I’ve only been here for 10 months but so far have figured out the following top tips for successful Dubai living:
1. Covering your nether regions
Do not wear nylon knickers. Ever. There are no mitigating circumstances, however pretty the pants in question may be. Why? Because it’s like putting your backside in a sauna. For hours.
40C heat + 70% humidity = 100% cotton all the way baby. Accept no substitutes.
2. Wean yourself off the slap
A face full of make-up doesn’t really work in a country as hot as this. Unless you like looking like a sweaty panda, that is. In which case, go right ahead.
3. One for the road
There’s no such thing here as ‘one for the road’. Drinking and driving is stupid anywhere but in Dubai it’s suicidal. Not only is the law fierce when it comes to booze in the bloodstream while behind the wheel (think zero-tolerance), driving in Dubai is dangerous enough whilst sober, let alone when impaired by alcohol. You need all your reflexes on full alert at all times. Don’t do it.
4. Driving etiquette
Don’t give in to road rage. Shouting insults and engaging in road side fistycuffs will land you in jail at best and possibly deported (don’t believe me? Here’s one bit of proof). Take a deep breath when the Hummer driven by a teenager cuts you up with outrageous disregard for common decency and human life. Smile sweetly when the monster truck muscles its way in front of you at the traffic lights. Sing happy songs to yourself when the white van veers across five lanes of traffic without signalling, nearly taking you out in the process. The same rules apply when in the supermarket (shopping trolleys can be fearsome weapons) and while waiting in any queue.
5. Red tape woes
Cutting through swathes of red tape is an inevitable part of living in Dubai (there’s even a book to help you through it, that’s how bad it is). Take comfort in the fact that the red tape is at its worst when you first move here. Accept the fact that it is annoying, sometimes illogical and always time consuming. Save yourself the ulcer and plough through it. It is what it is. Don’t try to fight the system: stressing out about it is not going to change anything.
6. Don’t huddle
Your life in Dubai will be a lot more interesting if you can avoid being submerged in the expat huddle. Yes, living in a compound can make life easier. Yes, it’s nice to have like-minded folks as neighbours. Yes, unfamiliar things can be scary. But if you don’t get out there and really sample what Dubai has to offer then you won’t be making the most of it. Seize the challenge and stretch that comfort zone. Learning a bit of Arabic won’t hurt either, even if all you can manage is a few words.
7. The beauty of Mall Walking
When I first got here the concept of Mall Walking seemed both hugely funny and supremely ridiculous. Walking? In a Mall? Ha ha ha! But unless you’re a die-hard gym bunny with abs of steel and determination to match, a summer of being confined indoors with a bottom turning into a lardy pancake from too much sitting around will change your outlook pretty fast. Let’s face it, where else can you walk for long distances without passing out from heat exposure when it’s 45+C outside? Plus you can window shop as you melt away the pounds. What’s not to love?
8. The maid conundrum
Some people love the idea of having affordable help at home. Some can’t bear the idea of having a non-family member living under the same roof. It’s a deeply personal decision. If you do decide to take the plunge and hire a full-time live-in maid or houseboy, remember that they are human beings and should be treated with common decency. Pay a fair wage, offer clean and ventilated accommodation and decent food, be aware of their rights and have a frank discussion about what the job entails before they start. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t treat their maid and houseboy properly – don’t be one of them.
9. Public nudity is a no-no
Obviously walking around buck naked publicly is a no-no in most places in the world, except for nudist beaches. In Dubai wearing something as revealing as hot pants and a boob tube is on a par with full-frontal nudity in the middle of London. You just wouldn’t, would you?
You don’t have to wear a burqa or an abaya but it’s a good idea to respect local cultural mores and not flaunt too much flesh. In practical terms this means knee-length or longer skirts or shorts, tops covering the shoulders and nothing too low cut. I’ve seen tourists and expats wearing very skimpy clothing and, as far as I’m aware, they didn’t get hauled off to the clink – risk it if you have an addiction to letting it all hang out but don’t complain if you get gawped at or hassled by hordes of totty-starved workers. You’ll also look like an ill-educated fool but each to their own, I guess…
10. How to deal with the folks back home
You might be as happy as Larry to be waking up to sunshine every day, not paying taxes and enjoying a better lifestyle than you did back home but your family and friends don’t really want to hear about just how great your life is (or at least, not more than a couple of times).
Think about it: they’re stuck in the pouring rain, handing over great chunks of their hard-won wages to the ungrateful taxman and, if they’re living in a city, probably confined to a teeny flat and paying large sums for the privilege. The last thing they want is for you to endlessly bang on about how much fun you’re having and how rubbish your old life was in comparison; just remember that your old life is their life right now. All they want to know is that you’re ok, not miserable, missing them and that your spare room is theirs whenever they want to come visit. Add in a few anecdotes about free-range camels and a rumour you’ve heard about an expat being arrested in one of the malls for wearing a vest top and you’re done.