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Clash of cultures over pics

FEMALE employees at the United Arab Emirates Pavilion often face a dilemma as enthusiastic Chinese visitors frequently ask to take their photographs while their religion and culture forbids them from standing too close to male strangers.

Fortunately they have Abdulla Al Zaabi, the pavilion's chief of volunteers, who is very skilled at saving female employees from this situation.

Zaabi will often dash in front of the photographer and interrupt, saying "Pick me."

He is also a good negotiator and persuades many of his fellow workers to accept the requests of Chinese visitors.

"I always tell my colleagues that people lined up for hours to see our pavilion, so we should at least show some hospitality," Zaabi said.

He said he likes taking pictures with Chinese.

But it makes his female colleagues uncomfortable. Najwa Almaazmi, a female staff worker, said it would be fine if women ask to take a picture with her, but she can't let a male visitor come too close to her. She added that some over-enthusiastic visitors even want to hug her.

Zaabi said the two questions that occurred to him during his first visit to China in 2006 were: "Why are there so many people and why do they all want to take my picture?"

He was not the only one who raised the question of why Chinese are so eager to take pictures with foreigners.

Estefania Ruiz Ramirez, a Flamingo dancer at the Spain Pavilion, told Shanghai Daily that Chinese visitors would often ask her for a snapshot and she wondered whether it was a certain trait.

Gu Xiaoming, a professor from Fudan University, said many Chinese visitors showed a lack of respect to other people and other cultures.

He said many selfish Chinese people love to take photos with foreigners to record a memorable moment, but when they themselves are asked to pose in a picture with a stranger, they refuse.

Gu said most of the time foreign staff workers do not reject photo requests due to politeness.

He suggested visitors respect them and not take for granted the "half-hearted hospitality."


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