Al Hayat – 01 February 2018 – Nazeeha Saeed
(To read the original article in Arabic, click here)
Across the GCC foreigners and national citizens live peacefully together. They are welcome in the region’s various countries and interact with locals on a daily basis as workers, employees, service providers, children educators and other professions that put them in contact with nationals. But apart from those who live with them in the same house, do they really know how Gulf people live, their customs and traditions, how they think?
Not necessarily, especially in the UAE where the number of foreigners exceeds the number of nationals. And that’s where you need a point of contact such as “Emirati Stories”, a podcast during which Emiratis talk about their projects, their achievements and their ideas.
“Most foreigners do not have any idea of the Emirati culture and society, even after living in this country for years. They meet at work and interact in a kind way but at the end of the day everyone goes back home. For some reason it is quite difficult to maintain close friendships outside of work. So there are few opportunities for an expat to engage in a deep conversation with an Emirati national about about things that truly matter. Foreigners often want to know more about UAE nationals or the Gulf culture. Emiratis travel a lot, they are very familiar with the world and with global culture, but foreigners are often ignorant of the UAE society.”
Nathalie Gillet has been a journalist for many years. After working on the Middle East for a French business magazine dedicated to African markets, and then freelancing for French and English-speaking newspapers and magazines, she moved to the UAE in 2008 to become a business reporter for The National newspaper in English.
“I am a French citizen who grew up with two cultures – my mother is German and my father French – hence my passion for foreign languages and cultures,” she told Al Hayat. She studied Arabic, English and German, and later ‘International Relations and Political Science in the Arab world’.
Two years later she switched from written press to broadcasting and became France 24 and Radio France International’s correspondent in the region. She traveled across different Gulf countries to cover the news, including upheavals in the Arab world that started in 2011. “These were more exciting events to cover [than the usual business stories], and they provided me with precious new skills such as video and audio editing » she said.
Gillet finally moved away from journalism to work in public relations and communications three years ago at an Abu Dhabi bank «in search of stability in my work and personal life, with normal hours and a regular salary» as she put it. “That’s where I discovered content marketing and PR and became passionate about it. I have realised how much digital technology has changed the way people consume information, and how these powerful means of communication today enable companies, political institutions and anyone in the world with an Internet connection to communicate directly with the rest of the planet without the help of traditional media.”
“So I used my journalistic skills to develop my own digital platform, which anyone can do today,” she said. In my case, I chose the audio format, and a specific mission and concept. I don’t intend to go back to journalism, but I can’t help being a journalist either, in some way or another.”
“The program is focused on interviews with Emirati citizens, sometimes GCC nationals living in the UAE, with different social backgrounds and different generations, because that’s where I see a gap to fill,” said Gillet. The target audience is expatriates and anyone in the world who is interested in this region, which is why the show is produced in English. The aim is to give foreigners an opportunity to discover the Emirati society and culture through individual stories, where guests talk about themselves, what motivates them, what they do, their sources of inspiration, how they grew up, etc.. That way, foreigners can get an idea of how people live and think in this region ».
The other reason why this podcast was launched according to Gillet is because there are no cultural radio stations available in English. The social structure of the UAE does not help either, as there is a huge demographic imbalance that places the local population in a minority position in their country, while foreigners come and go all the time. The local dress also creates a strong visual distinction that unconsciously places a kind of “wall” between the two.
According to Gillet, expatriates are passionate and curious about listening more specifically to women. They see them as the most mysterious among the population because they just don’t dare approaching them in general. They are eager to understand the way local women think.”
“Audio has personal touch and provides that temporary sense of intimacy,” Gillet explained. “I want listeners to feel that after each interview they have learned something new. I want them to be able to personally relate to an Emirati person’s universe for a few minutes, from human to human, like they would in a friendly talk. A podcast – which is something like a radio show online – can be shared and listened to from smartphones (from iTunes for Apple, or Stitcher for Android devices) anytime they want, from anywhere in the world. The ‘Emirati Stories’ website that goes with it is there to provide visual support, including images related to the guests, for those who would like to learn more about them or get additional information and references ».
“You can listen to the audio wherever and wherever you want, while driving, working out at the gym or preparing a meal. You can stop it at any time and resume it when you have time again. All you need is a smartphone or a computer. Audio also has that emotional dimension that the written format does not have, with someone whispering directly into your ear. It’s very intimate. The ideal format to bring people closer to each other.
Asked whether she is planning to make this platform a full-time job, Gillet said: “Not really but of course we never know where things can go. I do not want to leave this country before I know it better. My priority now is to focus on the quality and distribution of the program on a large scale, but later I may explore partnerships, perhaps with a cultural or educational institution for instance. But I have not yet planned anything special. “
“I have worked on the podcast out of passion and funded it myself, just as others do with their hobbies,” she says. My day-job’s salary has so far enabled me to invest in professional sound recording and sound isolation equipment for the studio. The biggest hurdle is time. That’s why the program so far is a monthly. To convert it into a weekly, I would need help or external resources in pre and post-production. This would require funding – through advertising, maybe or sponsorship. But I don’t want to charge people anything to listen to the show. This is my gift to the community.”