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Published: July 23rd 2009
‘It’s a Dubai thing’ is a term we desert dwellers bandy around a lot in the United Arab Emirates. There are just certain things - some frustrating, some a little odd - that seem to be unique to this part of the world. It’s probably just that some aspects of life in the Middle East are simply different from what we’re used to. We are, after all, expats in a foreign country. Here, my top three ‘Dubai things’.... Roadhogs rule
Motoring menaces mean you need nerves of steel on the roads in Dubai. Crazy manouevres such as reversing around a roundabout because a driver missed his turn, using the hardshoulder, or indicating right and then turning left are not uncommon. Drivers weave in and out of lanes, making the side-swipe the most common accident in the U.A.E., and on quieter roads you often see vehicles parked in the middle of the street while their owners buy groceries or take-out food from the comfort of their seat (at certain stores, you can honk your horn and someone will come out to serve you!).
A particularly scary offence is extreme tailgating, where motorists with tinted windows drive up behind you, flashing
their lights, until they’re practically touching your bumper to get you to move over. If you’re unable to change lanes, the driver may even attempt to squeeze between you and the central reservation to get by. The more blacked-out the windows, and the shorter the number plate, the more likely you are to have a fast-living roadhog behind you. Thankfully, etiquette dictates that extreme tailgating only happens in the fast lane, which I very rarely go into for this reason.
As a precaution, most expats have big cars. We also use our horns much more in Dubai. Everyone does. In fact, I can’t believe how honk happy I’ve become recently (my husband, the level-headed Pilot, has tried to limit this by only letting me honk if I’m driving - ie, I’m no longer allowed to lean over and blast the horn while he’s at the wheel).
Honking isn’t lost on the Big Boy, either, who sits in the back yelling, “Mommy, HONK him..” And with the roads in Dubai still subject to a lot of construction - meaning that, overnight, roundabouts disappear and roads gets blocked off (in fact, sometimes this happens while you’re actually driving on the
road), my little back-seat driver has also been known to make less-than-kind remarks about the builders who’ve sent us on our latest detour. (I get lost all
the time...and the Big Boy - who loves it when his Daddy drives as we get to go over sand - looks quite worried when I’m at the wheel, last week requesting that we take a taxi instead!) No-one understands me!
While the Emiratis mostly speak perfectly good English, the Asian majority in Dubai don’t have the same language skills, making communicating something I admit I dread! Dealing with workmen is especially frustrating - as all expats I know will testify to (maintenance seems to be a big issue for many of us - the most perplexing problem so far being my friend’s toilets, which she discovered were being flushed with boiling water). When a workman turns up, the first thing that raises alarm bells is that the guy who is meant to be, for example, an electrician is highly likely the same guy who last week came over to do some painting. As they start sticking tools into electrical outlets, you really get worried - and no matter how hard you
try, you can’t make yourself understood...nor do the few words you get in reply make much sense to you.
I had a whole conversation with two workmen who came over to fix the air conditioning and thought things were going well. As I asked them very politely to go upstairs and clean the A/C filters, they nodded and smiled, leading me to think I was getting somewhere. Then they walked out, and disappeared, obviously having understood not a word.
I find I tend to make my hubby do the talking - but this doesn’t work in the ladies’ salon, where last week a misunderstanding meant I ended up with one dark brown eyebrow and one light blonde (yes, living in Dubai does mean you find yourself becoming more and more high maintenance - like my lovely, and very down-to-earth friend, who’s been here three years and thinks nothing of trying a bit of Botox or microdermabrasion...I’d try it myself, but after the eyebrow incident, I’m steering clear of such treatments for a while longer). There aren't any street addresses
I have no idea what our address is in Dubai, which isn’t as dumb as it sounds. Our
mail goes to a P.O. Box at the Emirates headquarters and our street address is simply, ‘Rashidiya, between the mosque and the mall, opposite the shops’. So, on the up side, no bills or junk mail make it to our doorstep, but, on the down side, there’s a lot of room for error when directing visitors, taxis and delivery drivers.
Setting up our house meant buying various larger items that needed delivering and on the paperwork there’d be a large box in which you were expected to draw a map rather than write an address - or you could attach another piece of paper with your geographic artwork. My maps aren’t particularly good - more like doodles, in fact - and when puzzled delivery drivers phoned up with very little English, I’d simply hand the phone over to The Pilot to avoid getting the poor guy even more lost.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who has trouble explaining their whereabouts. Surveys have shown that residents, visitors and even the police and other emergency services have difficulty locating places as people are often unable to accurately describe locations. I’ve read that a state-of-the-art address system will eventually
replace the current landmark-based system (making addresses such as ‘the blue villa past the airport, turn right at the second mosque, and left at the little supermarket’ a thing of the past), but until then, I can expect plenty more navigational hic-ups. (and to make things even more confusing, why, oh why, does our villa, along with many others, have two different numbers on the door?) Perks of expat life
So, life in Dubai can be quite different from life in England or America. But, it’s not all frustrations and chaos, by any means. Year-round sunshine, beautiful beaches, amazing waterparks, good friends, housemaids to look after our homes and even our children, fantastic food (in fact, the buffet Emirates treated us to at Michael’s interview had a large part to play in tempting us to move over) make it all worthwhile. Come see for yourself!
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