Dubai: Meet souq traders who can identify customers' nationalities on sight, speak over 10 languages

'These visitors feel respected for their culture and language, making them feel at ease while exploring the market,' says one salesperson


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Thu 18 May 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 7 Jun 2023, 8:22 AM

When Nicholas Petrids, a Greek national, entered the Old Deira Souq, he was amazed by a vendor greeting him in Greek and inviting him inside the shop. “At first, I was mind blown because he perfectly identified that I am from Greece and greeted me in Greek, the language is not widely spoken,” said Petrids.

Petrids, along with his wife and family, is visiting Dubai and was eager to see the old part of the city. “I told him that you don’t look [like you are] from my country (in English). However, he responded with a smile and replied in Greek: I am from Iran, but I know many languages,” said Nicholas.

Mukhtar Abdullah Asad
Mukhtar Abdullah Asad
Yousuf Abdullah
Yousuf Abdullah

Mukhtar Abdullah Asad and Yousuf Abdullah are spices and souvenir traders at the Old Souq in Deira, and can not only identify the nationalities of their customers, but also speak their languages.

How do they do it?

To cater to visitors from across the globe, salespersons have become proficient at communicating in various international languages and possess remarkable skills in identifying the tourist’s nationality with just one look.

“For us, it is not that surprising! But tourists and the residents find it very impressive,” said Mukhtar, who knows about 12 languages, including German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and multiple dialects of Arabic, Swahili, Urdu, and Nigerian. “I [learnt] this identification skill through years of experience and detailed observation."

Listen to Mukhtar talking in various languages in this video:

From traditional garments to distinctive hairstyles and cultural symbols, salespersons have learned to decode visual cues, helping them identify the visitor's country of origin.

Yousuf Abdullah, an owner of souvenirs, spices, and gift shops at the souq, said this skill was honed through years of observation. “I came to Dubai in 2008, and from then, I have been communicating with people of various nationalities who come to the souq. “As a visitor enters the market, their clothing, accessories, and physical features provide required clues about their nationality. For instance, I can identify a German by observing their eyes; they are very quick shoppers. Spanish people walking into the souq admire the market’s architecture and then shop. An Englishman will gracefully walk appreciating everything the market has,” said Yousuf, who can communicate in over 15 languages.

Mukhtar and Yousuf agree that apart from visual cues, they often rely on linguistics to find out the nationality of visitors. “We have sharp ears and catch just one word from their language. We can even identify if a German speaks Spanish. The words are not so firm," said Yousuf.

By paying complete attention to visitors’ conversations or initial interactions, salespersons here can accurately determine the visitor's linguistic background. "This allows us to adapt their communication style accordingly,” added Yousuf.

Sharique Hassan, a Pakistani expat working at a gold shop in Gold Souq, knows about ten languages, including Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, and different dialects of Arabic. “I used to work at the souvenir store before switching my job. I learned that when a salesperson converses with customers in their native language, it creates a welcoming and comfortable environment for them,” said Shariq.

“These visitors feel respected for their culture and language, making them feel at ease while exploring the market,” said Shariq.

The ability of salespersons to speak different languages not only helps the tourist to have a great shopping experience but also adds to the lively atmosphere and unique appeal of local markets. When these salespersons communicate in different languages, it helps people from different countries feel welcome and understood. “It creates a sense of togetherness and unity, showing that despite our differences, we can connect and appreciate each other,” concluded Mukhtar.


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