Published January 31, 2012 - Muscat Daily. Click here to view article.
Today you must bear with me. I will be complaining about an attitude that a large percentage of my Omani family, friends and colleagues suffer from. Foreigners living in Oman joke about it online and behind closed doors. Even Omanis sheepishly admit it's a problem. Before you read any further, keep in mind that I suffer from mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It's the small details that drive me crazy. I'm going to give you a list of scenarios that I had to live through in the past fortnight, and you help me pinpoint the problem.
Scenario One: Last week I arranged a workshop for 40 Omanis to attend. I booked the venue, arranged the menu, and sent out invitations. I also called all participants the day before the event to confirm their attendance. They all knew attending was mandatory.
On the day of the event, 25 people showed up on time and another five strolled in an hour late. When I called the missing ten their excuses were as follows: three forgot, two went to the wrong venue, four never bothered to come, and one was busy at the fish market. None of them bothered to let me know they weren’t coming.
Scenario Two: Last weekend a relative of mine got married. The bride's family announced they were slaughtering a goat and having a low-key wedding lunch. I was asked to make a wedding cake and 100 cupcakes as a favour. Never one to turn down an opportunity to bake, I happily agreed.
The day before the wedding I spent six hours in the kitchen making the cakes. On the morning of the wedding I woke up bright and early and spent another six hours decorating the cakes. I was proud of my work.
An hour and a half before lunchtime, the freshly cooked goat and rice arrived early from the catering company. The family decided that having fresh hot rice and meat was more important than the wedding luncheon, so they sent around trays of rice to all the invitees' houses instead of having them over. Lunch never happened. I never got an explanation or an apology.
Scenario Three: A college student who requested an internship in my office refused to start this week. Her excuse? She needs to catch up on sleep because a five-day break between the last day of exams and the first day of her internship just wasn’t enough.
Another student showed up on the first day, then never came back again and won't answer her phone. A third student had the audacity to ask if he could just skip the internship altogether but receive a certificate of attendance anyway in order to graduate.
I can think of endless other incidents of a similar nature that I witnessed in the past few weeks alone. Sometimes I find the attitude charming and try to convince myself that Oman is one of the very last nations on earth where people are still laid back, and that I should appreciate it while it lasts.
Occasionally I find it deeply amusing. Lately, however, I've been finding this lack of urgency and accountability simply irritating.
I questioned several Omanis about this recently and their only explanation was, “It's part of our culture.” I couldn't agree more. It is part of our culture and has been since the 1970s when modern life was handed to us on a silver platter. However, do we really want it to remain part of the culture? Are we proud of it? I'm certainly not.
There may be plenty of productive and professional Omanis out there, but they remain a shining minority. A large percentage of Omanis my age really do not understand the importance of proper work ethics, commitment, and most importantly the value of others' time and their own. It may be unintentional, but that doesn't justify a thing.
On a final note, in case you were wondering what happened to all the cupcakes from Scenario Two, rest assured that I made two neighbourhood soccer teams very very happy that afternoon.