Nothing says hospitality in the UAE like locking your guest in your bathroom. Apparently.
It turns out we have some friends in Dubai, in the form of a fellow University of Arizona PhD student from way back when. We invited Robert and his lovely wife Ingrid over for dinner on Friday night. It was our home's inaugural social event.
Just as the food was ready, Robert went to use the bathroom. I was in the kitchen, about to turn off the stove and get everything plated when I heard a small commotion coming from the hall.
Through the bathroom door, in a very muffled voice, Robert was trying to convey to Jeremy and Ingrid some very important information, namely, that he was unable to get out of the bathroom.. He was turning the handle on his side of the door, from inside the bathroom, but it was not engaging with the latch. Instead, it was turning freely without sliding that little metal piece away from the slot in the door frame.
We all laughed at first as Jeremy tried a few simple tricks to get the door open. Very quickly, however, it became clear that there was no way to get the door open on our own. So I called the university's emergency maintenance number and in very clear, precise, unmistakable English explained that we had a guest over, that he was in the bathroom, and that the bathroom door wouldn't open. And again, that our guest was IN the bathroom. Right now. And he couldn't get out.
A few minutes later the maintenance team showed up. It was clear that they thought this would be no big deal, either - until they started trying to get the door open. And kept trying. And kept trying.
The point where we started to get a little worried was when they told Robert to go as far away from the door as possible (which is not very far in a small hall bathroom) and then one of the maintenance guys made a run at it. The door didn't budge, and he didn't try that again.
All the while I was pondering the fact that this is the first time in the Middle East we've ever had doors that were actually substantial. If this had been any of our bathroom doors in any other country we've lived in, we could have broken it down in a second.
After the unsuccessful battering ram attempt, the maintenance guys asked me very politely if I'd mind if they damaged my door. Ummmm, if the alternative is that my guest stays in there forever, please go ahead. By all means.
A few tools, a proffered (and refused) hatchet, a damaged door and frame and about half an hour later, Robert was free.
And then we went into the kitchen and warmed up our dinner in the microwave.
When it was all over we had a very good laugh and collectively breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn't been me stuck in that bathroom with just the girls at home. I can only imagine the terrible adventure that would have been.
The next day, they came and fixed the door and frame. We're wondering if they're going to come back and re-finish it because you can really see the parts where they were hacking away, but maybe I won't mind if they don't. It's a great reminder of the time we locked our first guest in the bathroom for 45 minutes.