the 5 keys to a successful Dubai transition
So, just what does it take to make it in this city? Have you got the right stuff? Just what is the formula for a successful transition from Western world to Arab world? When moving to Dubai, there are so many things you will hear and that people will tell you. I have been able to distill all this down to the top 5 keys to a successful Dubai transition.
As I continue to meet people who “just can’t deal with this city” and are on their way back to their homeland, I have increasingly been thinking about what it is that determines who has a smooth transition. Most people I have met on their way home have a common look about them. A look as though someone filled up a concrete box with everything they own in the entire world and shoved it on their back to carry around – they look broken, exhausted, finished. Some of these people have been here a few years; some just for one and even a couple of people who can count the number of months they have lasted on one hand.
We were told this before we moved here by a number of people. Thing like ‘it takes a good 6 months to settle in’, ‘you’ll miss lots of basic things from home’, ‘it will be hard to come back after a trip home’. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we have adjusted so easily? We were expecting the worst?
And so, it is through exploring this strange phenomenon that I have managed to boil it all down to 5 simple things that will ensure you survive the first 6 months in Dubai and hopefully well beyond. I can’t of course guarantee that at all stages it will be a peaceful and happy transition – I do remember finding myself sitting on the wrong side of the car a couple of times sobbing as I realised I had yet another enormous dirt slash across my newly washed white pants, and that I was yet again sitting on the wrong side of the car wondering where the steering wheel was.
I also do not proclaim that my tips will work for everyone. However, I have tried to make this list as simple as possible so that it can stretch across cultures, religions and even genders. So here goes… tell me what you think – always love to hear your thoughts:
- There is no comfort zone – I’m sure that many people suffer extreme culture shock when they move here because they have a perception that it’s going to be just like any other big westernised city in the world. They come for a stopover, have an amazing stay at a luxurious 5-star resort, eat amazing food, drink fancy cocktails, sail the gulf, explore amazing buildings maybe even camp in the desert. What they don’t realise is that it’s a very different city when you are not a tourist.
Once you check out of the hotel and you are part of the local population, you have to fit in – there’s no ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ when you are lining up in the crowd trying to jam onto the metro at peak hour. When you have to face that traffic everyday, twice a day, it’s not as easy to laugh it off as when you are a visitor. That shiny new stove you just bought is not nearly as appealing when it’s smoking out your kitchen because the ‘full installation’ promised apparently had some small print that said ‘guy installing does not have to remove plastic lining on the gas burner’. An apartment can be brand new, and yet the door does not close properly on the bathroom.
You could view all of these things as never-ending frustrations….things that you let ruin your day. Or, you can take them for what they are – the little things that help you to remember that you have just started a totally new life in a totally new place, and that is pretty damn exciting! What is life all about if not change and getting out of your comfort zone. Jump in there with two feet and arms wide open and see where the city takes you… if you want your comfort zone, maybe just stay right where you are as Dubai may be a challenge you’re not quite ready for…
- Let it go – As the famous Disney movie theme song suggests, it is best to just let it go! If you are a person who struggles against things that make no sense, or you need to find a logical reason for everything, you need to seriously psych up before you move here. I have witnessed so many instances of people who are struggling to take on board this concept. And to add insult to injury, you are not allowed to swear or gesture here either, so there is no public outlet if you allow your frustration levels in any situation to hit a peak.
In Dubai, there is not always a logical or reasonable answer to a question. Why would a store not stock replacement parts for its own specialised product? Why do I have to queue over there to get a ticket to see the guy sitting next to me when he has no-one in front of him and the line to get a ticket to see him has 20 people waiting? Why do I get a loyalty stamp when I buy a coffee, but if I get a croissant with my coffee I don’t? There are too many examples to list like this where things just make no sense whatsoever. What we have found though is that you need to expect it. Have a little talk to yourself before you attempt anything remotely ‘official’ or slightly out of the box to remember that it may go well or it may not, and that is ok. The world does not turn on this transaction – just let it go. You will find this advice essential, especially in the early days where you are setting up and doing immense amounts of paperwork. Just take it as it comes, do as you are told and if you find yourself yelling, it might be time to go for a stroll and refocus on what’s really important in life. After all, tomorrow is another day…
- One day, one goal – Trying to achieve too much in one day can only lead to trouble here as things do not tend to move very quickly. My first few weeks, I was super keen to get everything sorted out – let’s finish this paperwork, let’s buy all our furniture, let’s get a car. I had a substantial to-do list. It didn’t take me long to work out though that if you really want to remain sane, happy and at peace, don’t even bother aiming to get more than one goal achieved per day. Why set yourself unrealistic expectations right off the bat – you are just setting yourself up for failure and stress. Even my lovely hubby, who tends to struggle a little in the patience department had to admit that you need to just let things take their course.
Inshallah is something you might here a lot here in the Arab world and it means that you need to be in tune with God’s plan for the universe – if that plan does not extend to you being able to submit the form you just spent an hour completing because you do not know your paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name, then it is just not meant to be – be okay with that. When it is meant to happen in will happen, and you know what, when you give into it, things do work out. Everything will get there eventually. It’s actually a really nice way to go through life once you get over that inital western, urban angst we all seem to have about everything happening yesterday. Breathe and believe is one of my favourite mantras now!
- Same brand, different taste – I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but it seems that whenever I travel to a faraway land, I always seem to end up in a supermarket on my first super-jetlagged day. I wander around, the odd dizzy spell here or there as I stare at labels and try and work out what things are and whether they will kill me or not. Dubai was no exception. We landed on our first day and after a couple of hours of ‘yay we’re here’ time, we thought it was a great plan to head to the supermarket. And I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. There were shelves and shelves of brands that I know and love. The fruit looked fresh, the veggies cheap and the meat seemed plump and juicy. As with many things here, it is only once you look a little deeper that you see the real story…The ingredients in everything are ever so slightly different, meaning that things don’t taste quite the same. The fruit and veg seems to go off within a couple of days… milk tastes a bit odd… bread seems to be sweet. There are lots of little things that, on their own don’t seem that strange, but when bundled up together, I could see why people would complain about them.Let’s really have a good think about it though. Why should anything taste the same and why should it be the same quality? We are in a totally different country, on a different continent, in a place with a completely different culture, which just so happens to be in the middle of the DESERT!! Why on earth would anything be the same. Of course you have to make adjustments and find new brands, new ways of cooking and eating. And if you are really open to it, this can all actually be fabulous fun as well. Why cook the same old carrots and beans every night when you can buy strange and wonderful things you have never heard of and include them in dishes with names you can’t pronounce. And so I urge you, look at the adventure side of this aspect – try new things, expect nothing and always try the local products. If you fight against it, you will only end up being disappointed. Oh, and most of all, embrace dates – lots of dates!
- Carry everything you have ALL THE TIME! – This one I cannot emphasise enough. On any given day, in any given situation, you can and will be asked for any or all of the following:
- Your passport
- Your visa
- Your ID card
- Your drivers licence
- 2-6 passport photos
- A copy of your tenancy agreement or DEWA bill
- Between one and two copies of all of the above
I swear, I am not trying to be funny, nor am I embelishing as my lovely hubby often accuses me of. Virtually every single day since I have been here, I have been asked for one or all of these documents. One day, I was even asked for a permission letter from said hubby in order to do something, which I must say was a bitter pill to swallow, given the nature of our relationship and the fact that I am the wearer of pants… (no snickering from the back there please) But, rather than getting frustrated, complaining, yelling at the poor innocent individual following their procedures, why not just have the documents with you – all the time! Even better, my arms are in amazing shape at the moment, given that I am lugging around a 15 kg handbag (along with my 15 kg meatloaf of a son) so that I have everything I need. Absolutely though – if you ignore everything else in this blog, DO NOT IGNORE THIS if you want to survive in this town.
I hope this has provided some kind of enlightenment and if I have saved one life, one brain explosion, one incident of tears or tantrums, then I have done my duty as an expatriate.
My very best wishes to those of you about to embark upon this great journey… and to those of you just reading this for a laugh, I ask but one simple thing – have an Aussie kit kat for me. 🙂