Dubai and I have officially crossed the six-month mark. Like any new relationship, it’s had its ups and downs.
I vividly recall those first few metro rides to work from my hotel in Deira, feeling overwhelmed by the size of the city and the Arabic announcements and the sea of unfamiliar faces. I remember going to Deira City Centre mall, where the pungent scent of oud (a popular fragrance in the Middle East) filled my nostrils and made me feel nauseous. Eating McDonald’s in the food court as the evening call to prayer blasted through the mall speakers. Seeing the women in their modest black abayas and worrying about whether I would get in trouble for wearing a sleeveless shirt.
I remember being annoyed at myself for experiencing culture shock. This is a place with so many comforts – the same language, the same foods – so how come it felt so alien?
Then there was the life admin. Waiting for my visa to be processed, waiting for my Emirates ID, waiting until I could set up my phone and bank account. Trawling through Dubizzle (the Dubai equivalent of TradeMe) to find a place to live. Finding a place to live, getting kicked out by the landlord, and having to start all over again.
Everyone says the first few months of getting settled in the sandpit are the hardest. And yes, it has been hard. But six months on, here I am, writing this in my bedroom overlooking the Marina as a party boat covered in neon lights floats past. It’s not so bad.
There is a new island being built off JBR (close to where I live), which will be home to the world’s biggest ferris wheel. Over the past few months I’ve watched it go up, piece by piece. I sort of like to think of it as a symbol of my time here – almost as though with every section, I feel a little more at home.
In some places, the turning of the seasons represents the passing of time. In Dubai, it’s better measured by how long it takes to build an enormous new attraction. Classic.
Anyway, I’m all about the listicles, so here are six things that are still blowing my mind after six months in Dubai.
1. The work week starts on Sunday.
So the weekend is Friday/Saturday. I haven’t figured out how to change the “weekday” option on my alarm, which is still set for Monday to Friday, so I’m always waking up too early on Fridays, and accidentally sleeping in on Sundays. This probably says more about my lack of technology skills than it does about my assimilation into Dubai life, but there you go.
2. The service is next level.
You can get EVERYTHING delivered. The other evening, I couldn’t be bothered putting on pants to go to the supermarket (which is, uh, just across the road from my apartment). So I did my weekly shop using a grocery delivery app. Ten minutes after I placed my order, I received an apologetic phone call informing me that, unfortunately, there was no aloe vera yoghurt in stock, but would I like to try apricot or raspberry instead? Thirty minutes later, my groceries appeared on my doorstep. Bless this civilised country.
3. There are so many men.
About three-quarters of Dubai’s population is male, and in some parts of the city, the gender imbalance is very obvious. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing though – not once have I felt unsafe as a woman here. In fact, women are treated like royalty. There are perks like ladies-only transport options, swimming pools, and even ticket queues. Many bars around the cities hold “ladies’ nights” where you can enjoy unlimited drinks without paying a single dirham. Pre-Dubai me would have rolled her eyes at all of this, but I actually kind of love the special treatment. I do still feel a twinge of guilt when I witness some unwitting bloke getting kicked out of the ladies-only metro carriages…
4. It’s such a melting pot.
I thought New Zealand was a pretty multicultural place, but almost every scenario in Dubai sounds like the start of one of those *insert different nationalities* “walked into a bar” jokes. For example, my flat is made up of expats from NZ (me), Ireland, Poland and Russia. I have chatted with Pakistani taxi drivers about the strength of the New Zealand cricket team (which they know a whole lot more about than me), bonded with an Afghan souk vendor over our shared loathing of Donald Trump, and been asked out by a Moroccan sales assistant. I still haven’t met any Emiratis though…
5. It’s so bloody hot.
I am writing this in the middle of summer, and it’s almost as bad as everyone warned (expats who have lived in Dubai for a long time love to exaggerate to scare the newbies) – most days temperatures are in the mid-forties. I spend 99.9 per cent of my time indoors – in fact, just the other day I was thinking about how nice it would be to go on a tropical holiday to enjoy some sunshine. I live in a desert country and I’m not getting enough sun. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but Vitamin D deficiency is a real issue.
6. Everything is the biggest and/or the best.
Dubai is a bit obsessed with breaking records, no matter how niche (I recently stumbled across the “Middle East’s first sub-zero lounge” in a random shopping centre). I am still utterly gobsmacked by the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building. It remains as impressive to me now as it was on my first day in Dubai (seeing it was one of those, “oh shit, I’m actually here, what have I done” moments). I will not rest until I have taken photos of it from every possible angle.