recall, the last time I went through this many years ago, they called out your name and you went to the desk to collect the card...nice and easy.
    Now they call out thirty names and yell at the chosen ones to huddle in line in extremely close proximity to one another and then hand out the cards.
    As expected, the crowd was comprised almost entirely of laborers from the subcontinent. Once the officer had us all in two neat yet claustrophobic lines, he immediately vanished for 20 minutes while I was left to count the moles on the back of my co-sufferers neck (couldn’t help it…he had a lot of em and they were about 7 cm from my nose) and pray that the guy behind me didn’t get aroused for any reason as he was hovering about less than 5 cm behind me!
    When he finally returned and started handing out the cards, an European man strolled up with his wife (fully kitted out with massive hat and matching bright pink sun dress and six-inch pumps) breezily ambled straight to the counter.
    Instead of telling him to get in line like everyone else, he shooed away the guys at the front of the queue as if they were errant flies and promptly put on a sickening show of fawning obsequiousness and produced his documents within 20 seconds flat.
    I don't know what pissed me off more...the servility the ROP dude was exuding from every pore as if he were supremely grateful to have the opportunity to serve the Great White Man or the European fella's nonchalant attitude as if he was clearly better than everyone there and it should be quite obvious to all and sundry that he cannot be expected to stand in line with the sweaty masses!!!
    I was really looking forward to the relaxed small-town atmosphere of the place I have called home for the better part of my life after enduring life in various metropolitan cities but I had forgotten about the small town mentality that plagues us here. Oh well…at least the beaches are still nice-ish!
    AHHHH…The catharsis of bitching and moaning to total strangers on the internet…Priceless! Keep up the good work UD.

  13. This is interesting. I mean the comments. The post in itself is on a subject that Indians perhaps battle on a daily basis. I can't speak for other "brown" nationalities. (I hate using colour in my language.) It pisses everyone off but no one talks about it. Is writing all we can do? Also sometimes I wonder if in a situation where we can't do much (such as here in Oman) is it possible to think this treatment happens because they don't know any better? Like most people of education, I don't even notice the colour of my friends and colleagues' skin and I get hopping mad if something racist happens but in the face of helplessness what can you practically do to make sure things change? Educate? Protest? At least register that it is not done? Does it work? Just wondering.

  14. Well, TRQ, I'm afraid that as long as there are 'intellectuals' such as omr around, change will be difficult to achieve. People like omr have simply all the facts sorted, like "’s a known fact that westerners are the most racists of all..". That doesn't leave much room for discussion and/or change, does it?

  15. Hmmm... nice topic... racism is Oman??? Never heard of!!! I love Oman and its unbiased locals. Being of Indian origin, my skin is fair brown. And never once this intellectual village folk have made me feel like an outsider.

    I have a beach-front retail outlet in the interiors. We have many local Omanies and Half Omanies coming to visit us in shorts, tracks and sports vest. Once for a change I was wearing sports vest w/ tracks (My privates completely covered).

    However one local gave me a dirty look and said something in Arabic. But I don't think he was being racist. I guess just turned on?

    Mr. Bong

  16. Hmm.. thanks UD! XD

    Wonderings: To Nadia - about "for the better," don't you think women in Salalah were more independent and strong in the past, when men tended to think of women as humans, not bodies that may sexually arouse them and consequently have to be covered/chained at home? (maybe ask a Jebbali old lady about it?) Racism against women should be taken into consideration too... =|

  17. All of the above strikes a cord and rings a bell. One of my first experiences in Oman was similar. I went to the barbers run by Indian guys. There was a big queue so I stood up against the wall and waited. When the customer was done the barber motioned to me....there at least 6 in front of me. I politely said no. I just could not sit there under those circumstances.

    In addition to the above comments I do find Indians, Sri-Lankans, Filipnos and Thais are subservient by nature (no offence intended). I took a highly qualified Filipno to a conference and I really had to tell him to stop calling everyone Sir! Even a former Indian senior manager in a company I was in did the same when he met Brits at a seminar; he would refer to a trainer as Sir and grovelled of cringeworthy proportions when a badge came near him!

    Respect, a strange thing, very much misunderstood; should be earned and not demanded!

  18. How many racial attacks have happened in UK and Australia? Google it and you will get your answer. How are Arabs treated in the US after 9/11? What about the treatment of illegal immigrants Europe?
    Now compare it with all the bullshit you are talking about Oman.
    And to all you so called black europeans, you are treated like shit back home so why expect any difference here.

  19. Yeah, this works in different ways.

    Just heard a story about Zubair Automobiles. Apparently, the CEO ( a scottish guy ?) brought in several highly paid western expats. The performance of the company nosedived and one option considered was getting rid of a few inefficient expats. They then discovered that they need to be give full payment for 4 years (as per the contract) even if the contract is terminated earlier.
    Any news on this ?
    Can anyone other than wester expats get away with this kind of situation ?

  20. I had a real bad encounter, not from ROP, but a common Omani.

    I once visited Lama Clinic and thereby went to the pharmacist to collect my prescription. Those guys have a single window (very large) counter serviced by two pharmacist.

    There was on Omani guy at the counter, So I went straight to the other end of counter hoping to collect my prescription from the second pharmacist who was at the nearby shelves checking their inventory.
    This man grumbled for a while and told the first pharmacist in a bad tone, "Ask these Laborer to come in a Queue".

    I just ignored him. When the second pharmacist came to look into my prescription, he gave a strange red-faced look at him.

    May be this guy felt that expats should always be serviced only after a local guys completes his work, irrespective of availability of people to server them.

    Strange people and strange habits die-hard.

  21. OMR - we are open in the West, all media is free to report. If the same was possible in Arabic countries it wouldn't just be racism reported by slavery, sexual assaults, bigotry....the list would be endless!

    The only reason why this blog is thriving is because the Arabic world does not get real news, the truth hurts!

  22. Its a wonder how we all manage to get along in such harmony...

    Personally, its not the locals that are the worst offenders.

  23. DEVIL-The only reason this blog is thriving is because everyone love rumours. Please don’t tell me you take all the crap UD puts here seriously.

  24. Dear harassed one
    This is something we have to accept. If there is an Omani and asian waiting, first to be attended will be Omani. Afterall this is their country.

  25. 'Das eigene Volk zuerst' says Anonymous. In most western countries a shopkeeper would probably get in serious (legal) trouble if he would treat customers based on that principle. In other countries it would be a principle typically applied by extreme right-wing politicians who indeed would promote discrimination and fascism. And yes, it would in both cases be all over the newspapers and TV-channels. But if it happens in Oman it's apparently just fine?

  26. " I've sometimes mentioned that parts of Omani society remind me of Victorian England. The sexual repression. The high rate of divorce and prostitution. Maids. Gardeners. Drivers. Patriarchal and a Monarchy. High rate of industrial and technological change. New found wealth. Lots of infrastructure to be built. "

    There are Omanies who read your blog and that comment just shows how stupid and narrow thinking you arrogant colonial era trash.
    Keep drinking at Hayat and in morning type whore shit and super inflate your ego.

  27. i've been away for a week. catching up, the comments here made my day, thanks :)

    we occasionally hire an indian lady to help with babysitting. she tells me that she prefers working for western expats first, for omanis second. under no circumstances would she work for an indian family. apparently indian people treat their own kind very poorly (and that's putting it lightly).

    personally i get to work with all kinds. i treat everyone as human beings, address them by their proper names, genuinely shake their hands and inquire about their personal lives in chit-chat situations. in return people go out of their way to please me. this attitude has moved our firm leaps and bounds beyond what my predecessor did.

    --a white american

  28. Goodness me - poor omr has missed the point.The point omr is western countries do have democrasy in place where a man is free until proven innocent. Secondly the freedom of the press allows them to scrutinize and expose the truth regarding every aspect from how oil revenues are utilised etc. Thirdly in general whether in supermarket to passport application centre it is not who you are or what colour you are but what number you are holding in the queue system. And racism exists in every society some are exposed because of free press and others we dont hear as the societies arent ready to accept such thing exists in their own back yard.


  29. i agree with a friend here that maybe in Oman racisim is not based on color of skin but on cast. A lawati for example will never become any one friend. Can you explain why and if they do they use you and throw you away with some lame excuse so they dont feel bad. One of the biggest issue in ur country are lawati who lie and cheat for any thing. So you have bigger issue then any other country and that is racisim based on cast.

  30. "Your success is only limited by your imagination. Think BIG Be Proud." This applies to everyone around the world. We are humans.

  31. "Your success is only limited by your imagination. Think BIG Be Proud." This applies to everyone around the world. We are humans."

    Nice statement but let me guess this gives you reasoson to lie and hurt people. let me guess you are a muslim if so what did our beloved prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned in his last speech. So the problem with you lawati are that you shape things as you wish, like the allah in oman is different then the allah in other countries. Also you people base every thing Al-tokia where as in quran these are the conditions where you can use it
    1. Don’t use the Altokia to run away from god or his orders.
    2. Don’t use Altokia if there is no urgent and emergency need to the death.
    3. Maximum action for Altokia is your Tongue, to say something could save your life or your family.
    4. Should make all efforts to go out of the situation guide you to be need for Altokia.

    u people use it in every day use like an excuse for every thing. So you people are nothing beside liars and 2 face

  32. its all true, omanis think they have allah grabed by the beard, and because they are omani they can do what they want..... couple words for you SET THE EXAMPLE IF YOU REALLY MEAN IT WHEN YOU SAY MY COUNTRY I'M OMANI!!!!!!

  33. I am an Omani who once had a minor accident and was wearing jeans and one of those colourful african tshirts. When I went to the ROP the police man behind the counter was furious as to why i wasnt wearing a dish dasha when i went there , I found that really ridiculous , was I supposed to go back home and change thne go to the ROP ? It made me really angry . Any at the moment I am living abroad in a GCC country and here I can go to any government office wearing jeans or whatever I want as long as its decent. I wish we had that in Oman. In my opinion we are still backwards in some things in Oman.

  34. I'm 16 year old Omani student and allow me to tell you that racism is everywhere, does that include Oman? yeah it does however as was mentioned above it's not in the colour it's more of your background that sets it. *sigh* it's a sad fact knowing that all type of racism will always direct ourlives no matter how many rules or rights there will be, people will still have that idea that not everyone deservs the same treatment. It might not be spoken but it's there like an unwritten rule that is hard - not impossible- to erase. Ofcourse that rule is not complined by everyone there are educated, more understanding, intelligent people who realize that there is more to life than colour or cast or whatever...And those are the people I'm hoping not only the next generation but this one as well to become.
    And about what you mentioned above:
    "I've sometimes mentioned that parts of Omani society remind me of Victorian England. The sexual repression. The high rate of divorce and prostitution."
    If that is what you think, you are terribly mistaken! Oman is in no way like England!! that statement is offensive and outrageos. you seem to have surrounded yourself in an a English like society and have not experienced the true essence of Oman and there people, we might have problem but let's keep it real, Who hasn't??!

  35. I am a black doctor from Sudan and I happened
    to treat a Policeman who had called me " a black monkey"three months earlier.He apologised for what
    he had done by saying the he thought I was one of those "--bad word--Indian labourers".I am sure he went home thinking he had apologised and/or changed.Sad.

  36. This is an interesting issue and one that happens quite a lot even if racism is not documented. Racism in Oman is funny and it has at it's heart in arab tribalism,nothing to do with caste by the way(there is no such thing in Oman). I am Omani and a Lawatia(a very small ethnic group in Oman). We Lawatia are an ethnic Indian origin people called Khoja and we are not arab which the dominant population in Oman is comprised of. But I can say we have always had equal rights like any other Omani and indeed we have prospered a lot with many successful people from our ethnic group in Oman. Apart from narrow minded Omanis who mock us for not being arab or not even Omani in their eyes we have the same opportunities as any other Omani. There is even another very small group of Indian Omanis who are not even muslim and they have the same opportunities as everyone else. You see in Oman what it seems counts is having Omani citizenship. I'm afraid Indian laborors from the Indian subcontinent are looked down on because they are considered uneducated and not necessarily because of their race. People from the west in many narrow minded Omanis eyes are thought of as educated. So the treatment of people is a lot of the time down to perception of a persons education and worth even if I agree it is a narrow minded view.
    I also had a similar experience of going into a government office in a smart shirt and trousers and I was told I had to go home and change into a dishdash if I wanted to be seen. It is a crazy policy if you ask me. People should be free to wear what they want as long as they look smart and presentable.


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