Lost in Translation

I’ve heard expats here in the UAE complain many times about frustrating conversations where no one understands each other even though everyone is speaking English.  I too have had some pretty exasperating experiences, but I’ve always felt grateful I didn’t have to learn Arabic when we moved here. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to study Arabic, but I know that practically speaking, having to conduct day-to-day affairs in Arabic would have made the transition here infinitely more difficult.  Luckily, English is widely used instead.

I find myself becoming too comfortable (or some might say lazy and presumptuous) during conversations, not considering that most people to whom I’m speaking likely learned English as a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language.  I usually talk like I would to any of my friends or family back home, regardless of who I’m addressing.

When I went to get my hair cut the other day, I was thinking how nice it would be to have my hair all fixed and pretty for when my sister arrived.  I always love running away for my rare outings to the hair salon because it’s one of the few things I do without kids in tow. I enjoyed a coffee and noticed that the Burj Khalifa was looking particularly  handsome that day, so I snapped a picture with my phone.  Life was good.

Burj Khalifa

I’ve been to the same hairdresser, a super nice guy from Morocco, a few times.  I sat in the chair and casually mentioned, “I’d like my bangs to be the length of my eyebrows more or less when they are dry. Just follow the general cut you’ve done before.”  Well, maybe he heard, “I’d like my bangs to be an inch above my eyebrow, or more but not less, before they are dry.  Just don’t follow the general cut you’ve done before.” Maybe he doesn’t know what bangs are since the British version is fringe. Maybe he only heard ‘wuah wuah wuah wuah’ like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

My cheery mood abruptly ended and a twinge of panic set in immediately after the first “snip.”  I hoped that somehow my new, seemingly very short wet bangs would miraculously defy the laws of physics and get longer, not shorter when they dried.  They didn’t. I can’t explain where the communication broke down.  All I know is that after he cut my hair a few months ago I looked like this:

img (1)


and this is me now:

img (2)

I was so mortified by my reflection that as soon as I stepped out of the salon, I scrambled for a clip.  A clip is apparently no match for my stubbornly short bangs and they quickly escaped its grasp.  I sighed with relief when I found my new best friend in my bag, my trusty, cheap plastic headband.  We are inseparable these days.

I learned my lesson.  I certainly will be showing a picture of my desired cut next time.  It also reminded me to stop assuming that everyone can understand me and my southern accent, especially when I get comfortable and slip into ultra speed mode.  Maybe I need to slow down.

My foul mood was short-lived though because my sister arrived soon after. It was so nice to have family here visiting.  It’s really fun to show people around and refreshing to see the city as new again, but even more satisfying to see my children’s excitement about sharing mundane, daily activities with their aunt.  There’s something really special about family experiencing our daily routine when we live so far away from each other.  Now when we talk or text, she can visualize where we are – I just love that and so does she!   I’m so glad you came Diana!  Here are a few highlights from her visit.  Some of the pics are very similar to things I’ve posted before, but what can I say, the colors of the souk and the interesting skyscrapers never get old.

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* Thanks to the Hedonista for the tip on climbing the (rickety and steep) ladder to the top of the restaurant Bait al Wakeel for that panoramic shot of the creek.

**self-portrait Jim Carrey pic via huffingtonpost.co.uk



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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22 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. So true! I hope your bangs have grown back. As you point out, even with a shared ‘first’ language there’s often confusion. While living in Dubai I learned what ‘plimsoles’ were and often had a ‘dop’ or two with my neighbors… which always turned into a right fine ‘craic’!

    • Lynda says:

      Umm, I have no idea what you said – will have to go look those up! 🙂 No, unfortunately they haven’t grown back yet… the headband is here to stay for a while. You’ll probably appreciate that my Canadian friend was floored when she called to ask if I had a toque her son could borrow and I had no clue what she was talking about. She thought I was crazy! Hope all is well in Thailand. xxx

      • Ah, the ubiquitous toque (especially this year)! And, plimsoles are little girls shoes… I think (like the black patent ones with the strap), which I learned from my Kenyan friends, but I think there was a British influence there. A dop is a drink (of anything alcoholic in nature) according to my neighbors who were from Zimbabwe and a craic is an Irish term for a great party! These people all lived in the same neighborhood, which was my favorite thing about living in Dubai 🙂 Loving Thailand too! We’re happily surrounded by Thais but have an equally eclectic group of friends here.

      • Lynda says:

        What a great little vocabulary lesson! 🙂 I really do love the differences within English. In fact, my sister-in-law just today said an expression: “he looks like butter wouldn’t melt.” I was like, “huh???” So true – the diversity in Dubai really is fun and stimulating.

  2. Ohhh I feel for you… *chuckling on the “recent” photo though :-p*

  3. You just confirmed that I will wait to get my hair cut until this summer on my trip home…YIKES, So glad hair grows!! Your pictures are wonderful!! I want to take a photography course! Your picture of the fabric shop has me drooling!!!

    • Lynda says:

      I’m so glad hair grows too! Just wish it happened a little faster. You should take a photography class! If you haven’t already, check out Gulf Photo Plus – that’s where I did an intro level course. There are plenty of other workshops and exhibits too – a cool place. That fabric shop had my sister and I drooling too, and we don’t even sew!

  4. It’s amazing how you remember clicking the same person two years ago! Lovely images and I have a few hair horror stories as well after living in Dubai all my life.

    • Lynda says:

      I know – isn’t it funny I remembered him? I was certain of it as soon as I saw him – I think b/c the way he was draped over the side of the dhow was interesting so he made an impression on me. I liked the way the flag was behind him so that’s what caught my eye in the first place… both times I guess! That’s not too encouraging about the hair horror stories! yikes!

  5. Laura says:

    I can imagine you looking cute with those little bangs! You should post a picture while they’re still fringing your forehad 😉
    I had a similar (but worse) experience once in a foreign land — England, where we both spoke Englishe! Or so I thought . I heard the dreaded “snip” right *above* my ear, instantly committing my shoulder-length curls to what I later named “the Rooster,” or “curly mushroom.” It was hideous, with the back being so short it was actually shaved, and the sides springing out in every direction! Took three years to grow out.
    Love the slide show!

    • Lynda says:

      That’s really sweet of you to be encouraging about it, but ummmm, no, they are super unflattering. I never knew my head and face were so big and so…. square shaped. Your story was hilarious!!! Oh man, sounds pretty tragic though, I can’t lie. Three years?! That’s epic.

  6. Diana says:

    !!!!!! This had me laughing so much!!!! I cannot believe you put that pic of jim carrey…..it should have been sophie marceu from “Anna Karenina!” – – – Grrrr..I wish I could attach a pic here! Anyway…it was a FAB visit and your beautiful pics are making me all nostalgic!

    • Lynda says:

      Okay – I just googled her to remember what she looked like in that movie and ummm, honestly, even on her gorgeous face I don’t think they look too good! there’s certainly no hope for me. I WAS a great visist. awww. 🙂

  7. HansHB says:

    Great photos!
    Happy easter to you!

  8. Mitzie Mee says:

    *LOL*…sorry, but I couldn’t help laughing! When I lived in Sweden, my hairdresser was also from Morocco (so maybe it wasn’t your accent) and he was infamous for cutting the hair too short. My friends and I used to joke that we probably should ask him to add a few inches in order to get the length right:)

    • Lynda says:

      Oh really? How funny! 🙂 The mystery about my experience is that last time he cut them, he didn’t cut them enough and I had to trim them myself after. And he also had them gradually longer on the sides, ultimately ending with quite long layers. This time they were super short and completely straight across?! I just checked them yesterday for the first time since the cut b/c I always just pull them straight back. Let’s just say I’m still waiting for them to grow… 😉

  9. Mrs C says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while but hardly ever comment but I can’t help it this time, this is too funny and so true! I have a Pakistani gardener that I have a hard time communicating with and I am pretty sure he has no clue of what I am saying most of the time.. you should see the garden on ‘trimming’ days.. thank God he’s not my hairdresser! I never get what I wanted correctly. But he’s a decent guy and luckily my husband somehow understand him and vice-versa.. Lord knows how actually 🙂 Happy Easter and the bang will grow soon 🙂

    • Lynda says:

      Thanks so much for the comment- I love to hear feedback. 🙂 Too funny about the gardener. I too really struggle with ours. He’s the sweetest, and we certainly communicate more than if I tried to speak Urdu, but beyond a few standard phrases, things get tricky. He asked if he could trim our beautiful, lush, healthy, flowering bushes. I’m thinking “pruning is good…” so I said okay but not too much. (hmmm, sounds familiar…) I really wish I could attach a picture to show you the brown nubs they are after he cut them. And just in time for Easter – ack! No easter egg can hide in there now, that is for sure. Just like my bangs, they will grow back I suppose. Happy Easter to you too – hope it was great!

  10. Very funny!! Except for when you actually walked out of the hair salon… we’ve all had those *gasp* moments after a haircut… the good news is, hair grows really fast!! Talking about lost in translation… I remember once a friend of mine from South America was on the phone with a travel company and he was enquiring about an ad about luscious beaces in the Caribbean.. which with his accent came out as luscious bitches in the Caribbean…. we laughed so much he actually had to hang up…

    • Lynda says:

      Oh my gosh that is hilarious! I’m sure the travel agent has had some interesting requests so maybe he/she wasn’t too offended. 😉 Yes, the part where I walked out wasn’t too funny – maybe this sounds vain or shallow – but I actually cried! In hindsight that was silly and it really is not an issue since I can pull them back. (which I’m still doing… hahaha)

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