Monday, August 16, 2010

Hi Honey, I'm Home!

I'm back! Did you miss me?! Had an absolute blast back in the UK, but I have to say, I'm extremely happy to be home. I left with mixed feelings, which I'm sure most ex-pats will be familiar with: happiness to be heading home, guilt to be leaving friends and family behind. (Multiply that guilt by 3 when it comes to family what with me being the only child.) I got a bit emotional on the plane (perhaps partly due to watching Mary Poppins - I really don't remember it being that sad!) and had a boo hoo as we came in to land in Dubai. The nice young man in the seat next to me passed me a tissue without making any comment, bless him. Maybe women crying on planes are a common occurrence these days?
It was oh so easy to slip back into the old routines: dinner and cocktails at Harvey Nicks, tea round at Jayne's, and endless lunches, dinners and booze sessions with my favourite people, in my old favourite haunts. Not to mention the hours of shopping: UK economy, don't say I never do anything for you! Thankfully Emirates upped their weight limit to 30 kgs last year otherwise I would have been in real trouble. Who knew that 10 pairs of shoes, 16 dresses, 17 underwear sets, and many other miscellaneous clothing items and cosmetics would weigh so much!

Some topline observations:

Customer Service
I’d forgotten how truly terrible this is in Dubai until I was back in Manchester. Just an hour after landing I headed to House of Fraser for a strapless bra (as you do). The details of what happened in the changing room are worthy of another blog entry – suffice to say I’ve gone up THREE CUP SIZES since moving to Dubai. Put on half a stone and watch it go to my boobs! Things could be worse…anyway. My point was, after measuring me, the lovely sales girl told me to stay where I was, and then proceeded to bring me every single strapless bra they had in the shop (and they had a lot.) Merciless sales technique – maybe but she really wasn’t pushy at all. It was simply about making me, the customer, have as easy and pleasant an experience as possible. Dubai retailers: take note.

Since the January crash, I’ve never really been the same when travelling by car. I was actually reaching a point where I wondered if I had some deep-seated psychological problem (no laughing). Not so – as I discovered when travelling frequently by car in the UK. What, no-one drives at break-neck speeds? Or undertakes you? Or cuts you up? Or uses their mobile phone whilst driving? I was completely relaxed the entire time, which reassured me that it’s not me, it’s Dubai.

I know, I know, it’s the most boring topic in t he world and such a stereotype for me to even mention it. BUT. I hadn’t forgotten how much I hate rain and grey skies, but I had forgotten how day after day of gloomy weather makes me feel, well, gloomy. Down in the dumps. In a general slump. I’m so very happy to be back in perpetual sunshine, even if that does mean searing heat and suffocating humidity for many months of the year.

Cost of Living
I understand that I live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, which means that bargains are even more exciting than they used to be. It’s not often that you find one in a place where glasses of wine can cost you 10 quid…so you can imagine my excitement, nay hysteria, when being back in a place where you can buy a bottle of wine for that price. And don’t even get me started on 15 quid work dresses from Primarni. Suffice to say, I went wild in the aisles…of pretty much every shop you can think of.

There’s so much more I could say about the trip home, but exhaustion is over-taking me. Even the 10 am Ramadan start could not assuage the tiredness I felt after getting to bed at 2.30 am this morning. More to follow when my brain is back in gear!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Cats and Dogs

"Rain showers.  Scattered showers.  Heavy rain.  Fog."  Yep, that's about the M.O for a trip to Manchester.  It rained during the entire week that I was there last July too, so I don't know why I'd hoped there might be a bit of the alleged 'fabulous summer' left over when I arrived. 

Anyway, the weather won't stop one bit of planned activity - to be fair, much of it centres around licensed premises, my favourite retail outlets (has the Harvey Nicks sale started yet, people?!) and one Big Gay Wedding.  To say I'm in a frenzy of excitement is an understatement.  If I'm in control of my faculties enough I'll try to blog at some point.  Otherwise I'll see you later this month, desert family.....

Monday, August 02, 2010

Going Native

It’s a lament summed up perfectly by one of my favourite Dubai bloggers…I’ve lived in the UAE for two years, and am very happy and proud to call it my home. But when it comes to really mingling with the locals…it just doesn’t happen. I’d like to think that I’ve embraced the cultural diversity of living here – I’ve visited the main mosques, gone to cultural breakfasts, and marched my parents round all sorts of guided tours (they love it!) and they were all fascinating.

At one point we had an Emirati intern who worked in our office. Just 21, she was a fashion and business student, whose make-up and accessories were as interesting to us as her background, her outlook on life, and her aspirations for the future. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. What do to? This is a step in the right direction.

Last week I was in a store when a local lady entered. She was completely covered but I could tell she was older than me as her abaya swooshed past me, with four clamouring children in tow. I offered her my spot in the queue – anyone with four demanding children needs even small breaks when shopping. She wouldn’t hear of it and we passed a few pleasantries about under-staffing in the store.

Silence fell as we waited for our turn. And then, I reached into my handbag to pay. My new purse just happens to be the latest Stephen Sprouse neon Louis Vuitton...(I was having a Tanya Turner moment: don't judge me!).  Her eyes locked onto the purse, then onto mine. “I LOVE that purse” she said. And so began another chat about fashion. Cultural differences broken down by handbags, anyone?

My colleagues think I’m hilarious (many have lived here for two or three times as long as I have, and have never done any of the tours etc that I have) but to me it seems like the obvious thing to do when you move to a new country or city. And especially one as enthralling and as misunderstood as Dubai, and the Middle East in general.

Until my next fabulous fashion purchase catches the eye of a local lady, we’ll also be here during Ramadan.  Small steps, but steps, nonetheless.

In The Wars

So, I’m undergoing plastic surgery at the moment. Well, this is Dubai after all! Just kidding, I’m not. Well that’s what my doctor calls it…but it’s not plastic surgery as we know it. I’m having treatment on the one lasting memory of one particularly horrible day in January when we cheated death on Sheikh Zayed Road. Those that know me, know that for once, I’m not exaggerating about this.

Apart from sleepless nights and a hatred of reckless drivers, the accident left me with a (small) scar on my arm. I KNOW I’m super lucky and it could have been much, much worse. And every day there are people going through infinitely more horrible experiences. But the scar is on my elbow which means that I bang it on things, all the time, can’t rest my arms on the desk/table/bar (which my South African doctor suggested was probably the most traumatic part of the whole episode..said doctor also spent a good ten minutes telling me how many people he’d seen who had lost arms in such accidents - nice). Anyway this means it hurts, quite a bit, a lot of the time. But more importantly to me, it serves as a constant reminder of one really horrible day, and intrudes into my usual positive demeanor.

This being Dubai, where every employer is legally bound to provide you with free medical insurance, my doctor sent me off to get it sorted. I won’t go into the details, suffice to say that what I thought was a quick injection into my arm turned into FIFTEEN, yes, fifteen. Not great for the girl who doesn’t like needles, but I survived.  Bring back Mr Men stickers and plasters from the doctor I say. Is that showing my age?!

The very nice specialist (or plastic surgery something or other as it says on her business card) told me that it will all be much better after another 2 visits. Eek. Well worth facing the needle fear to have that one final reminder erased…..

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Time Flies

As you know, I checked out and checked into a beach hotel this weekend. We did as little as possible, generally hanging out, eating, drinking, and lounging in the spa (Elemis products and one of my favourites). It was only when we came to leave when we realized that we’d probably spent the sum total of 10 full hours straight sat on the beach….and it went in the blink of an eye. There were a few hours spent swapping ipods and snoozing, but for the most part we just sat and talked.

What about? I really couldn’t tell you. Not that it was super-confidential, you understand, (although some parts are definitely not for public consumption) just that it was the sort of easy conversation that spanned so many subjects and areas that it would take me as long again to pin them down and explain them to you.

Some topline discussions: men who sleep with their favourite teddy bear, aged 30 (the boy, not the bear), knickers: to wear or not to wear, and what REALLY happens in the office toilets. No wonder we laughed til we cried at least 10 times. When are we doing it again?!