Quirks of living in the UAE

I’ve talked a lot before about how much I love living here in the UAE, but of course as with anywhere in the world it has its idiosyncrasies, so here’s my top picks of some of the quirks of living in the UAE (in no particular order)…

The driving

People that don’t indicate.
People that do indicate and therefore don’t look before they change lanes – note: just because you’re indicating doesn’t mean you can change lane! The giveaway is in the name: ‘indicating’ gives other drivers on the road an indication of your intentions, it doesn’t mean you can pull over without looking, you do still have to wait until it’s clear and safe to do so!
People that change lanes on roundabouts.
People that overtake on roundabouts.
Just everyone who doesn’t understand the rules of driving on a roundabout!
People that drive too fast and tailgate the person in front, flashing their lights and honking their horn – you’re a menace to society.
People that drive really slowly in the middle lanes of the road. Why?! Why, oh why does everyone here want to be in the outside lane without any apparent good reason?!
When you wave to let someone pull in front of you and they don’t acknowledge or wave back to thank you. A driving thank you actually happens so rarely it’s a talking point when it does and you immediately think what a nice person they must be!

I could go on but you get the idea….!

The answer is always ‘yes’, or ‘insha’Allah’

Ah, this one can take a bit of getting used to, especially if you rely on getting a ‘yes’ as part of your work or business. Living and working amongst so many different cultures of course means that there are many nuances that we may not immediately understand, and saying no is one of them here. Certain cultures just don’t like to say no, ever – no matter how you word the preceding question. The trick is to learn the difference between a ‘no – yes’ and a ‘yes – yes’. You’ll start to tune into this eventually, and often body language indicators are a dead giveaway, so always pay attention to the whole package, not just what someone is saying. As far as “Insha’Allah” goes, contrary to popular belief it’s not just another way of saying no – it means ‘God willing’ – so if God wills it, it will happen. I suppose it’s a bit like saying ‘if it’s meant to be, it will be’, although of course that can be utterly frustrating when you’re trying to establish if your new driving licence or paperwork will be ready tomorrow or not and ‘insha’Allah’ is the best answer you get. You just have to learn to go with it and hope that God does indeed will it in your particular circumstance!

Over enthusiastic sales people that stalk you around a store

OK, so I get it. Different cultures want different things from their shopping experiences. Certain cultures like this shop ‘stalking’ and expect to have their every whim and need pandered to pronto, but others, like we Brits, like to browse around ourselves first and do not need to have the shop assistant standing right behind us at personal space invading distances every step of the way! If there was one way to put me off my shopping mojo and make me leave a shop – this is it.

When you go to a party and there’s no champagne

Wait, what?! What do you mean there’s no champagne? What kind of a party is this?! Haha, yeah, life is tough in the UAE! 😉 #firstworldproblems

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Hello tennis

I’m not sure what it is about having a phone conversation here, but what I like to call ‘hello tennis’ is all too common an occurrence and it goes something like this:

Phone rings.
Me: Hello?
Caller: Hello?
Me: Hello.
Caller: Hello Ma’am.
Me: Yes…. hello?
Caller: Hello. Hello?
Me: er, yes… hello?
Caller: Hello? Hello Ma’am?
Me: Yes. Hello. How can I help you?
Caller: Oh, yes. Hello… (hopefully conversation finally begins…)
There are various different versions of this type of call, and none of them seem to end until you specifically ask what the caller wants or needs – despite the fact that they called you… After eight years in the region I still haven’t worked out the logic of this one, but it’s definitely not just a bad connection! All I can say is that the trick is to try as quickly as possible to find the correct combination of words that encourage the caller to move on from hello tennis and tell you why they called in the first place.

All roads lead to Zayed Street

This is especially true since a lot of the roads have been renamed here in Abu Dhabi. Of course there always were several Zayed Streets of one description or another, but now they seem to be everywhere and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person that finds this confusing! When you’re chatting to a friend and they say ‘Oh, I’m just on Zayed Street”, they could be referring to one of many streets and leaves you no clearer as to where they actually are.

There’s Zayed the First Street, Sultan Bin Zayed the First St, Sheikh Zayed tunnel, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan St, Hazza Bin Zayed St to name but a few…

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People who just won’t wait

Ha, so this one might give me away as a true Brit – everyone knows we’re very orderly and polite and always queue for our turns! But here in the UAE, it’s pretty common for you to be at the counter being served, anywhere – in the hospital, bank, shop, post office, you name it – when someone comes up next to you and either interrupts, or just stands there next to you, waiting for a gap in the conversation while they are in full ear shot of your conversation –  bad luck if you’re discussing a personal matter! And I digress slightly but that reminds me of another equally irritating issue – medical staff who (all too often) loudly ask you in a crowded, public waiting room, “you are here for your XYZ procedure, yes?”. Er, yes, thanks, but I’m not sure everyone in the room needed to know that…

People who push into lifts before others have exited

OK, so this is a global one – it happens everywhere and used to drive me just as mad in London when people pushed onto the tube before waiting for the others to get off too, but seriously – wait people, wait! A lift isn’t that big, and it’ll be much easier (and far less annoying for everyone) if you just wait til the people are exiting before you try to crush yourself in.

People who don’t reply to emails

Yes, so this is another global annoyance in our modern age, but if you think it’s bad where you live, this is something that’s on steroids here. I suppose it probably links back to the cultural dislike of saying no… Basically, if the person can’t say yes to your email, you’re unlikely to ever receive a response. If you’re new to the region and looking for a job, I can tell you now to brace yourself – all those job applications and prospective letters you’ve spent hours painstakingly tailoring and agonising over – you can consider yourself lucky if you get one response (including acknowledgements of receipt) from a very, very small percentage.
A personal bug bear on the same subject is when friends or acquaintances don’t respond to emails – they’ve asked you for advice or information for which you take the time to respond, and then you don’t even receive so much as a ‘thank you’ in reply. Humph. That’s just rude if you ask me.

So there you have it, I do absolutely love living in the UAE, but as with anywhere in the world there is always the odd quirk that we have to learn to love!

What did I miss? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  • There is growing trend in UK for a variation on Hello tennis; it is the cold caller who serves a sequence of questions without identifying them selves.
    My stock response is now” Who is calling?” to every question until I get the name of the company and name of the person.

    Les G

  • Someone wrote a song called ‘hello, hello’ that continued along the lines of ‘Is it you?’. If I have a call from an unidentified number I will say no more than ‘hello’ – up to three times. ‘Witheld numbers are more difficult as Julie lives in Hull.
    Indicators in the UK are mostly used by drivers who wish to indicate where they have come from.
    Hello Bruv; we must have switched on at about the same time.
    Lindsey – I will reply to your email, but need a little time to work out exactly how I am today.
    Cuz

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