It’s not uncommon for expats to be prodded with random, innocuous questions from friends and family. Some are smart questions driven by curiosity, some are loaded questions, and some are…well, kinda silly questions — BUT, all well-intended I’m sure.
They’re often the same, to the point I’ve considered turning them into a pamphlet! No judgment, though, because I’d probably be asking the same questions if I had never been to or heard of Dubai. The Middle East is a different world than most know and there are certainly understandable misconceptions, so by all means, I welcome the inquiries. 🙂
Not necessarily in this order, but here are some of the more common questions:
Where is Dubai?
This is probably the most unsettling question. Perhaps because Dubai makes many guest appearances on TV networks and other media. But, I try to be nice and not say What! Do you live in a plastic bubble?? Or maybe I just arrogantly assume the whole world will know where Dubai is. I smile and tell them where it is, but what I really want to say is:
Step 1: Type Where is Dubai into Google. Step 2: Push the Enter key. Step 3: Drop jaw and say Wow…that’s a pretty awesome place! Step 4: Continue on for every city or country you’re curious about
OK, I admit. That would be rude, so I have refrained from saying this. 🙂
How did you all end up in Dubai?
A job. Most people don’t just pick up and move to a foreign land without a job offer, well, unless you have bountiful cash and some worldly connections. And a plum job it will very likely be. No one will leave home for a job offer of less money. Me, I’m the trailing spouse as many of the wives who come here are. And then comes the usual next question…
Can you get me a job there?
*laughs out loud* My typical answer: I can’t even get myself a job! Finding a job here is a little tricky. Emiratization (job quota for locals) and a highly competitive market can make it challenging. Networking is a big help, as in most places. I have not given up hope yet, though!
Most people move here with the spouse who is offered the job. Wives sponsored by their husbands have a lovely stamp on the passport that says: Housewife – not allowed to work. It makes those of us who have worked our entire lives cringe, but the benefits of family status allowances for flights, accommodation, school fees, and medical coverage are worth it. Not very hard to undo, though. If you do get a job, all you need to do is provide your employer a letter of no objection from your husband and really what hubby will object to his wife bringing in some extra mullah in the house?
You guys must make a lot of money there?
This usually follows the job question. This is often their way to goose the question as to how much money exactly we make, which is one of the last remaining questions in the world people are not supposed to ask. Semi-violation of code here, I say. Um, we are certainly not Richie Rich nor part of the royal family, nor do we live in an ivory tower – but not exactly poor either. Most people move here because they got an offer that pays more than back home. Whether you are here or back home, the way you spend your money determines how broke you are or how much you can save. Dubai certainly has temptations that can easily keep all your money here and some things can be costly, while others are cheap. No matter where you live, it’s all about how you budget. Just because I eat pistachios sometimes and post glamorous pics on social media, certainly does not mean we are well off. We are working class people like any others in the world, hoping and praying we can retire someday.
Do you have a maid?
No. Having a live-in maid or using a maid service is very popular and normal here. Working expat families with children don’t have family here, so this provides a big help. Keeping these big Villas clean is a lot of work. If we had kids here, I’d probably have one for sure. You can also hire maid services ad hoc for reasonable prices, so a few times a year we do this. In Dubai, just about anything you don’t feel like doing, there will be a service provider out there who is willing to do it. Don’t judge me, but we have had even a bag of ice delivered to our door. 🙂
Is it safe?
This is probably the number one question. Whilst there is no perfectly safe place, this is considered one of the most peaceful and safe places to live in the world. You are pretty much safe to walk around at any time of the day or night. Sadly enough, I feel safer here than the small little island I come from. Now geographically speaking, there may be a kernel of truth about the UAE being not safe since we are much closer to some troubled Middle Eastern spots, but this is why there are many military bases spread across the country. The Government here takes the security of all its residents (locals and expats alike) very serious. The recent incident of the American teacher being murdered in Abu Dhabi sent shock waves throughout the entire community here. These types of attacks are unheard of here and we remain hopeful that this has been just an isolated incident that won’t be repeated.
Do you have to cover up?
No, it is not required for women here (locals or expats) to cover up. No walking three steps behind our husbands either. 🙂 Some local women cover their hair and some don’t. The Abaya and Shayla are considered mostly a cultural uniform here. There is a highly recommended dress code, though, which varies based on the Emirate you reside in. Dubai is more lax.
It also all depends on where you go. I don’t like to attract unwelcome attention in public, so I dress modestly — shoulders and knees and everything in between covered. Inappropriate attire in public places is offensive to locals. Most malls will have a sign telling you what that is. I have no issues with this and think it’s deemed appropriate to respect their traditions since we are guests here. I do own an Abaya, which I’ve worn on occasion if I just want to walk up the street and throw something over my tights and T-shirt. They are very practical in that sense. Nightlife and beach party events, which are away from the public eye, you’ll pretty much see all the sexy clothes, back-outs, and booty shorts you see in Western nations.
Contrary to what many would think, women are treated with a lot respect and courtesy in this country. Priority is given to women in many banks and other queues. A woman will be quickly helped anytime she is seen carrying something or if stranded on the road. The UAE was recently ranked as first in regards to respecting women. I could wax on, or you can do your own research. This is just one recent article.
Are the locals friendly?
I’ve never met any who was not. They are generally warm and friendly. The perception of Emiratis is often skewed. Not all are rich driving around in Bugattis and even if they are, it does not necessarily make them unapproachable. Most are working class folk like us. The smartest thing for expats is to try to make some local acquaintances. I think this is the best way to learn about and begin to understand their culture and beliefs. The problem is that they often walk in packs and it’d be kinda of weird to just randomly walk up to a group of Emiratis in a mall and say “Hi, I’m an expat and I’d like to get to know you guys more”. Most of us meet a local through work and business associations. From my conversations with others, I get the feeling that the locals here pretty much want the same things as we expats do: successful careers, quality education, and balanced family life.
Is everyone there rich?
This is usually the next question after the one above. There are certainly a lot of well-to-do people here — from locals, to members of the royal family to wealthy business owners from all over the world, but not everyone is loaded. There are the working class folk and there are the labor sector, which primarily consists of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos. They are the lowest earners, but interestingly enough there are a lot of wealthy business owners from those countries too who have lived and built their lives here. The Indian gardeners who keep our little yard trim and tidy are employed by an Indian man. I see him (their employer) sit and have lunch with them on the floor of his garden shop everyday like they are equals.
The working class here is like any other in the world — working hard and never seem to get ahead. No matter how much money one makes, it never seems to be enough. What is humbling about living here is that you do meet people who make much less, yet don’t complain as much and seem satisfied.
It is important to note as well that the Emiratis’ have not always been well-off and not all are rich. The majority are middle class and have jobs. Many were once Bedouins living under harsh circumstances, who since the U.A.E.’s formulation, transformed from pearl divers to oil men or successful business owners.
Is it really hot there?
In the summer it is. It goes up to about 116, but the highest recorded temperature was 125. Water comes out piping hot in the summer and your car thermometer will register temperatures you did not even think were possible. Winters are deliciously cool. It goes down to the 60s, sometimes a little under.
Have you eaten camel meat?
Yes. They are not just for riding, some people eat camel meat too. 🙂 But it’s not commonly sold in the marts and served at only a few places since they are hardly slain for consumption — more for special occasions. Well, at least here. It’s kinda like a beef taste, but more gamey. The milk, however, is available in most supermarkets under the brand Camelicious. Just look for the bottle with the funky camel in sunglasses, which will lure you to take a closer look. Tried it once and did not like it at all. It tastes salty and has a strong aftertaste. It’s claimed to have high nutritional value and health benefits.
AND FINALLY, THIS QUESTION…
Do you think Dubai is the best place to live in the world?
I think Dubai is a great place to live for anyone who is offered a good job and is open to new experiences and cultures. I cannot say it’s THE best, because this is the only international country I have lived in, but it certainly has good ratings as far as one of the best places for expats to live and work.
I’ll add this, though, there is no Promised Land nor easy life anywhere in the world. So if you want a fresh start and then picking up and moving far away is dreamy and fabulous, think again. Relocation is difficult for many and it is essential that you are receptive enough to understand that every culture is different and things won’t always be as they are back home. Everyone’s experience will not be the same, but an attitude of curiosity and adaptability will certainly help you adjust well.