Every year, on the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, the Middle East observes Ramadan, a period of time given over to devotion, discipline and reflection. After a day of fasting, Muslims gather together for iftar, the evening feast that breaks the fast, when families and community come together.
To an outsider, this may sound a little strict and in many ways, that’s the point. But truly, this is a special time of year. It’s an opportunity to put aside all the little distractions that life likes to throw our way, to spend quality time together and to refocus on what’s truly important.
For past Ramadans, I’ve either been in the South of France spending time with close friends, or at Montage in Beverly Hills, rushing from meetings to movie premieres, and everything in between. This year, however, I’m very much looking forward to spending it in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I’m so honoured and appreciative of how welcoming everyone has been by inviting me into their homes, allowing me to become even closer to the culture that surrounds me.
When you move to a new country, it’s imperative to embrace both the culture and the language. Because really, there’s only so much you can understand about a place without fully immersing yourself. As Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to a man in his language, that goes to his heart.”
This quote has always stuck with me. So much of my job is finding common ground, and when you speak the same language, that ground becomes so much larger. It’s a big part of the reason why, upon moving to Dubai, I have thrown myself into learning Arabic, taking classes three times a week, rain or shine. There is so much that can be lost in translation. Since learning Arabic, I’ve gone from not fully comprehending what is spoken around me, to truly having a deeper, holistic understanding of both the people and culture that I have come to love so much.
I’ve always loved the way Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas feel in the US. Priorities shift completely with family, love and laughter firmly placed at the top of the list. Ramadan is quite similar in this way. Growing up in an Italian family, coming together around food is a cornerstone of life. The closeness and mutual respect that comes with gathering together as a family or community reminds me so much of my own experiences. It’s a reminder and celebration of what, at the end of the day, is really, truly important.
In the western world, it’s a common myth that nothing gets done during Ramadan, but in my line of work, I see just the opposite. Personally, I believe that the best ideas and conversations often happen during Ramadan. It’s a time where nothing is forced, motives are pure, and everyone’s mood is relaxed. I’m often overwhelmed by the kindness that is shown to others during this special time. Doors are opened with abundance, and everyone is so incredibly welcoming.
It provides the opportunity to get to know business associates and their families on a deeper level, creating a stronger bond both in friendship and business. I deeply believe that the best business deals are done with those who operate on a level of trust and friendship.
One thing that I’ve learned throughout the years is that there are opportunities everywhere, even when they don’t seem directly related to your career or goals. Sometimes it’s more beneficial to set aside all agendas and connect with those around you. In the end, true, meaningful connections are always the most valuable.
Understanding, appreciating, and respecting the culture around you will help you both live and excel wherever you are. Because even if the Middle East isn’t mine by birth, it has truly become my home.
This article appears in the June issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia