Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Things you may have heard about Dubai

Let's take a moment to debunk (or bunk?) some common beliefs about Dubai, held by people who don't live/haven't been here. Note: I don't actually live in Dubai. I live in Sharjah, the next Emirate over. Also, my views will necessarily be colored by the segments of society with which I interact.

Everyone is fabulously wealthy. Everyone. Not true. The Pakistani guys who work 12-hour days at construction jobs to build things like, oh I don't know, the tallest building in the world, are definitely not rich.

But you meant white collar workers, didn't you? In that case, well, still not true. There are people just barely making it here the same way they are elsewhere in the world.

Oh, you meant Emiratis? Still not true. Emiratis from Abu Dhabi are generally very well off. The same is true of Emiratis from Dubai, to a lesser extent. Once you get into Sharjah and the Northern Emirates (Ras al-Khaimah, Omm al-Qawain, Fujairah, and Ajman), though, all bets are off. Despite the very real government-operated support structures in place for locals (housing and salary subsidies, etc.), there is still such a thing as a poor Emirati.

(One factor that might contribute to the idea that everyone here is making it big is the fact that as an expat, you can't be here (legally) unless you are working, or the dependent of someone who is working. And so if you are poor, you are at least working poor, and your job probably provides a rent stipend, etc.)

Dubai is so fake!!! OK, I kind of hate this one. I guess it depends on what you mean by fake. Are there lots of fancy, sometimes whimsically designed buildings? Yes. But they are real structures with real things inside of them and real people live and work there. We have the biggest mall in the world with the biggest indoor aquarium in the world and it's all right next to the tallest building in the world...and those are all real things, and real people are shopping in them and admiring the real sharks and stingrays in them and actually living/working/going to the observation deck in them. Not sure what's fake there.

See also: Dubai is so inauthentic. This one bothers me even more. I do not think that word means what you think it means. Is Dubai unlike other places in the Middle East/Arab World that you might consider to be more "traditionally" Middle Eastern? Absolutely. But it's authentic in its own right. It's true that you will hear Urdu and English as much as you hear Arabic, and that the population is only 15%ish Emirati, but that's...Dubai. It is what it is. Not somewhere else.

The men over there (here) have multiple wives. This one is true, sometimes. I've had a few students who have come from families with more than one mom. I also had a student write a homework assignment about the decision-making process as it applied to his choice to take one wife or two. Thus, one of the oddities of my kids' experience here is that they sometimes make friends with a kid who has two moms...AND a dad.

Dubai has become an empty shell of itself after the economic collapse. This is where I get a little fuzzy because I am not a financial specialist, nor do I hang out with any. However, things don't seem to be as dark as I sometimes hear they are from outside news sources. I know some of the fancy buildings I mentioned above are having trouble finishing construction or finding tenants. But the Dubai Mall, for example, is thriving, which I think was not expected to happen.

There are hardly any Mormons in the UAE. Last year, an old friend found out she was moving to Dubai and she wrote us that she was so excited to be in our ward (geographically based congregation). We had to tell her, um, there are two wards in Abu Dhabi, a ward and a branch in Dubai, a branch in Al Ain, and a ward in Sharjah. So if you live much past Festival City in Dubai, you won't be in our ward. It is a big surprise to a lot of Mormons when they move here and find thriving, diverse congregations, rather than isolated pockets of Americans holding church in their living rooms.

There are lots of fancy cars here. Based purely on my own experience driving around in different countries, this one is absolutely comparatively true. I've never seen so many Maseratis in one parking lot in all my life. And that parking lot is the local grocery store. And the Maseratis are driven by 19-year-old Emirati or Saudi boys. Yeah. Replace "Maserati" with any other super fancy luxury car and you get an idea of what it can be like around here sometimes.

Dubai is very safe. Yes, it is. That said, bad stuff does happen here. It's hard to get at actual statistics, but the only sourced data I've seen for the murder rate is 3 per 100,000 people in 1999 (it was 0.78 per 100,000 people in 1998). So I'm not likely to be murdered or raped and my kids are not likely to be kidnapped, but low-level sexual harassment can be commonplace. If I belonged to a certain segment of society, I would be more at risk for crimes to my person as well as being forced into things like the drug trade or prostitution or just being an exploited, under- or non-paid guest worker.

Let's finish up what seems to be a first installment of a few installments on this topic with one last myth (?) about Dubai:

People leave their cars running in the parking lot in summer to keep the AC going. This was one of the weirdest things I heard about the UAE before moving here. And you know what? It does happen. Every once in a while in the student parking lots at AUS, there are cars sitting in the parking lot, driver/passengerless, with the engine running. So there you go.

What have you heard about Dubai?


Jackie said...


When we lived in a small town outside of DFW, people left there car running in the summer when they were in a store. I could never understand it. In my hometown (way south Texas) if you did that your car would be in Mexico before you knew it !

Merkley Jiating said...

I was surprised to learn that about leaving the cars running here in North Dakota, too! But it is totally true and I even had to do it once. If it is below -20 degrees Fahrenheit, the grocery store parking lot is full of running but locked trucks. If you don't leave it running, it won't start when you come back out.

Liz Johnson said...

The thing I most hear about Dubai (from US friends who used to live there) is how awesome it is that they have so many American stores & restaurants there. I assume this feeds people's perception that it's "fake" or whatever, but my friends were just thrilled to have something familiar.

Crys said...

I always wondered if the actual citizens were snobby or maybe clueless to the plight of lower class citizens. I guess I assumed this because so many of the unfavorable jobs are done by expats. Also I wondered about the expats, how they feel about living in a country so long but not ever being part of it. When we were in Jordan we met a man who had lived in one of the Gulf States working as engineer for 25 years. He had all his kids there and then when he retired they were sent back to Jordan. I always wondered about that. Are people just happy to have a job and don't feel connected to the country or do they wish they could stay? Finally I wondered about the crime stats. You said that you are at a low level of risk because of the segment of the society you belong to...Do you mean being part of the Educational system, being American, being white, being married? I just wondered because I read a book by a Pakistani doctor living in a gulf country and she had to deal with some rather aggressive/scary sexual harassment. How hot is hot? Is it hotter than Arizona. Is it similar to Arizona. Finally can you get your hands on cereal? You know, for me it is all about the most important things :) Oh boy. Your life is so cool :)

Susanne said...

I've heard it's hot, they don't care about other Arabs (poor Arab nations...well, this is said about all the "rich Arab countries" i.e.,GCC), they are spoiled and rich and, yeah, I've heard the fake thing, but that seems to be from those who don't much like capitalism or American brands being everywhere.

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing...interesting stuff!

(BTW, how would it compare to your observations in Syria or Jordan in the multiple wives thing? More in Dubai have 2nd wives because they are richer or no?)

Unknown said...

Another thing that you can add to your "Dubai is so fake" paragraph is the so called lack of a proper Sewage Treatment system...


The above video claims that Dubai doesn't or didn't have a proper sewage treatment system when the reality can be seen in the BBC report below .

(note the video around the middle of the report)


Bridget said...

Ooh, you guys have given me lots more ideas to write about in the future. These are good ones.


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