We’ve been living here for 3 months now. We’ve settled into our home, we’ve got the kids well on their way in school, and my job is pretty predictable. That means I now have time to examine the life around me, the new culture I’m now a part of. How do things work here and why? Hahaha, you can drive yourself crazy with that question if you’re not from the area. So many things will make you feel unsettled, frustrated, homesick and more…but at the end of it all, you have to sit back and remind yourself, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.
As I look around and recall instances throughout my journey here so far as an expat, a few things jump out that might be of interest to someone planning on moving here in the future. Some of these are quite trivial…more comical than anything. Some can really get you wound up and ready to hit the road back home. Through all of it, just remember, you came here for a reason, most likely to EXPERIENCE another culture unlike your own. So how willing are you to “put up with it”?
The first few are all about cars here. Everything from the actual car to driving it…it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different here. Firstly, be prepared to understand that the rules of the road you’re used to have gone out the window. The rules of the road here are more like an understanding (and I use that term loosely) between drivers on the road. There’s speeding in extreme, there’s cutting off, roundabouts galore, honking…enough to make your head spin if you’re a paranoid driver. Put it this way, I’ve been here three months, and I haven’t sat in the driver’s seat…and don’t know that I will. I wasn’t what I’d call a confident driver at home to begin with, so the thought of driving here makes me go numb…especially with my children in the car. Besides the actual act of driving…there’s the car itself. How they see out the windows is beyond me with their almost black tint jobs, and windshields with either very dark tinting more than half way down the window, or a contraption fastened on inside which blocks 1/2 the windshield…all in an effort to avoid the sun I assume. And quite comical in my eyes, is the plastic left on the seats. No, not because they just drove off the lot…it’s like it’s to protect the car in case they sell it again. Who knows, but you’ll notice lots of plastic in cars. The one thing I can say I don’t agree with here, and IS a bad thing, is the lack of carseats. Children/babies drive on their parents laps, bouncing around the back seats, hanging out windows…there’s no car seats. There is an iniative in Dubai that is getting attention, Buckle Up in the Back Dubai, and I hope it spreads around the UAE quickly. It breaks my heart to think of what COULD happen…especially with how people drive. We always get stares at stoplights…well, my children do. I don’t know if it’s because they are white, or blonde haired, or have blue eyes, or because they are all three in car seats everywhere we go. I HOPE that some drive away thinking, hmmmm, that’s a good idea. (In the picture, you can see the dark tint, and see the very dark tint line across the windshield and how low it is)
The next thing that stands out as something a future expat would find very useful to know, is that there aren’t street addresses here! Yes, you can get a P.O. Box…but that only works for so much. FedEx, restaurants, furniture delivery…you need a street address! So begins the fun and games of trying to tell someone where you live, especially if your building is a new build or in a new area…good luck! We often laugh at how we describe where to go. Pretty much everything is near a roundabout, and each roundabout is very distinct in design. Some have flamingos (fake), goats (fake), gazebos, big round colorful balls, you name it…it probably exists on a roundabout somewhere in the UAE. So, you might tell someone that you life on Khalifa Street, in a green building, flat 2, near the flamingo roundabout. Yep, that’s about all you can do. There will then be about 4 phone calls as the driver tries to clarify further where you are. We laugh because to us, it’s so different, and yet addresses would seemingly be such a simple concept to enforce. But again, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.
Here’s one I can’t fault anyone for, argue against, or say is wrong…cutting in line. It’s a cultural thing. We grew up with lines and waiting our turnes…it’s all we know and it’s what we practice. Here, it’s not that way. They did not grow up with that understanding, so of course, they think we’re nuts for not pushing our way to the front and standing our ground. And don’t be fooled, just because you have a ticket number and it’s your “turn”, someone else still may come up to the counter and start a full on conversation, while you look at your number, look at the screen, look back at your number, then at the intruder, then at the clerk, then down at your number again and shake your head in disbelief. I have been cut infront of many times. But I have not had the nerve to stand my ground as of yet. Many have and are learning quickly that to get what you came for, you need to be a little forceful. You kinda expect it to happen no matter where you are, and while not everyone does it, be prepared to have it happen to you at least once a day. Again, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. We grew up one way, they another. But you can’t let it get to you…you’re in their country now.
Lastly is just something that makes me laugh and catches me off guard from time to time. The squatty potty, or hole in the ground. Of course there are Western toilets here and bidets (which much of the world is used to), but there’s also the squatty potty, which is a hold in the ground. You’ll find yourself in the mall, needing a potty, open a door, and there’s a hole in the ground. You quickly shut the door and open other doors until you find the Western toilet. I giggle inside because I wasn’t trained to squat like that and just imagine myself toppling over! However, my 4 year old’s school has Western and squatty potties. Because the line is always so long for the Western potty, she opts for the squatty potty! She knows how to use it and has told us it’s kinda funny. Sure, whatever. Not much surprises me anymore here. It’s all so different.
So, while the surroundings and veneer of it all are gorgeous here in the UAE, there will be some things that might make you a little crazy as you learn to be tolerant during your stay. This was a short list, but the most common everyday experiences we go through. There are other things you might find unfamiliar like how paperwork and organization are handled, how everything is a wait, or how your passport copy and photos are handed out like lollipops at a doctor’s office…but you get used to it all…eventually. The UAE is a very wonderful place to live…for those who can exercise patience.