At the weekend, we visited a hotel we haven’t swum at before and discovered a little Britain. Full of holidaymakers from the UK, there were accents from every part of the motherland and suntans in numerous different shades (ranging from English Rose to mahogany).
DH and the boys jumped into the pool, and I was taking a few extra minutes to get lotioned up (I don’t mess with the sun here), when a sweet lady started talking to me – ostensibly to tell me that there was a bird’s nest in our parasol, but partly because I think she fancied a chat.
She must have been in her late 50s and was on her honeymoon. After I congratulated her and enquired where her new husband was (chatting to a buxom bikinied lady at the swim-up bar!), she asked me when we’d arrived.
“Oh, we live here,” I replied, realising she’d assumed we were also on holiday. “My husband’s job brought us out here,” I said, by way of explanation, as she shifted her bikini straps around so she wouldn’t get tan lines.
“Really? You live here?”
“Well, not here, in this hotel, but in Dubai,” I continued, glancing over to check the boys were settling into the pool OK, as I had a feeling the lady – lovely as she was – didn’t know much about living in the United Arab Emirates and would have some questions.
Before we moved here, we came across a few surprised reactions from people who’d never been to the Middle East and were, most likely, fearful of the region. “Will you have to wear a veil?” “Are you allowed to drive?” “Can you drink alcohol?”, “Is it true they cut your hand off for stealing?” they’d ask.
She didn’t roll out any of these myths, but immediately honed in on the heat.
“But it’s so hot – and the driving!”
“Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to,” I assured her, smiling as her husband swam away from the big-breasted woman and gave us a cheery wave.
“And what about that sandstorm the other day? It was terrible,” she remarked, referring to a Mission Impossible-style blowy day that must have appeared to herald the start of the apocalypse, but which I couldn’t quite remember given that there are so many sandstorms here.
After 20 more minutes of chat, I’d persuaded her that we actually have a really nice life here – the kids are happy; the schools are great; I can and do work out here; I don’t speak Arabic but the kids learn it at school; and yes, I do get homesick and miss family (a lot) but we have plenty of visitors.
And, then, she got me. Square on. I was blindsided by a question that came out of left field and for which I had no answer.
“But where are all the cows?”
“There’s no shortage of milk,” she correctly stated, “But where do they keep the cows?”
With the searing temperatures and lack of grass to graze on, there are, of course, no fields of lowing cattle here, but I knew there were dairy cows somewhere (Al Ain?) I just didn’t know where, or how.
(I’ve since asked Google – see right – as the answer is really interesting).
Moving swiftly on, the only thing I was able to tell her, with any certainty, was that milk – and indeed water – is more expensive than petrol in the UAE.
As much as I was enjoying our chat, I was just about to say I should join DH and the boys in the pool when she brought up one more topic – that people probably want to ask about, but don’t dare to.
“You must all be very rich out here, what with not paying taxes and all,” she quipped, audibly tutting as she pondered the amount of money she’d paid into the British government’s coffers.
I think I snorted – for the first couple of years, we were honestly living from pay check to pay check. Politely, I replied, “No, not everyone! The cost of living in Dubai is astonishingly high. Have you been to a supermarket here? It’s about £5 a fish finger, you know!”
How about you? Do you find yourself debunking myths about the country you live in?