I don’t think we’ve really talked about dress code much, and yet it was the topic of a LOT of discussion before coming to the UAE. Most of the concern was more for my well being. The popular question involving what my restrictions would be as far as clothing choice. Though I tried my best to inform my friends and family with the little information I was able to research, I can now tell you with certainty that my personal dress is not any more restricted than it was while living in Canada. I should make it clear that the religion I choose to follow has standards, similar to the requirements here, for modest wear so the transition has been easy. Check out this link for more discussion about dress code for women and men in Dubai.
The other hot topic, was the difficulty with getting alcohol. I don’t drink. Problem solved. For any of my friends who are looking for a party trip, think Amsterdam or Mexico or some other “party” destination. Though it is possible to acquire a “liquor license” to purchase alcohol and transport it, the amount a paperwork, stamps and fees likely involved would not be worth the effort.
Driving in the UAE was another interesting discussion we had prior to coming to the Middle East. In Canada, we had recently chosen to only drive 6 months in a year. I know you’re thinking the winter months, but no we only drove during the summer months. Obvious reasons for doing this are as follows: people drive, and park stupid in the winter; cleaning snow off a cold vehicle; having the car warm up just as you get to your destination; icy roads; buses drop you off at the door (at least wherever we needed to go). We thought if we could go carless during Canadian winter, we could go carless in the Middle East. In case you don’t know, the Middle East is in the DESERT. I don’t know why we thought +50C would be easier to handle than -50C. In -50C you can put on more clothing, walk faster, catch a bus. In +50 your shoes melt to the pavement the moment you’re out the door, imprisoning you in the glaring sun only to melt away to nothing. Did I mention that happens the moment you step out the door? There is no running to your car to turn on the A/C, because the exact opposite happens that you would expect in -50C temperatures. The interior is likely too hot to sit in (scalding if you have a leather interior), A/C takes just as long to cool down your car as it would take to heat it up in colder temps. Yet taking off all your clothes (opposed to overdressing) and walking around naked is not an option, in fact it’s illegal, not to mention dangerous for your health (you know, skin cancer and all that jazz).
Getting to the actual driving part. We had read many forums on this topic discussing the craziness that takes place on the roads here. You really have no idea until you experience it. It’s not just the crazy drivers (though they definitely contribute to the stress) but stop signs, yields and left turns are a rare site here, as well as stop lights. The system here thrives on U-turns, and round-a-bouts. This makes straight shot routes unheard of, and can be devastating if you miss your exit adding minutes even hours to your trip. Sometimes this can lead to more of a push your self in front kind of thing to move yourself across the 4 or 6 lane highway at crazy speeds. If you’re not “on the ball” you’ll find yourself at the back of the line, or getting passed by. This seems a common theme in this culture. I only say that because we’ve been slow to move a head in check-out lines and lost our place. That’s not to say anyone is rude about it, there isn’t any shoving involved, just more of a “snooze you lose” notion. Even when we are constantly getting honked at on the road, we have had to change our thinking. They honk to let you know where they are on the road, or that they have noticed an opening you haven’t, or that the light changed 2 seconds ago. If only we could instantly send our intentions digitally so that others might understand our motives. Where’s the app for that!?
So James has only been driving for the last month off and on. To get a license as a Canadian you only need a valid driver’s license from your country of origin, copy of residence visa, two photos, a letter (in arabic) from your sponsor (employer or spouse), copy of local ID, eye exam, blood test, an application for a local driver’s license in arabic (mostly) and AED 560 ($152 CA). We originally thought I would need “permission” to drive from James, but it turns out he had to get permission too (from his employer). Really this process isn’t too bad. When James did it, he had everything on him and the whole thing took 45 minutes to hand in. Others are not so lucky, and are required to take a driving exam here. I’ve heard from a few people that it takes several attempts, sometimes more to pass the exam. Of course, that requires repeated costs in money and time.
The most obvious restriction for me, and I’m sure James, right now is the language. Though most communication is in English, the quality of English is lacking. It’s one thing to have the ability to understand English then it is to actually speak it. Most other people speak Arabic but not always. As a family, we are all enrolled in an Arabic class of sorts (James through work, me and the kids through K12 icademy) so we’re trying to help ourselves out in this area, but it is slow going. There are many different dialects to this language, and many different ways to say or spell the same thing. There are also many Indian, Filipino and Asian folks here as well all in the same boat as us, trying to get around, work and learn the common languages. Being in such a diverse community, I’m embarrassed to say, I sometimes cannot notice the subtle differences that may clue me in to what language I should be attempting to speak, or when practicing my Arabic might be the best choice for communication. I hope my mind will open as we settle in further to our surroundings. There have been many dropped calls on the phone, or frustrated taxi drivers due to our handicapped methods of communication I can only continue to learn and hope that some of it sinks in enough to get me around.
At the other end of the spectrum I would just like to make note of one of the biggest non-restrictions we have here. Eating out, has turned to eating in. Every fast food place here delivers. You can order right on line, or view the menu and call in your order. This has been fantastic so far as we have had difficulty keeping our fridge and cupboards stocked with familiar foods. This has also been detrimental to all the progress we made those last few months in Canada eating at home, and eating healthier. Its not impossible to do that here, but we are definitely needing to relearn some things now that we’re here. Sorry Darci, this has been the biggest nemesis to me keeping my goals.