“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious.” Ernest Hemingway
So a little while ago I received a text from the other half. It said ‘I’ve written a blog post, a guest post for your blog’. A complete surprise to me I can tell you which prompted my response of ‘Have you? About what?’ He replied ‘I’m not telling you!’ Eventually the post was shared with me and here it is, the other half’s first blog post (possibly his last). It’s entitled Having My Bottom Wiped (a worry in itself), the male perspective on our expat life. I hope you enjoy reading, if you do there might even be a Part 2.
‘Having My Bottom Wiped’ by Dave Brett.
Not sure what prompted me to write a guest spot on the wife’s blog, probably a number of things, feeling a bit left out, wanting to contribute, curiosity, who knows, doubt anybody cares but me, but I did ask myself anyway. I am not a great social media contributor and generally feel too much is shared on the various social media platforms, therefore this post opens me up for hypocrisy jibes from family and friends who are close enough to hear me moan and groan about how tedious I find a lot of it. I do still get the odd nugget which tickles me or an occasional gem of wisdom or thought provoking comment amongst the plethora of scantily clad torsos my feeds seem to attract, both male and female torsos I’m embarrassed to add.
This being my inaugural post and first attempt at writing something people might read to the end, I am going to keep it light and largely positive with the hugely challenging ‘Top five things I like about living in Abu Dhabi’. If my wife aka ‘The Editor’ allows and her numbers haven’t been savaged I will balance things up with the equally imaginative Part 2 – ‘The top five things I miss about the UK’. None of these thoughts are original or groundbreaking, no surprise there; originality and creativity are attributes I do not possess.
Part 1 – Top Five Things I Like About Living in Abu Dhabi.
1. Variety is the spice of life
Diversity was one of the main drivers for up-routing the family and moving to the Middle East. After working in the City (London’s square mile) for well over ten years I was ready for a completely new challenge and I was extremely keen on giving the kids a bit of diversity with respect to people, culture and experiences. They were born in Basingstoke and had up to that time, lived all their lives there. Whilst I love Basingstoke and particularly Old Basing, the small village I grew up in, I felt the opportunity to provide such a different environment for the family was too good to pass up.
I felt accomplished personally after working in large corporations across many different sectors each one very different to the other and learning new ways to adapt and change my approach and style accordingly was always one of the most fulfilling parts of my work. For example there’s a big ‘time to market’ difference between Pharmaceutical companies compared to Media companies which greatly impacts how they implement IT solutions. I figured working out here could only provide more of the same.
As anybody who has ever worked out here for any real length of time can tell you, nothing can quite prepare you for how different things can be. I moved directly from a Blue Chip Investment Bank into the Abu Dhabi Government, quite a transition. Now I am one of only five British expats in the company and often find myself the only European in the room for many meetings. I have also often been in meetings conducted solely in Arabic (I only know sixteen words in arabic, five of these are swear words, which proves I’m only employed for my looks!).
My colleagues come from all over the world, naturally working in the government the majority of the employees are Emirati with regional expats the next highest denominator (from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, Syria etc). Indians and Bangladeshis being the next most prevalent and I have had colleagues from Turkey, Uganda and Iraq to name a few and some whose English accent was too difficult to understand (New Zealand). They were all equally impressed knowing my hometown is Basingstoke. Outside of my own workplace, the workforce is supplemented by Filipinos, Thai and Eastern Europeans.
After seven years here I have become accustomed to being the only ‘Westerner’ in a room, restaurant or shop. At first it was daunting, sometimes frustrating and intimidating but over time, being surrounded by different people and cultures you can’t help but learn a bit about them all and try to fit in and understand.
The kids equally have made friends and formed close relationships with people from all nationalities and have been the only Brit in a classroom, I love that. Sure there are plenty of British expats here and it is extremely easy to meet up and socialise. It’s not difficult to find us; generally we gravitate to the pub or the mall and on Fridays we brunch. I may still be challenged with creativity and originality but my patience and tolerance has definitely improved since being here and boy did it need to, two attributes I rarely used working for Investment Banks!
2. Where did that building come from?
The scale and speed of development in Abu Dhabi has been staggering, I have seen major advancements in the time I have been here and can only imagine how people who have been here ten-fifteen years+ feel. The recent drop in oil prices is likely to slow things down somewhat, but in comparison with how Basingstoke has changed in the same time frame it’s mind-blowing. I have always maintained that Abu Dhabi keeps getting better as every year they bring online at least one new major development, from a F1 Race Track to one of the biggest shopping malls in the world and close to my heart, two golf courses.
Six new projects alone in Abu Dhabi and Dubai between now and 2020 add up to over 200 billion dollars including new airports, metro systems and a rail link too. Huge hotels with multiple restaurants, clubs and bars open all the time. It’s great for us and for repeat visitors; we get to take them to new places each time they come. Having visitors is one of the best things about living out here, you get to take them to different places and see things again through their eyes.
3. Life’s a Beach
I can’t lie, knowing almost every day is going to be sunny puts a smile on your face, I always had an ambition to live where I could see the sea. We have lived with a full sea view for five years, for the last three we’ve lived on the beach and I can see the sea from my office, this is what dreams are made of and I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am. Admittedly the summer months are hot, humid and uncomfortable and only bearable because of the wonders of modern air-conditioning but I still prefer being too hot than too cold, I wouldn’t swap for the English winter in a hurry. If you wanted to, you could easily wear shorts and flip flops outside of work 24/7.
Weekends are our own, a major difference between the lifestyle here and back home is time…not obvious until you live here for a while. Back home you tend to own a house and often have a garden that will at least need the lawn mowing. Renting is the norm here and when you rent you don’t tend to decorate rooms, undertake house renovation projects or spend hours weeding the garden.
All weekend time is pretty much chore free, you have to find something else to fix, mine is a boat. They say the two happiest days in a man’s life are when he buys his first boat and when he sells it ☺. I’m not there yet but like most boat owners we’ve had our moments. I always wanted one though and the cheap fuel costs, constant sunshine and many waterways and marinas in Abu Dhabi make it one of the most perfect places on earth to own one if you so desire.
4. Having your bottom wiped
Those that know me well, know I’m lazy, very lazy. I think it’s a bit harsh and see myself more as someone who is good at relaxing, I’m not good at much but I AM good at relaxing. The UAE caters for people with a similar disposition. I have a tea boy, let me repeat I HAVE A TEA BOY! Someone is employed to make me tea, his job title on his badge is imaginatively titled ‘Tea Boy’. When he sees me in the morning he makes me tea, during the day he makes me tea any kind of tea I like. Just to make his job more interesting for him I like to mix it up a bit and get him to make me English breakfast tea, fresh ginger tea and green tea. He’s awesome, he knows exactly which one I want and when, how good is that! Almost reason to up sticks alone.
When I fill up with petrol I sit in my car and watch the man flip open my petrol cap, insert nozzle and fill up! When it’s all done I wind my window down and pay. Whenever we drive to a restaurant or bar we drive to the front door, get out and hand the keys over to a lovely well-dressed man called valet. When we walk out said restaurant valet man drives the car back to the entrance. When I drive my car at home at night someone is waiting in the car park for me offering to clean my car while I sleep. I love having my bottom wiped for me.
5. Abu Dhabi is the centre of the universe
As a travel hub it doesn’t get much better, which is why some airlines have switched from Heathrow to Dubai as their hub. You can get to so many places very easily and fairly quickly from either Dubai or Abu Dhabi. We are very fortunate with the number of holiday days we get here and we have used these in conjunction with the accessibility of destinations that would be much more difficult from Basingstoke and generally try and fly towards the East.
That’s an obvious observation for sure, the less obvious is that because we have much more contact with people from the surrounding countries every day we tend to understand and appreciate the countries a little more than we did when coming from the UK. I didn’t know many, if any Thais, Filipinos, Indians, Balinese before coming here. Now we interact every day and maybe already have an understanding of their culture and country, we can chat with them beforehand and watch how they light-up with enthusiasm talking about their home country and where to go and what to see. Travelling generally can be eye-opening and horizon broadening experiences but so is living and working with people from many cultures.
As you can tell after seven years of living here I am still enjoying the experience and learning lots. There are many things I miss from home though and if I’m allowed by the editor and chief, I will post Part 2 as promised.
All the views are my own. Unless otherwise stated all photos on this page copyright Jo and Dave Brett 2015. All rights reserved.