6 ‘must-knows’ for Dubai expat parents
This article was previously published on Expatwoman.com
There are some things all Dubai expat parents need to know to adjust to living here.
Coming here was a bit of an experiment for us. We are looking for life experiences and we want our kids to be exposed to lots of different things while they’re young and malleable.
It would have been nice to know at the time there are some strange things you need to reconcile yourself with that you would have never considered prior to arriving here.
They’re not things that make you choose not to move. Nor are they bad things. But they are really handy to know, especially if you are relocating to Dubai.
So let me share with you some of the ‘must knows’ for all Dubai expat parents!
1. Your kids will know “Ishy Bilady”
Ishy Bilady is the national anthem of the United Arab Emirates. It’s a happy little tune and no doubt, it seems logical to anyone reading this that kids who attend schools in Dubai would get to know this song eventually.
What I didn’t realise is that this song is played CONSTANTLY – every morning at school, before every school assembly, at special occasions, on special days and pre-holidays, when it rains – you name the occasion, it opens with a hearty rendition of Ishy Bilady.
I think Miss Sparky knew it off-by-heart within weeks of moving here. Even little Chubs who has just turned 3, can give you a heartfelt rendition of every word!
The first time we heard them sing it was a little confronting.
Given that we grew up in Australia and consider ourselves and our children to be Australian, we were unprepared. Driving along innocently one day, we were greeted by a slightly off-key, giggling rendition of the song.
Our immediate response?
We burst into an even more focussed and passionate version of Advance Australia Fair, the Australian national anthem. They both sit staring at us wondering if we’ve lost our minds. Especially when we get to the second verse and realise that no Australian actually knows the words – including us!
Clearly, we and every other Dubai expat parent, needs to accept that this is their national song as long as we live here. And that’s really ok… i guess… sort of… I’m sure I can get comfortable with it…one day…
2. Your kids will have weird accents
There is a common phenomenon across international school students – the international accent.
It’s kind of British, kind of American, with the odd Aussie/South African/Canadian twang. Mix in a few Arabic words and you get the general idea.
We have found it quite amazing to listen to Miss Sparky’s accent transform right before our own ears. She overpronounces vowels like an American, she says ‘about’ like a Canadian and every now and then, I’m sure she says ‘darlin’ like a groovy Irishman.
And Little Chubs is definitely sounding like he speaks the Queen’s English one moment, and then next he sounds like a native Filipino. Definitely a little confused.
It’s kind of cool though and it certainly makes them sound like they have a unique international flair.
And given the broadness of the Australian accent, perhaps its a matter of natural selection – they have to adapt to their environment and pronounce words differently in order to survive in the international community. Smart kids choose to swim rather than sink!
3. They will be sweaty and dirty
We have done more laundry since we’ve been here in Dubai than we’ve done in our whole lives.
Everywhere you go, especially at the beginning and end of summer when humidity is high, you sweat. And I don’t just mean a little bit of beading on your brow. We are talking shirts that are wet through, pants with stains behind the knees and for me, clothes that stink before you even put them on.
Also, because it’s a desert, everything seems to be covered in a film of reddish whiteish sand. That means that anything you happen to touch, brush up against or lean on will leave a tell-tale smudge of dirt on your clothes. We’ve found smudges in places we never even knew had access to surfaces – it gets into everything.
It’s not pleasant.
And for kids unfortunately, it’s not much better. Little Chubs is a sweaty little guy.
He will frequently walk out into the lounge or into his bedroom and his hair will actually be wet from sweating. This also means he has a certain smell about him most of the time. Embrace it though. 90% of the population (myself included) look and smell the same way – sweaty!
Don’t even talk to me about walking through Karama on a hot summer afternoon. Or walking through the wind tunnels of Business Bay when you get hit by a whirly whirly of dirt and sand that almost shakes you down as it flows past.
But, that’s why there’s maids, washing machines, showers and aromatherapy burners in every mall. It’s part of life here and the sooner you accept this and embrace the immunity building qualities of dirt and humidity, the happier you will be.
4. They will think 5-star is normal
This is one of the more disturbing elements that snuck up on us. The easy acceptance of the 5-star lifestyle.
Dubai has some of the most amazing resorts in the world. 5-star hotels literally on every corner. Beach clubs that rival some of the most spectacular of any beachfront location.
And everything is very accessible for weekends, stay-cations and lazy beach afternoons (with special memberships for residents). Our favourites include the Ritz Carlton, the Madinat Jumeirah Beach and trusty old Jumeirah Beach Hotel. The implication of this though is that our kids are starting to think that kind of thing is normal.
Last weekend we tried a beach club we hadn’t been to before. Their shower facilities weren’t quite what you see at some of the other places, but they were still of an impressive standard. Especially if you compare them to the completely non-existent beachfront facilities on Australian beaches which consist of a cold, outdoor shower and metal, pee filled toiled (if you’re lucky)!
Miss Sparky was a little mortified by the lack of lily scented hand cream and the fluffy bath towels of this particular beach club and was voicing her opinion about how she was quite disappointed in the ‘standard’. She also now routinely enquires about the star rating of anywhere we holiday – there’s a tiny bit of disappointment when we say somewhere is not 5-star.
We don’t think too much about it but it’s very easy to forget that your kids haven’t grown up like you did.
Our beach weekends growing up consisted of driving down the coast in our old, brown 1979 Mazda station wagon with no air conditioning. Staying at our beach shack, all kids sharing one room full of bunk beds, and days at the beach sipping lukewarm water out of plastic water bottles and eating mushy, warm apples brought from home.
And whilst 5-star is nice, it’s a million miles from the real-world.
As to how to deal with this? Well, I haven’t figured that out yet but we certainly make an effort to get back to the real world with the real facilities as often as possible!
5. They will get used to being photographed
Our kids are fair. The Chubs has blonde hair and they both have lovely big hazel coloured eyes.
This is reasonably unusual here when you are out and about. Especially in the areas of old Dubai, the public beaches and on the metro.
This means that they carry somewhat celebrity status. They stand out like sore thumbs in a crowd and people LOVE them. They love looking at them, touching them and especially, taking photos of them.
At first, we found this quite confronting. And it certainly freaks the kids out.
When we were travelling in Jordan, for example, we were strolling around a souvenir shop, Miss Sparky holding the Chubs hand, when a huge gaggle of Chinese tourists came up and circled them. They were all snapping photos, trying to touch their hair and babbling away in Mandarin. The kids were completely freaked out and we turned to see them cowering together staring at these people with big doe eyes looking petrified.
Whilst on the metro here in Dubai, we’ve had similar situations with random groups of workers cornering them and snapping photos, or trying to touch them.
We find that politely smiling and moving the kids away works best. Or Lovely Hubby sometimes just puts his hand out to cover the shot and shakes his head, saying no with a smile.
We know that it’s all fascination and curiosity and we try to take it in our stride. But it’s good to know in advance so you can prepare what you might say and prepare your kids for the possibilities. It’s always easier to cope with things when you know to expect them!
6. They will be scared of bugs and animals
There aren’t really animals or bugs in Dubai.
We’ve seen a few ants but they’re so microscopic, you need a magnifying glass to see them. Likewise, with the exception of cats and the odd bird, you rarely see an animal roaming around the place.
This again is another thing you don’t realise you are not preparing your kids for until you are confronted with a situation where they are face-to-face with an animal or a bug.
The last time we visited Australia, we visited some friends who had recently bought a Cocker Spaniel cross puppy. When the Chubs saw this gorgeous, fluffy, ball of energy, he started screaming with extreme terror. Everytime that poor little pup came near him, he completely lost it and screamed, with floods of tears. This was a sad moment of realisation for us that this kid is a complete wuss.
Miss Sparky is worse. She can collapse in fits of squeals and sweating if there is a tiny spider within arms length.
Considering we come from Queensland, this is disappointing. We use to get the odd cockroach in our house, as big as your hand. I swear some of those suckers had muscles. Growing up, my dad used to go out each afternoon at our coast house and pour petrol down funnel-web spider holes and stomp on them so we could run around in bare feet. I used to own a huge German Shepherd dog which Miss Sparky virtually spent the first years of her life sharing a dog bed with.
And now I have two children who dissolve into tears if a microscopic ant crosses their path.
Once again, I’m struggling for a solution on this one. I’m certainly not going to seek out bugs. And we don’t know anyone here with pets. And the odd petting zoo setup at community events really just doesn’t make that much difference. So perhaps this is one thing we just have to accept until we move somewhere else. Wussy, sheltered expat kids with a fear of all things that move. Sigh – disappointment.
So there you have it.
Not a complete list I’m sure. But definitely a few things it’s good for Dubai expat parents to know and embrace. And if you’re thinking about transitioning to being an expat, good things to remember that you will have to deal with, especially in Dubai.
Does all this mean we regret our decision?
Absolutely not! The amount these kids are learning about different cultures, different people and life skills such as resilience, confidence and tolerance far outweigh any negatives we can think of. Exposure to the number of different languages they hear on a daily basis alone is an incredible privilege for them and is greatly assisting their brain development.
Kids have so many opportunities here, we really do feel blessed to be able to give them this experience.
And I promise, I will get over the Ishy Bilady thing one day… maybe… possibly… “Australian’s all let us rejoice….”
Have a great week all.