Friday, September 24, 2010

Another typical week in Dubai...

Road construction in Dubai is well planned. Now that everyone has returned from summer holiday and kids are back in school, they have rerouted the lanes where they are doing construction near my house. Very intelligently, they have condensed this down to one lane is a couple of key places. Very well thought out!

“Look madam. Same Same.” As we were putting my son in the car, our resident car washer points out that my husband and son look alike.

Sweet Lime = Orange. I ordered a sweet lime juice from the local juice bar near my office. They present me with a tall glass of orange juice. I try to tell them it is orange juice. “No madam, it’s a lime”. Seriously, it is orange. “No madam. We will show you an orange.” They then proceed to show me a mandarin! To busy to debate with this very nice Philippino woman and Indian guy making juice, I take my orange juice and go back to work.

I had to go to the Dubai Mall for something. There, in the parking lot, a huge Rolls Royce with a can of Red Bull and plastic container of cookies – you know the kind you get from super market bakeries- on the dashboard. If it wasn’t Dubai, I would think the kids borrowed Dad’s car while he was away on a business trip.

Within the Dubai Mall there is a huge candy store – one of the largest in the world. Also recently, a huge Hershey store has opened as well. Not bad for a country whose local population already has the highest rate of diabetes in the world!

Had dinner with a friend and a local woman came up to me to ask about what brand my bag was. That is a HUGE compliment. The local women here are handbag crazy. If there is a sale or new season at Louis Vuitton, look out. I guess the bright happy green color of my modest Kate Spade was appealing.

Dropped my son off at school, dropped my husband off at a local sailing club so he can finish his captain course. As we pulled into the empty club on an early weekday morning, I almost felt retired! But only for a second… and now back to reality.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dubai, what’s to like?

There are positives and negatives to living everywhere of course. Here are just 30 reasons to like Dubai. I am sure there are many more, but this is a start…..

1. Beautiful sandy beaches
2. Beautiful blue-green Gulf water
3. Kind people
4. A mix of cultures – you can find over 200 languages spoken!
5. Endless sporting activities and clubs to participate in.
6. Great professional sporting events to watch such as the Dubai Dessert Classic (golf), Dubai Tennis Tournament, Rugby 7’s, Dubai World Cup (horse race) and more
7. Endless children’s programs and activities
8. Modern architecture
9. Something new happening all the time
10. Closer proximity to travel to amazing destinations in the Middle East and Far East!
11. Food from all over the world
12. Nice work environment/jobs – ok, this one is relative, but I love where I work and love the people who work there! They are the most professional team I have experienced to date!
13. A lot of alternative and ayruvedic medicine clinics
14. Kinokuniya - The amazing bookstore in the Dubai Mall
15. Tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa
16. The Dubai Fountains are pretty nice too
17. Emirates Airlines – not always the cheapest, but love their great service!
18. The Friday (champagne optional) brunch
19. No tax
20. Women’s sections at public offices. Ladies, this means you don’t have long lines to wait in to pay phone bills or parking tickets!
21. There are a couple of decent organic food stores
22. You can easily find good help at home if you want it
23. If you have children they will be exposed to other children from all over the world
24. Many growing festivals – jazz, books, film. The cooler weather months are full of things to do.
25. An easy city, so more time for family or other activities
26. If you are into relaxation, there are many spas to choose from
27. You can ski anytime of year (I realize its not the same as the real deal, but its there. I’ve never been, but am told its not bad considering its indoor)
28. Usually very little rain to change your outdoor plans
29. A growing art scene – its small in comparison to other places, but it is nice to experience and observe the growth. And knowing that this is a Sharia law country makes it all the more interesting to see their acceptance.
30. Most people who live here are in a similar situation – approximately 80% of the population is expat. They left somewhere to come here, so it is relatively easy to make friends and connections.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Afraid to move to Dubai because you don’t think you speak good English? Don’t be. You will be fine. Honestly, if I can survive Turkey not knowing any Turkish and master the language, you can certainly do it in Dubai!

My biggest advice for anyone in another country where they are trying to learn the language is to not worry and be confident. You will make mistakes, but so what. So does everyone else when they speak and write. Just roll with it and be open to whatever comes with that.

Just as there are Arabic lessons here, you can also take English lessons if you want to perfect your English. There are also very good classes for beginners.

And believe me, you can’t make more of a fool of yourself than I did in Istanbul! Not knowing the language somewhere always makes things more challenging, but also funny. At least in my case it did – and on several occasions, but I will leave you with one for now.

When I decided to move to Istanbul with my husband I genuinely tried to find Turkish lessons in Houston. At that time, there were none. The closest classes I ever heard of were at the University of Texas which was about a 3 or 4 hour drive away. I was a bit intimidated when I would listen to him speak Turkish on the phone. My ear had never heard Turkish before I met him so just taking on the daunting task of where words begin and end seemed like an incredible challenge.

So, when we arrived to Istanbul, I immediately started Turkish lessons. Like all typical beginner classes there is focus on the alphabet and the sounds of the language. For quite a long time the only thing I could really say was Turk├že bilmiyorum which means “I don’t know Turkish”.

I began working part-time and on occasion I would be home in the afternoon. One day the postman came by the door to bring me mail. I later learn mail is usually just left at entrance of the building for all apartments.

He had some papers and said I don’t know what, but it seemed he was asking for money. So being only familiar with the American post system I assumed he was asking for some kind of payment for a registered mail document or something official. It seemed to make sense. I didn’t think anything of it.

A few weeks later he came by asking for what I assumed was the same thing. I was kind of curious why, but I paid him anyway as we still could not communicate very well. By that time all I had mastered was counting. Just like the last time, I paid him how many ever million Turkish Lira was needed.

A couple nights later, my husband saw the receipts on the kitchen counter and started to laugh hysterically. He asked me where I got them. Ok, I was really confused now because I never knew registered mail was that funny, but now afraid of what they might be. He then explained to me that I had purchased tickets to the postmen’s charity ball!!! It was that weekend, did I want to go? I was so embarrassed, and even though I also found it hysterical I turned down my husband’s offer to escort me to the ball. I was also a bit annoyed that he did it to me twice.

Looking back in retrospect, as embarrassed as I was, I wish I had gone to the postman’s ball. If I had access to that now, I would go without thinking twice and dance the night away where ever it is that Turkish postmen go to dance all night. I only hope that our postman sold the most tickets for the ball that year.

Don’t Speak Arabic? Neither does (most) anyone else….unfortunately

Afraid to move to Dubai because you don’t think you speak Arabic? Don’t be. Unfortunately, English is the most popular language here. It is used in business and with approximately 80% of the population all from different backgrounds, a common ground must be found. That common ground is the language of international commerce, English.

I came here very enthusiastic to learn Arabic. One of the first things I did was find a good Arabic language school. The only problem was that outside of the classroom, there was never an opportunity to practice. For example, most of the taxi drivers here are from India, Pakistan or other countries that don’t use Arabic. Once I did start working again, all of my colleagues were from elsewhere so I had no opportunity to practice it in the office. After about a year and a half of lessons, I decided it would never progress as my Turkish did in Istanbul, so I dropped out.

Quite frankly, the only time I have ever used Arabic in my six years of living here was once when my husband and I were lost in a remote area of the UAE and needed directions. Despite my earlier struggles in class to give directions from the Arabic school to my home that was a mere five minutes away, much to my delight, I was able to ask where to go and understood the directions.

I find this a very sad thing and after speaking with some locals, it is a double edged sword it seems. They are proud of their country and proud of Dubai for being such an international hub, but they are loosing a lot of their culture and tradition in the process – and this includes language.

For example, a local friend’s children are learning Arabic in school from a Moroccan teacher. There is no issue with the woman being Moroccan, but the dialects are so different that the children are learning a very different language from what their parents and grandparents speak. As many locals seek higher education in English for their children here, they may never learn proper Arabic in any dialect. It is slowly becoming a lost language for them and in my opinion, this is sad.

So my advice if you want to learn Arabic. It’s a beautiful language – both written and spoken. Go for it. However, you’ll be challenged to find a lot of practice in your daily life to speak it. It is nice to know the formalities and greetings, but there is nothing within that context that you will not be able to pick up from a language reference book.

Everyone in the service industry here is usually from the Philippines, India or other Near and Far Eastern countries and they are all speaking English. If you are really a linguist and want to learn something exotic that you can master here – go for Tagalog or Urdu!

Friday, September 17, 2010


For now, I have decided to continue to post simultaneously what I post in here was my last submission and I am sure more will be posted in the coming days...Don't worry, this will not become an advice column for people who want to move to Dubai :)

So many of you reading this are thinking to move to Dubai. A little nervous, anxious, not sure what to expect? It’s a good place, you’ll be fine. Yes, as you’ve probably heard, it gets a little hot in the summer, but that’s okay you’ll be inside. Some of you will be working or you will go home and visit family anyway, which are often the cultural norms of Dubai. As one who works, honestly, I don’t mind it that much.

I know coming from Turkey that seems difficult because life takes place indoors and outdoors – it does in Dubai as well, but just in different months. While many countries are freezing cold in December and January, we are at the beach or elsewhere enjoying the outdoors. I think the trade-off is well worth it. I really only find June through September hot. That means eight months of weather with a lot of potential.

And hot is relative anyway. We were just back in Istanbul a few weeks ago. Wow, it was pretty hot. And no air conditioning in most places makes it almost unbearable for some. When out for a Bosphorus walk we found ourselves taking shelter in the cool rooms of the Sabanci Museum (which is lovely if you haven’t been).

My biggest piece of advice I can offer if you have moved here, or have moved anywhere new – be open to your new place and situation. Embrace it.

I’ve lived away from my home country for maybe 13 or 14 years now. There is one thing that I have observed consistently with people I meet who are unhappy in their new environment – They expect it to be exactly like their home country. Don’t fall into that trap. If you come here expecting Dubai to be like the place you have just moved from, you’ll be terribly disappointed and unhappy.

I was reminded of this on my trip where we also spent a few days with a good friend in Berlin, who we actually met in Istanbul. She had several friends and neighbors over one night and at one point I was listening to the women talk. They were all complaining about their difficulties managing children and families, and then at one point one of them actually said, “We give up so much for our husbands to have this lifestyle”.

Now not all of them were housewives, but they were sure quick to jump on that wagon and agree. As these were my friend’s friends and in some cases colleagues, or colleagues wives I remained silent. Which if you knew me, is not always easy. But really, this is the same mantra I hear often from unhappy people regardless of what country they are from. They are often focused on what they give up or what the place is not.

Yes, you will get homesick and miss things about your country you never thought you would. I honestly never missed the US too much when I moved to Istanbul, but when I left Turkey my heart ached for it, so I can only imagine how much deeper a Turk might miss it. But in those times try not to focus on what you have left behind, look also at what you are gaining. There is so much potential.

You may have moved alone or with family. Regardless, you probably had some, if not all, part in that decision and wanted to try something new. So enjoy the experience.

Fortunately we now have email, skype, video conferencing and all other amazing means of communication we did not have when I first moved. While not the same as being there, staying in touch has never been easier.

So not that you asked for it, but my advice is to embrace your new experience. As a result you will learn about new cultures, places and people, and you might be pleasantly surprised that you may also learn a lot about yourself in the process. I know I have and continue to do so. For these reasons, I am happy to live as an expat.