Everyone I talk to about our recent Dubai trip asks two questions:

  • Were people friendly once they discovered we were from America?
  • Did we find language was a barrier?

I’ve never felt more welcome anywhere. In fact, I’ve felt more afraid and unwelcomed in Chicago and New York than in Dubai.

My husband, Allyen, and I walked through the spice souk (Arabic for market). A friendly shopkeeper struck up a conversation and asked where we were from. When we said “America” he brought his fist to his heart and said “brothers”! He’s Iranian. He gave me three dried lemons as a parting gift.

We found that conversation opened doors, minds and opportunities for understanding. I was reminded that perception is everything and that, as it is with many Americans, people everywhere have a challenge understanding politics, culture and the complexities of life in other parts of the world.

Many in Dubai joke that the official language of the United Arab Emirates should be English, rather than Arabic. We had no problems communicating. No experiences like I had in New York last week with a crazy cab driver who did not speak English, drove me around the block and back to my hotel and wanted $8.

Even when language is a barrier, patience and a calm demeanor win out. Even with patience, language is a challenge in global employee communication. Sometimes, you just need someone local. That’s what we’re planning to do for a client in the fall – find some local communicators who speak the local language in Asian countries. In those places and organizations where a single language isn’t so prevalent, employee communicators need to find support resources and lean on employees to deliver great solutions. Employees can serve as your best ambassadors for a great translation.