navigating Dubai – not as simple as an address
One thing it is very important to understand when navigating Dubai is that there is no such thing as having an address. Everything is done on landmarks. This concept takes a little while to grasp as an outsider but it’s true.
I have struggled to understand why this is and the best explanation I can come up with is that it has simply grown too fast. No-one has had the time or the energy to bother trying to think up a different address for each building that appears, especially as a new building can appear within a matter of a couple of weeks! So you will find that there will be multiple suburbs with the same name and simply a different number to distinguish, for example, Umm Suqeim 1, Umm Suqeim 2, Umm Suqeim 3, and then within each of those, there will a 1st Street, 2nd Street, 3rd Street etc. You get the picture.
Whilst most places will provide some kind of street address, this usually means nothing when navigating using either a GPS or a taxi driver. And, when you ask a business where they are located, they will respond with something like “we are on 22nd street behind the Spinneys and next to the big green building with the dirt carpark which is in front of the surf shop.”
This information is absolutely essential to enable you to get where you are going as there is literally no other way to find what you are looking for! I can’t emphasise this enough to any unsuspecting visitors navigating dubai as it can mean the difference between a 35 dirham taxi ride and an 85dirham one.
And so, on one of our first days here, I had to go to Miss Sparky’s school to buy uniforms. A simple excursion one might think.
We headed downstairs in our building to try and locate a cab (this was the days before I braved the driving experience). So we waited… and waited… and waited… This particular day it seemed that there were no taxis in Dubai.
So we popped to the next door building where there is a security desk with a taxi phone. Upon calling the taxi company, I was asked all the normal questions, but then I was asked for my phone number. Now at this point of proceedings, I did not yet have a phone, so I answered that I did not have one. This was met with a stunned silence followed by a disbelieving “you do not have a phone?” asked a couple of times in a couple of different ways. To the point where I had to say “look, is there a problem? I am waiting at the building – why do I need a phone?” to which I was advised “the driver calls on approach”. So, after some discussion, we agreed that the phone I was on could be the phone they called. I hung up and advised the security guard that the cab company would call when the cab was on its way, which garnished a response of “hmph”.
So I sat down with the kiddies to wait. Little Chubs was getting quite restless and hungry by this stage so I began to give him some of the food supplies for the day. After another 15 or so minutes, still no cab. So I head over to the security desk and ask whether the cab driver had called. The response was that “the phone rang but we don’t answer that phone”. Handy information to have provided 15 minutes ago one would think…
This is one of those moments when you simply must distinguish and corral those unhelpful and negative thoughts in your brain such as “I’m going to have to hurt you now” or other such appalling notions, and take a deep breath and walk away…
Next thing, I see a cab pull up out the front. I grab the bags, shove the baby in the stroller, still chewing his half eaten cracker, and run to the door, yelling at Miss Sparky to “hurry up”!! As we get closer to the cab, a pretty young thing on her own, casually strolling towards the cab comes within site and I once again start yelling “it’s mine… I’m getting that cab!!!”. She looks at me, with the poor baby falling out of the stroller and bags slung around each arm running and looking crazy and wisely steps back and lets me go.
Phew… so after more than an hour, we’re in the cab and on our way.
At this point of our transition to Dubai, I had not fully grasped the concept of addresses. When I was trying to work out where the school was, I merely noted their address on the website. Now that I think about it, I do remember a voice in the back of my mind asking why the map had strange things like supermarkets and cafes so clearly marked but I didn’t really pay any attention. So, I give the taxi driver the address.
He looks at me blankly and says “You can direct me – yes?”. Now I have travelled quite a bit to many countries around the world, and it is not often that the taxi driver will not even make an attempt to work out how to get you where you are going or that he knows where it is. This is what I kind of thought was one of the primary purposes of the taxi driver role in fact!
So, with a sinking feeling, I tell him that I will try and I rack my brains trying to remember something distinguishing about where the school was. An hour later and we limp our way up to the school gate, the three of us exhausted. If I was the cab driver I would have headed straight home to snooze, although, given this is how he must live his life everyday, he was no doubt accustomed to this way of getting around!
So we get into the school, get the uniforms, and then it’s time to head home.
Now remember, we have only been here a few days at this point. I am flat out trying to remember the name of the suburb we live in let alone how to get there. With a sinking feeling I meekly squeak to the cab driver the name of our suburb.
My sinking feeling grows as he looks at me blankly and simply says “where?” We set out, heading north and once again, I rack my brains trying to remember where my beautiful hubby told me to tell them as our best landmark.
“It’s a mall” I say to which I am greeted with a hearty belly laugh.
Of course – I am in the city with the most and some of the largest malls known to man!! Anyway, we try a few more names and guesses and eventually something clicks and he says the mall I am talking about! Phew… on our way. Its easy to see why the first few days here are completely exhausting!
Feeling on top of things, the next time I get a cab home, I proudly say the name of the mall, which the cab driver immediately recognises and we are on our way. Feeling super confident, I add that “it’s just the other side of SZR” (one of the biggest roads in Dubai). Now for such a well known road, I am confused as to why when I say this, the cab driver begins to look confused again. Anyway, once again, we manage to find the way to the apartment. Then I notice that each time I get a cab, the same thing seems to happen, even though I now even know the names of a couple of other buildings I can throw into the mix to sound like I really know my way around.
This navigating thing is a piece of cake I think.
So, the other day, I’m on my way home in another cab, and once again, I tell the driver the name of the mall and give my standard line of “it’s just the other side of SZR”. To which this driver says “whaattt??” and then turns to stare at me looking very confused. There is something particularly unerrving about a taxi driver that turns around to speak to you in Dubai. The speed at which these roads move means that you can not even look away for a split second before someone will be drifting into your lane, cutting you off or braking for no apparent reason, all whilst tailgating the person in front and being tailgated by the person behind.
So in an effort to get him to turn back around I say “I’ll show you when we get there” and I smoothly navigate him all the way to our building, all the while wondering why he was so confused and shaking my head at how crazy these cab drivers are.
As I am getting out of the cab he quietly says to me “by the way, that’s Al Ittihad road not SZR.”
I think the lesson here is not only to get landmarks for where you are going and clear instructions that include buildings nearby and landmarks, but also, try and get the name of a road; even the right road! You should be just fine… 🙂