Category Archives: Expat Life

Address to Impress

One of the most confronting things about moving to Dubai – and there was stiff competition – was the lack of a proper postal addressing system.

“Wah wah!” I hear those back home mocking me, but I challenge you to question if you don’t take for granted how easy it easy to write your address on a form and know it will ensure items large and small arrive at your door without fail. We can’t fill out a form like that. We don’t have street names, street numbers or post codes. There is no residential ‘address’ system as such in the UAE.

If you order takeaway, you give your building name and apartment number and general vicinity – then you describe your location using a prominent landmark or two, “opposite HSBC” or “after the butterfly roundabout”. But can you imagine trying to squeeze this information into the change of address form from your bank back home?

Lucky people just have mail delivered to their company’s post office box. Others purchase a mail box and drive to the opposite end of the city whenever they remember to check it.

But change is in the offing. Late last year, I was elated to hear that Emirates Post was commencing residential postal delivery in the UAE,  but the geek in me (well, perhaps the control freak in me) was doubly excited to read that Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipal Affairs had started implementing a comprehensive new addressing system across the emirate.

They’ve already setup a database to log, code and file names for geographic locations. Addresses will include a building number, unique street name, city name, the emirate and postcode. (A postcode!!!) They say this database will be used as an official reference for the street names. (An official reference!!!)

The Municipality project will create around 12,000 new street names and at least 20,000 street signs over the next two years and a half years.

Just to prove the UAE capital is bringing in a system just like any other, they say streets will be named after prominent people in the UAE, historical people from the Islamic religion and from other countries. I wonder if there will be any embarrassing oversights or strange inclusions like we see the world over?


Glad I’m not a comedian’s wife

As funny as my fiance is, I’m really glad I’m not marrying a comic because their wives cop it, big time.

We know the drill all too well here in Dubai. Unfortunately, many of the stand-up routines we see on tour here in the Middle East rely on old (or let’s be generous and say, timeless) material. Or they focus on material that is personal rather than sociopolitical because they don’t know where the line is here. For whatever reason, too often the comic’s wife or partner bears the brunt of a gag. But I’ve never heard a spouse cop so much abuse as Tom Stade’s wife at last night’s [Aussie beer-branded] Laughter Factory.

It’s mind-numbingly normal here to hear the one about about the wife’s nagging or her waning sexual interest (think about cause and effect here, funny men). Last night however, we heard about the brunt Stade’s long-suffering wife of 17 years is forced to bear: anal rape, in graphic fluid detail.

Don’t worry, Mrs Stade (Trudy, according to Wikipedia) loves it, behind her crying, he says. Hang on, that’s really not funny.

The Edinburgh-resident Canadian’s jaw-aching humour – and Trudy’s indignity – didn’t stop there. I had been wishing the ten-minute setup about his Groupon addiction would just end, but little did I know it would finally have a donkey of a punchline. Not even having forced himself into Trudy’s rectum (well, he slipped in there by accident, but stayed on purpose) could stop him extracting himself from her to retrieve his phone when the Groupon app announced a new sale.

I walked out of his routine at this point, through a packed house at the Grand Millennium Tecom, because I didn’t have the stomach for Trudy’s real or fictitious degradation being made a mockery like that. It was sick-making. Especially with all the woman-hating going on in Australia over the past week, I’m over the one about misogyny-as-humour.

Worryingly, his rape jokes obviously got some women going. Laughter Factory MC Gail Clough (who’d presumably been watching their shows all week) was so enamoured of Stade’s humour she introduced him as her favourite; a slap in the face for the rest of the line-up, which was hardly devoid of talent. Both incredibly funny and musically gifted to boot.

Charlie Baker seems to have missed his calling as a jazz singer. Some of the notes he was belting out (as a Cornish Frank Sinatra) stopped me breathing. I’d have to say he was my favourite, if only because it’s the first time I’ve snort-laughed at the Laughter Factory (did you know Devonshire women lactate clotted cream?).

Jim Tavare accompanied his dry wit with comedic skills on woodwind and strings. His rendition of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ on the cello was unique. Tavare might have been trying to warn us about his fellow comedian’s sexual “humour” but we all thought he was being self-deprecating at the time and laughed along: some comedians are brought on to talk about sex to get you moist, he said, I’m brought on to dry you up.

I only hope Trudy avails herself of some moistening. Or listens closely to Tavare’s routine before she reaches her 18th anniversary of this, so she can hear that the Bridal March is only the Death March played backwards.

Dubai 2.0

Seeing Dubai through a visitor’s eyes is a rejuvenating process

I’ve been entertaining my Dad in Dubai for the past ten days and it’s been surprisingly wonderful. Whether it’s that we’ve both mellowed enough to enjoy a more extended dose of each other’s company, or whether it’s having T around as the defuser, or much needed pressure valve, I don’t know. All of the above?

I was explaining this to my colleague, Greg, and he said ‘isn’t it wonderful having guests and showing them around and rediscovering all the things you love about the place!’. It hit me that it was exactly what had been happening. Everywhere I’d been going, I was thinking to myself, ‘wow, isn’t this a wonderful place’. I was falling in love with Dubai all over again.

The past year has been levelling. A lot of old friends moved away and the transient nature of this expat hub was drawn into all too sharp a focus for us. I’ve been finding it too easy to fixate on this young city’s room for process improvement and have let myself lose sight of the rich and wonderful parts of living here. Having Dad’s fresh eyes has helped me see through the crap. Not only his fresh eyes, but he managed to bring another set of fresh eyes into my life – kind of. Let’s just say, last week I met a friend he’s known since studying Mandarin with her in Sydney a decade ago, she’s just moved here on her own journey making New Memories and I really look forward to hearing about how she finds her feet and sharing her discoveries.

I’m right in the middle of my Dubai renaissance and I’m going to start talking it up, and shift the balance of this blog to ‘travels’ from ‘travails’. Perhaps you might start seeing a hint of the effervescence of fellow Dubai blogger Britney of Arabia and just maybe on my way, I can even convince the doyenne of all things Shamelessly Salacious to fall in love with Dubai again with me.

Come Argue With Me!

I applied for Come Dine With Me Dubai this week. Rima didn’t know I had and suggested it separately on her Wall (great minds?). Her friend said that the number of crackpots in Dubai could fill a whole series, not just a couple of shows. Rima said she literally LOLed when I confirmed that I’d “talked up my difficult nature” in my application. Continue reading

Drying out? Not likely

Pic courtesy of Rima

One of the more unusual things any new expat needs to contend with in the UAE, is the ‘dry night’. From sundown the day before any religious holiday, until the following sundown, licensed venues are not allowed to serve alcohol.

While this does mean there is no drinking in public, it also means the tradition of the house party is alive and well in Dubai.

Take for instance, this Friday night just gone. Saturday was the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (peace be upon him). This meant half the weekend was ‘dry’. But rather than drying out, someone had the fantastically spontaneous idea (ok, it was me) of hosting a very liquid evening.

Surprisingly, as the word was spread around, it was interesting to hear just how many responses were along the lines of ‘wow, what a great idea, no, we didn’t have anything planned tonight!’. It was as if the whole concept of socializing had not yet been invented.

Anyway, fast forward to Saturday morning, well, afternoon, by the time we actually surfaced and there was many a sore head being reported on Facebook, as well as a mysteriously dodgy knee, sprained ankle and a busted speaker tower (ok, that was me too). Apparently my traffic light jelly shots were the cause of most guests’ chagrin, but I make no apologies for being a great hostess.

Thank you, friends, for keeping the tradition of spontaneous house parties  alive! And thank you, Prophet Muhammad for being born all those hundreds of years ago.

When the pangs sharpen

I am a seasoned expat. Of the last 12 years, I have lived almost seven of them in the opposite hemisphere. I am used to missing my family and friends (and they are used to missing me). Facebook helps a lot. It is a way to keep up with the day-to-day affairs in loved ones lives. No one would bother saving up a comment on a funny episode of 30 Rock for a letter, or a long email, or even a Skype chat, but when I look at my newsfeed and see those random status updates I get a sense of continuity in people’s lives. Next time we do chat I can tell them I read about their bub’s first tooth; or congratulate them on the fantastic parking spot.

But times like today, Facebook has left me feeling acutely far from home. Via a multi-posted link to the latest promotional campaign for the Sydney Opera House, in fact. If you haven’t played the YouTube link below already, then please do (yes, I’m actually suggesting you stop reading). It’s an all-star Australian ensemble filmed at the most magnificent building in the world, doing a version of Nick Cave’s ‘The Ship Song’. The production values are ofthe highest spec. The camera work (especially the cranes and dollies) is amazing.  I don’t want to say any more, just see for yourself. I’m ready to steer a course for Sydney right now.

A Classless Society?

Dubai is a cultural melting-pot. Cliched, but true. Up to 90 per cent of the population is expatriate, and around 200 different nationalities are represented. But by far, the most foreign thing about living here is when you see people from familiar cultural backgrounds (in my case, the Western Anglo type) who have adopted a set of completely different behaviours to those they’d get away with at home.

The offensive text, several hours before being removed

Take for instance, this invitation currently doing the rounds on Twitter. It’s for a typically English celebration of the upcoming Royal Wedding and has all the trademarks of a very British affair: a garden party at the Polo Club with street-party theme, royal memorabilia on sale and Britpop on the dancefloor.

Rule Britannia, they say! Pass me a Pimms!

But then, have a look at the pricing structure: 450AED, or 300 for the booze-less option. Children, only 100AED.

“Entry for maids is AED 100 (including children’s buffet and non-alcoholic drinks) when accompanying their sponsor family, or free entry without refreshments.”

Like others commenting on Twitter, I don’t know which part of this is the most offensive: a) that maids are singled out (and indeed called ‘maids’) b) that their price includes only a kid’s meal or c) that the option of being too tight to even provide them with food is even presented!

I don’t like to judge anyone by their cultural or socio-economic background, but this betrays an appalling attitude towards home-help. No one on the prospective guest-list for this event would have a similar level of domestic assistance ‘back home’. Nor likely, the disposable income. Money certainly doesn’t buy class and some of these types would do well to remember their roots.

(Thanks for the heads-up: @razzap , @tomgara, @gerald_d, @dubaiwriter )

UPDATE: Several hours later, after a terse reality-check by way of email from @razzap (and others?), the organisers, Dubai Reunited, have removed the reference to maids. Presumably their entry fee is now ‘available on request’.

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan Eve – As we were waiting for the moon committee to either make their sighting (or make the call regardless, based on the Saudi decision) I thought to check with colleagues regarding the Ramadan dress code. Last year, working for a European company, I was told to make sure elbows and knees are covered. Now, working for the government, where I am in a very small minority of non-Muslims, I expected it may be wrist to ankle. They laughed at the suggestion and told me what I had on was fine – T-shirt, cropped trousers and sandals.

Ramadan 1 – Really struggled to fill my morning. Work hours shortened to 3-8:30pm. Made a mental check as I left the house that I wasn’t doing anything haram. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise I’d been chewing gum until I’d almost finished driving to work.

Ramadan 2 – The iftar buffet at work is pretty extraordinary. At around 6:30pm, those who are fasting (the large majority) make their way to the cafeteria to load up their plates. Then, in true TV studio form, a countdown ensues as we head towards 6:58pm (official commencement of Iftar – the breaking of the fast). One minute… thirty seconds… 15… 10 seconds, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!

Ramadan 3 – First weekend day of Ramadan (i.e. Friday). We were booked wakeboarding. I wore my incredibly long boardshorts in honour. They’re also too big for me and wouldn’t have been too demure had they come off and fallen down around my ankles. The Marine Club was happy to let us smoke outside. I guess there wouldn’t be too many devout Muslims at the beach on the holiest day of the week during Ramadan. Especially when swimming is forbidden during daylight hours for risk of letting any water pass the lips.

Ramadan 4 – Slightly dusty after last night’s house party at a friend’s place. There was plenty of alcohol flowing freely. And music. Went to lunch with a friend at the Media Rotana. The blinds were drawn and the door of the restaurant closed so as not to expose the general public to those eating. We could eat whatever we wanted however. They even brought us a wine list! The smoking room was the Iftar tent on the roof. No A/C…

Ramadan 5 – Sunday and back to work. Producing a 15 minute bulletin is only half the work. Still, it’s not very easy to come by local news these days. Interviews are tough as many have packed up shop for the Holy Month. It was Indian Independence Day today and despite a lunchtime celebration, by 3pm the Consulate-General was empty and the only person there to answer a phone was a security guard. Needless to say, he wasn’t able to help connect me to a media rep.

Ramadan 6 – I braved the gym today. I was slightly hesitant to go down there. Would I need to duck off to the bathroom to take a swig from my water bottle? Or, as a friend suggested, cover my head in a towel to have a sip. When I arrived it was empty save for a cleaner and I managed to communicate my concern to him and he said it was fine to drink water. Again, the only people who can view my gym are those making use of the swimming pool. Still, I wore a T-shirt and 3/4 trackies rather than a singlet top and bike shorts. I raced out to the mall without refuelling and realised I was very hungry. I had to indulge in my first clandestine sandwich eaten in the privacy of… the ladies loo. I was sitting there scoffing my sandwich thinking how dreadful the predicament was. One must plan ahead.

Ramadan 7 – Week One, khalas. There’s been a bit of a pattern set so far. I’ve been going to the bar at the hotel next door at least twice a day, during my very limited work hours. This form of smoko is even more sociable than it usually is. At any point in time there’s a whole congregation of my colleagues there, all getting a nicotine fix while topping up on caffeine or even a forbidden bottle of water. I may now be a daily regular at the Icon bar, but at least it’s not driving me to drink.

Ramadan 8 – Went out on the town last night. There is a common assumption that nightlife ceases to exist during the Holy Month. Not true.  Music is supposed to be more subdued (think chillout, not techno) and alcohol isn’t usually served until Iftar, but nightlife goes on. There are fewer punters around, sure, because many people take holidays as business is slow, but it’s certainly not difficult to find a watering hole.

Ramadan 9 – To drink or not to drink? I had to run errands for hours today, and drove 150km before going to work this afternoon. One task involved a trip to the Outlet Mall which is way out in the desert. I was parched. I avoided drinking water in the car, because I don’t have tinted windows but on relaying this tale to a mate he said that he drinks and smokes without restraint whilst in the car. Anyone else have any thoughts?

Ramadan 10 – I went for a wander around the Mall of the Emirates today and was surprised to see the number of cafes and food outlets selling takeaways. There were no tables or chairs setup, but lots of people were purchasing cups of coffee in cardboard cups,  and cakes and sandwiches in paper bags. I saw a couple of people downing their drinks in the middle of the mall and was pretty shocked. OK, tourists wouldn’t know they’re not allowed to imbibe in public during daylight hours, but shouldn’t serving staff make it plain that it’s only to be consumed behind closed doors?

Ramadan 11 – Headed out onto my balcony for a cup of coffee and a cigarette today, as I always do, because I have no one who can see in (unless they’re out on the golf course with binoculars). A chopper flew overhead and I had a sense of mild anxiety that I was being checked up on. As far as I know the only helicopters that are allowed in that airspace are police/military. Do you think they could be doing Ramadan rule-breaking checks? *Shiver*

Ramadan 12 – Back to work today. Going down in the lift to the car park I shared it was two Japanese girls. One of them was sucking loudly on a sweet of some kind. To educate or not? I’m not offended (I’m not fasting after all) but she clearly didn’t know that you’re not allowed to eat in public. I refrained. Must try to focus less on the restrictions to eating. Will get more cultural from now on, I promise.

The New Pad

So, this is the life.  I feel like an incredibly lucky girl to be living with Jules here in the Fairways. She has spent a lot of effort on setting this apartment up and it’s lovely. The view is sensational, the position and facilities are fabulous and I have friends close by. Perfect really, just perfect.

Arriving in the downturn

When I left London in November 2008, Britain was in recession and The City had already adopted the spirit of depression. It was grim. Magazines were running stories on ‘tasty ways to use leftovers’. My cosy freelance arrangements were looking shaky, each every one of them. So I bailed. I had the chance to work in Dubai and I grabbed it. I thought to myself that exuberant Dubai would have to be able to ride this out. And I wasn’t mistaken when I arrived. The pre-Christmas silly season was indeed mad. Expats were splashing their cash around in bars, restaurants and shopping malls like there was no tomorrow.

But three months on,  tomorrow has arrived. Times have changed.

“It is a crazy time to be in Dubai, things are so different economically now compared to when I arrived, it’s hard to believe it’s only been 6 months! It’s all doom and gloom now!”, a twenty-something Western expat told me.

Even the most regular socialites have been postponing nights out until after payday. People are declining invitations to go away for the weekend because household expenses have been racking up. Four people in my immediate social circle have been made redundant in the past couple of months and three times that number in my extended entourage. Note that I’m only referring to expats here because it is illegal to make an Emirati redundant, or to fire them for economic reasons.

Or there’s the horrible Russian-roulette scenario one girl I know had to go through. She works at a large hospitality group.

“I just had a very awful situation at work (basically we were all on the chopping block) which thankfully turned out OK. It seems I am one of the lucky ones to have survived and still kept my job, however we are now seriously understaffed.”

The crunch certainly hit later here, but will hit hit as hard and will it last as long? People certainly talk about the bottom inevitably falling out of the false market. (And talk is really all you can do, seeing as the media is not allowed to report ‘Dubai’ and ‘recession’ in the same sentence. )

The Business Breakfast show on a local radio station, Dubai Eye, recently ran a poll on whether expats thought they were better off in Dubai.

They asked whether people thought their prospects in the financial crisis were better in the Gulf than in their home country and 63 per cent agreed.

I think I’ll stay put for just a little while longer.

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