First Impressions and Observations

• On maps here, the Persian Gulf is called the Arabian Gulf.  

• Sheikh Mohammed dangles from cut-out construction paper hearts at the local DMV. He peers past me from the back of SUVs as I’m sitting in traffic. Plastered across enormous billboards, he seems to be contemplating something as white doves flap in the perimeter. Sometimes he’s chillin’ with his pal, Sheikh Khalifa. Rarely portrayed as looking directly at you, he’s usually gazing benevolently at something in the distance at a 45 degree angle. I chuckle when I think of what it would be like to have these same types of depictions in the U.S. of Obama or Bush.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (on the left) is the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE and leader of Dubai. Sheikeh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (on the right) is the President of the UAE and leader of Abu Dhabi.

One of the many multiple-story depictions of Sheikh Mohammed across the city.

I pass this one every day. The boys ask, "Mommy, who is that?"

• I am still caught off-guard by internet censorship. It’s disturbing when I’m trying to access a seemingly innocuous website and get the following notification: “This site is blocked . This site falls under the Prohibited Content Categories of the UAE’s Internet Access Management Policy.”

• Children bounce around unbuckled in cars speeding down a motorway in a country famous for its awful driving. They play in the front seat, hang out of the sunroof, or pester the seatbelt wearing driver, who is likely texting or talking on their phone. I know, I know, I’ve heard the story from my parents about how we were never buckled up as children either, but there are some extra-crazy drivers around here! (For example, we almost got smashed to pieces while walking in a “pedestrian area” when out of nowhere, a big SUV jumped the sidewalk to cut across an empty lot.  The driver sped past us, oblivious to my kids in the stroller who were maybe a couple of feet away from the car.) People LOVE children here – they constantly offer them candy or other little “gifts,” pat them on the head and always smile at them, but apparently they don’t see the point in buckling them into the car. According to Time Out Abu Dhabi, “The UAE has the highest rate of road deaths per capita in the world, and traffic collisions are the number one cause of child death in the country.”

• I have come across metal slides at a playground with no shade. Surely a country that can build the tallest building in the world and man-made islands in the shape of palm trees can figure out that this climate is too hot for metal slides.

• Stupid money I have spent when I wasn’t paying attention: $6 on ½ a cantaloupe. $20 on 2 greeting cards and postage for them.

• It will take a long time to get used to the fact that Sunday is in fact Monday here, since the work week is from Sunday – Thursday.

• Car washes are offered every time you park the car. At your doorstep, at the grocery store, at the mall. They do get dirty quickly because of all the sand and dust in the air, but I’ve never seen so many sparkling clean cars. For five bucks – it’s an affordable luxury.

• Man to woman ratio is officially 3:1, but it often feels more like 15:1.

• You have to keep a sense of humor about the lack of consistency and transparency of rules and regulations. For instance, the “Road and Transport Authority” (the Dubai equivalent to the DPS or DMV) will not disclose over the phone how much it costs to get a driver’s license, because apparently you just find out when you get there.  My guidebook printed this year said it would cost $140 dhs. It actually cost 400. Lesson learned: things like this are quite arbitrary. Seeing something in print doesn’t make it so.

• Fresh-baked sandwich bread at the grocery store is the norm, and in fact is the only available option for bread. I’m definitely a fan of any store that smells like fresh-baked bread and serves it up warm at all times of the day. I just wish the grocery stores were as consistent with their other products. Just when you’re happy to find a brand or item you’ve been looking for, it’s nowhere to be found on your next visit, or the next. It usually takes trips to three different places (4, if you count the liquor store) to get a week’s worth of groceries. And trips normally take twice as long because you waste a bunch of time meandering around the aisles, looking for that thing you found last time.

• Cutting in line is a national sport. Not only while driving, but in person too. At metro platforms – arriving first at an elevator with a double stroller apparently does not give you priority over all the more mobile, single people who arrive after you and who could very easily use the escalator. They will happily push through the tiny gap between the wheel and elevator door to hop in before you.

• There is an instant camaraderie amongst expats, which is pretty much everyone you come in contact with. (around 70% of Dubai’s population are expats) “Where are you from?” and “How long have you been here?” is the usual conversation starter rather than “What do you do?” that is common at home. Show a bit of common courtesy to the expats who work in the mall and you’ve instantly made a new friend.  A worker at Crate and Barrel, while walking through the mall to help me take a heavy carpet to the parking lot, actually offered to bring it all the way to my house if it didn’t fit in my car. Your new friend’s next question will inevitably be: “Have you experienced Dubai’s summer, yet?”

• Air conditioned bus stops – there’s an idea for you Houston!

• The frequency with which you see Ferraris, Maseratis, Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces on the road is quite surprising. I just read a newspaper article that said that Dubai has more Rolls Royces than the population of all of Japan, even though Japan’s population is 25 times that of Dubai. (7 Days, January 11, 2011).

• Saying “that’s okay” – as in “no, that’s okay, I don’t want it” means “yes” here. This has resulted in me getting the opposite of what I wanted, several times.

• Apparently it’s possible to swim in the ocean dressed in a full length sari!

• I thought Texas had the most SUVs per capital in the world. Think again – Dubai has Texas beat. Especially white ones . White is a very popular color here. White houses and buildings. Impeccably white dishdashas. White light that reflects off the sand and glass buildings.

• The abayas (the robe-like dress) that women wear are quite pretty. When I saw them at home, I always felt sorry for the women who were wearing them. But here, especially when they are accompanied by men who are also wearing the national dress, it seems less demeaning. I still find it difficult to see anything redeeming about the niqab, though. (the veil that covers all the face except the eyes). Especially when the women wear sunglasses over it! I have wondered how they put up with wearing these layers in the summer time heat. It’s interesting to see all the different styles of dress when walking around in the mall – you will come across a woman wearing a low-cut shirt, flaunting cleavage, next to a woman wearing a sari, next to a woman wearing her abaya and niqab. The diversity of Dubai is definitely reflected in what people wear.


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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4 Responses to First Impressions and Observations

  1. Tavia says:

    Wow! All very interesting, I would be a nervous wreck about the crazy driving, I feel like that here! At least you are learning fast.

    • lyndasm says:

      The driving isn’t as scary as it sounds, except at round-abouts when people unexpectedly cut across all of the lanes to exit! It’s crazy! And there’s lots of horn-honking and light-flashing which would made me nervous and mad, but I’ve finally figured out that it’s usually not mean-spirited. People are just trying to tell you to move out of the way, and then they’ll smile or wave. 🙂

  2. Molly says:

    I love it! I remember being so perplexed about certain things in London–and this is about 1000 times harder! Just remember to keep your sense of humor (which you obviously have)–I let myself get too homesick in the beginning. I should have been better prepared!

  3. lyndasm says:

    Thanks Molly! I actually think that moving to Europe would be harder in some ways. Plus you had to deal with having your first baby there – that’s 2 huge adjustments!

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