At a meet-new-people event the other night, a guy said to me, So, you’re new in Dubai—how do you like it? It’s… fascinating. What do you miss? I miss seeing things that have history. I have a small collection of vintage typewriters at home, and I miss having them around, looking at things that are older than I am. Everything here is so new. Yeah, he says, but history—too much history—can get in the way sometimes. What do you mean? Well, he says, I’m German.
It’s so hot—anything and everything you can think of can be delivered to you: from pharmacy items to furniture, food, clothes…. office, plant, patio, pet supplies—if there’s a store, they deliver their stuff.
Because, let the delivery guy deal with the heat.
So, hello, Caribou Coffee. Two drinks, please.
Plus, it’s Ramadan. Those celebrating cannot eat or drink anything (including water) at all during the daylight fasting hours, and no one can eat or drink anything (including water, gum, cough drops) in public without risking arrest, or worse—until Iftar arrives (sunset & breaking of the fast). (Also, no smoking during daylight for those celebrating. And no daytime smoking in public for those not.)
There are a few Western-centric restaurants that cover their doors & windows with black curtains—as not to offend anyone walking by. Other restaurants, cafes, etc, are only open for take-away or delivery. The rest of the restaurants are closed during the day, and reopen at Iftar with a buffet feast.
To answer the question, it’s a cool 102F/39C—with 42% humidity, bringing the heat index to 118F/48C—still walkable weather, especially to Caribou, which is down 27 flights from our apartment, exit our building, cross the bridge over the canal to the corner cafe, and stumble in for caffeine. Cool off, come home.
But, sometimes hot = lazy.
Ma’am, your child?
That feeling of wearing a wristwatch for years, in a rush one morning, forgetting.
- ….next to the bed ….in the drawer ….on the dresser ….by the coffee pot ….the bathroom sink.
I left it on the sink. I must have left it on the sink.
And then I remember: I don’t have kids.
- How many children do you have, ma’am? (Followed by confusion & disbelief & confusion.)
- But why not, madam? (Oh, that familiar judgement.)
- How old are you, ma’am? (The answer is still none.)
- What school do your children go to, ma’am? (Perhaps the most presumptuous, with bonus points for acknowledging the judgement that’s coming.)
- Where are you from? (That, I’ll answer.)
Cab drivers, Filipino expat women who work service jobs, the apartment agents, people I meet at cafes, in the elevator… everyone wants to know.
Every grocery store in Dubai has shelves & shelves stocked with condoms. Stocked, I joke, because no buys them. Everyone here has kids. So many kids.
One of my father-in-law’s favorite jokes is to ask, Do they have Fourth of July in Dubai? Of course they do! Do you think the calendars go from July 3rd to July 5th?
We were going to spend the evening at a British pub—have dinner with an ex, prove we’re still friends.
Started the day looking for a Farmers’ Market at a hotel near the World Trade Center / Convention Center. Despite what their Facebook page said, it was “closed during the fallow season of the hot summer where there isn’t enough produce to run it.”
Found the Bookworm book warehouse—despite the massive footprint Google maps gives it, it was a tiny, cramped, shelves lined with books, boxes being packed by 2 Filipino women, 3 tiny room warehouse, not store—also should have checked Facebook: all children’s books.
Next, went in search of Vendome Paris—a Parisian bakery. AKA Alfredo’s heaven. Had to kill time to wait for it to open (shorter hours because of Ramadan).
Checked out More Cafe—a long line at the door, buffet as the main attraction, place packed with SUV baby strollers, screaming children, exasperated parents—AKA my idea of hell. (though, there were books—for adults…will have to check that out during a weekday.)
Drove past a guy walking around looking for the Sand & Surf shop. Gave him a lift to the store; it was hot.
Returned to Vendome as they were unloading their trucks, unlocking their doors. Met the founder (the guy on the left). We bought a chocolate croissant, a mini plain croissant, a sticky raisin amazingness, 2 cookies made by angels, and a local sweet of semolina & almond flour & almonds shaped into a square and soaked in rose water—also very sticky. Plus, a loaf of fantastic French country bread—and a bread bag. It’ll have to do until Alfredo starts baking again.
Anyone know where we can find a Lodge cast iron combocooker in Dubai?
Brought our French treats home (take-out only at most places during Ramadan, or fines for the restaurant).
Enjoyed them all. All of them: the American way.
Alfredo sketched, I read for the rest of the afternoon.
Met one of his coworkers for dinner at a hotel in JBR—hotel restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol, but only after 8pm during Ramadan. No fireworks, no British pub, just a simple burger, veggie wrap, pizza—plus, a mojito, Tiger beer, and, of course, a Bud—to toast to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Hope you’re enjoying the downside of your 3-day weekend!
We’re here for the next 2, 3 to who knows years.
It’s 106F/41C right now. It’ll be 111F/44C tomorrow. There’s a rumor it gets to 125F/52C—with humidity, which has been on the rise lately.
November is when people say it becomes tolerable again.
Until then, can someone explain what non-AC cold, outside cold feels like, please?
What is this thing in my closet? I think I used to call it a …. what’s the word … jacket? The word coat sounds oppressive.
Even the birds keep their beaks open, panting.
Wasn’t there something called … snow? A childhood memory. A Rosebud enigma.
Where are you from?
I’m nominating this as the most frequently asked question in Dubai. There are some strong contenders, like: How many children do you have? and How old are you?—which are often asked in succession, after a brief Hello, of me only—not my husband—and which I’ll explore more in a post I’ve been drafting called What’s It Like to Be a Woman in the Middle East?
Originally, this post was called, They Hate Americans There, Don’t They? But that’s not really a question. However, since I heard that a lot before we moved, the short answer: No.
So, given it’s gender neutrality, the fact that’s it’s a legit inquiry, and I’ve heard other people get asked this question, let’s give first-place to: Where Are You From?
When we first moved here, I didn’t know what to say. How broad or specific? What phrase would be the least offensive? Should I lie (—because they hate Americans here, right)?
We checked into our hotel the first night: where are you from? The next morning, the Metro ticket seller: where are you from? The taxi driver—most taxi drivers—where are you from? The staff at DKC, servers at most restaurants, people I stop to ask directions…
The serious Russian property agent I met our 5th day here during our apartment search. I started with, the United States. She asked, where? Southern California. Oh? Los Angeles. OH! Everyone, she believed, from Los Angeles was rich, skinny, blonde, lived in mansions with pools and ocean views, and partied all the time. I tried to explain the quiet suburbia of Burbank—our tree-lined street, the view of the mountains, the 45-minute drive to the ocean. Nope, the movies and tv shows, she said: everyone lives in palaces by the ocean.
Alfredo’s coworker answers with, Hollywood—cuts to the chase, to this idea, ideal.
The property agent we met the next day was in her early 20s from Sri Lanka. I answered confidently with California. Is the country of California tropical? It’s warm. Like this warm? she gestured to the Dubai air. Well, it’s a bit cooler, but Southern California is a desert, too. Are there camels in the country of California? No camels. What animals do you have? Coyotes. She gasped. And hawks, like falcons. NO—I hate birds—I’m afraid of them!
America. Maybe—as much as California would like to think of itself as a country (complete with rivalries North & South, and hawks not falcons)—maybe I should say America.
Where are you…Are you from France? He had a very impressive camera around his neck and a motorcycle helmet in his hand. We were leaning against the rail of the bridge, the best view for photos, looking down at the start line for the camel races. No, but thank you. (I look French! That’s a compliment, oui?) Not French? Not French. Are you…where are you…from? America. HA–America! I saw you and I thought…what’s the word?…not beautiful… my English is not so good …I thought you were from France, but America—you are even more… strong!
[Strong: aggressive, courageous, fierce, firm, forceful, intelligent, intense, severe, tenacious, tough, vehement, brave, eager, gutsy, independent, iron-willed, pushy, resourceful, self-assertive, wicked, zealous]
What I’m realizing when people ask me this is: What kind of white person are you? Are you French, British, German, Russian, Australian … I’ve been told I could pass for Northern Jordanian, Egyptian—it all depends on where they’re from / what they know / what they want me to be. And, sort of—in short—America / American isn’t an option people think of first. Hate, in relation to America, hasn’t factored into any conversation I’ve had.
[Side note: We met a gallery owner the other day. He’s Serbian. Spent time in NYC, California…asked us where we were from. I said Los Angeles. Alfredo proudly said San Francisco. The guy said, oh, I can tell, you’re nicer! (gah) The SF rivalry of LA extends to here.]
One of our guide books says that Dubai is around 98% expats—from all over the world. Because of this, Where are you from? is a popular question. Because of this, there are prejudices. I’ve heard people talk negatively about cultures other than their own. (Go ahead, cue People are people.)
We live in Dubai. Dubai, if you’ve looked at a map of the world, is in the Middle East. The Middle East, as you probably know, has a certain reputation relating to tolerance and acceptance. Dubai is in the pupil of the eye of the storm of the Middle East, meaning, it’s different. “On 2 December 1971, Dubai, together with Abu Dhabi and five other emirates, formed the United Arab Emirates … During the 1970s, Dubai continued to grow from revenues generated from oil and trade … Dubai [continues] to focus on free trade and tourism …” After the economic collapse in 2009, and thanks to the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, today, Dubai is booming again. Dubai has overtaken Heathrow as the busiest airport for international passengers, Dubai: with its malls and malls and malls and shopping and fashion and festivals (combined into the Dubai Shopping Festival, the internationally acclaimed festival and one of the best shopping experiences in the world); Dubai: with its record of breaking world records—and plans to break more; Dubai: with its galleries and support of the arts; Dubai: the superlative, the premier, the top… you don’t become all that by being xenophobic.
I grew up in a whitewhitewhite small town where words like African-American, Mexican, Asian, vegetarian, gay, Buddhist… weren’t in most people’s vocabulary. I grew up in the kind of white that inspires videos like, If Asians Said the Stuff White People Say and its sequel If Black People Said the Stuff White People Say — which reminded me of moving from whitesmalltown to Brooklyn (pre, very much pre, hipster—read: white—gentrification) and having my dorm neighbor say, You have blonde hair growing straight out of your head! In full disclosure, and possibly in some sense to keep balance, weeks later I asked a classmate how she washed her dreads.
But you have to ask about culture. The trick is how. Here are 12 Things Never to Say to an Asian Woman—#1: Where are you from? #11 is funny. For more, here’s a guideline on How to Ask Someone About Their Ethnicity Without Being an Asshole. No one’s been an asshole about it here—even if conversations jump directly to this most frequently asked question (which I prefer over How many children do you have?). Curiosity, as the comments in this article point out, is what drives this question.
What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from?
We live in Dubai.
When we first moved here, when we were both in the honeymoon phase, we’d wake up saying this, we’d wander around saying this, we’d take pictures of ketchup packets and more ketchup packets and ketchup bottles (American Garden U.S. Ketchup U.S. Grade A Born in the USA !!) —
we’d photograph everything. Everything was new. It was a self-congratulatory statement: we did what we set out to do. It was awe and excitement—and we said it a lot.
We live in Dubai.
And then we had to get an apartment, set up utilities, a bank account, get checks, visas, residence cards, driving licenses, furniture, internet, a car… The questions started: How come…? What…? Really? No, I mean, really…? Why…?
We live in Dubai.
But now, with all those things purchased / acquired / settled … and even though it’s 104F/40C…110F/43C…113F/45C…and this is just the sixth day of summer…and even though my head is usually full of liquid cotton (thank you to all who have sent well wishes and recommendations—this may be something I get used to: condensation forming in my inner ear as I move to/from the 104F/40C outside and 65F/18C inside), we’re starting to say it as reassurance, again as celebration:
We live in Dubai.
We live in Dubai.
Monday was the 3-month anniversary of leaving Los Angeles. Tuesday was 3 months since we landed in Dubai. Today, Wednesday, marks Alfredo’s 3-month job anniversary. Meaning, he passed his probation period.
Looks like we’re staying.
Tomorrow evening, Thursday—the beginning of the weekend—we celebrate.
This is the view from our balcony.
We finally broke down and rented a car—which, 3 days later, broke down from a faulty battery. But, that’s been fixed, and now we have a car in our assigned parking spot in our apartment building and we’re checking it out—to see if we need/want/like having a car to get around. Or, if we just avoid the Metro on Fridays.
As a test, and to celebrate our mobility, we drove to the waterfront area of Abu Dhabi—one of the 7 emirates, and the capital of the UAE (click here and scroll to end of post to see map). We needed to get back in time for our appointment at the Salt Cave (we didn’t; we were late), so we didn’t do much exploring—simply enjoyed a mini road trip.
Here are just a few pix from our trip on Friday, June 6:
We went to the Salt Cave—in an effort to clear up the remnants of what was a cold, turned ear infection, turned “acute serous otitis media of the left ear,” which makes me feel like my head is full of cotton, muffles my hearing, leaves a strange tinny echo in my fluff brain, and generally makes me fall-down dizzy.
Nearly a month of discomfort, three trips to see the senior ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist and head (gotta love a pun) of the department, multiple tests (no hearing loss, yay, but an inverted line graph that shows some absent reflexes in my left ear), many drugs—which I do not do well with (I am Sensitive; the caffeine in a chai latte keeps me awake for 2 nights)—and a prescription for more, though, as a last resort and hopefully, says the doc, this issue will go away in a week (or maybe 2, 3 at the most) because the side effects for this drug are really bad, like can cause hair to grow where it shouldn’t…or maybe he said I shouldn’t take it if I already have hair where I shouldn’t—his accent was thick and my hearing’s not so good. Since I have hair where I should and don’t where I shouldn’t (and that’s also something to be thankful for—yay), I’m holding off filling that prescription, and attempting less werewolf-side-effect treatments.
“Especially in a high polluted and dusty environment salt therapy is the perfect way to detoxify the lungs…improve health, rejuvenate and balance the body and mind…strengthen the immune system…[and cure] ear infections.”
The Salt Cave & Spa didn’t cure me, not completely—but it did help. It is wonderfully refreshing—and reminds me of the Isak Dinesen quote—
“Do you know a cure for me?”
“Why yes,” he said, “I know a cure for everything. Salt water.”
“Salt water?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said, “in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.”
—turned meme for ipad covers and tote bags: “The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.”
Being in the Salt Cave gave me the chance to relax in a very serene and surreal (what isn’t here) environment—a spa deep in the spa ghetto (definition 3a) of the (also super surreal) Wafi Mall: “Influenced by many architectural styles, from Egyptian to Turkish, the mall is dominated by its modern interpretation of the Pharaohs, whose epic splendour is conveyed through exquisite stained glass, intricate mosaics, carvings and sculptures.” In short, this is a mall in the shape of a pyramid. Because Dubai.
The new (unscientific and not medically supported) theory is that I’m experiencing irritation caused by air conditioning—especially when going from 113F/45C outside to 65F/18C inside or the reverse…so, condensation, i.e., fluid, appears in my ears—not unlike how my sunglasses fog up when leaving the ACed mall and walk into the blazing outdoors. As a control test, I should—it’s been recommended—go somewhere where there’s no air conditioning—which is, I think, in the Arctic Circle, or at least many meridians away from me.
If anyone has any additional recommendations, suggestions, or theories—I’m all ears. Well, one is slightly impaired, so, please speak loudly & clearly—or I will have to ask you to repeat yourself, please.
(from June 6, 2014)