Surely they don’t keep cows in the desert?

And other Dubai myths debunked
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.

There are more than 10,000 cows in the UAE on farms scattered around the country. They’re kept in open, air-conditioned sheds that allow the animals to wander outside and they eat imported alfalfa. Cornflakes are added to their feed, with compost under foot rather than grass.
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?

12 thoughts on “Surely they don’t keep cows in the desert?

  1. HA! Just finished sending off an email to the parents of one of Son#1’s friends assuring them that, yes, it’s safe here in Seoul, and he will be fine visiting us here for the next 2 weeks. I’m starting to think that Seoul is Asia’s best-kept secret – no one seems to know what it’s really like here – I think they assume we’re living in thatched huts and experiencing daily nuclear attacks.

    Usually I just say that it’s more or less like Tokyo (high-tech, very sophisticated) but a bit cheaper.

    Interesting about the cows, though….

  2. How weird that she immediately homed in on the lack of cows! But interesting explanation. In Hong Kong there was one farm where all the dairy cows were kept, I seem to remember.

    People always assume that living in the US is really cheap compared to Britain. I have to explain that in suburban New York, we are surrounded by Wall St bankers, lawyers and well-paid Manhattanites. Property taxes are among the highest in the country and rents reflect that; everything from children’s birthday parties to going out for drinks is pricey.

    • You must have such well-heeled neighbours! I’m hoping things in Minneapolis will be a lot cheaper compared to here, coz I’m planning trips to Target and can’t wait!!

  3. I would be rich if I didn’t have to pay upward of £15,000 a year in school fees, £600+ a month in electricity and water…

  4. Josie says:

    Like your post about people’s perceptions of ‘other places’. I remember the blank and confused look of a woman I told we were going traveling back in 2002, then it was to India and the Far East. She said, looking puzzled, “But what would you want to go there for?”
    I can’t remember what I replied, but whatever I said I don’t think she really understood.
    This time we are moving to Doha in August, but with kids and work, exciting!
    Not looking forward to the heat though, how do you cope in July and August?

    • Hello Josie, thanks for stopping by. Good luck with the move to Doha! It will be exciting, for sure. As for the heat in July and August, well it’s not my favourite time of the year, of course, but on the upside, it’s nice and quiet! Many mums take the kids on long vacations, but some stay and you just get used to running the air-conditioning gauntlet, from car to mall! In Dubai, they have lots of things on at the malls over summer – I would imagine there are summer events in Doha too. I know there’s a group called Doha mums. Also, have you read the blog, 4 Kids, 20 Suitcases and a Beagle? It’s a great Qatar-based blog

  5. We have similar conversations with people who assume Moscow is grey, utilitarian, and full of spies. Of course, those things are true some of the time, it’s true, but generally we have a pretty good quality of life. As for the milk – well, there ARE cows locally, but the local milk is revolting so most of ours comes from Finland. And yes, it’s expensive… 😉

    • Glad you found it interesting! I could have done a whole post on the cows! I think they even get extra air-conditioning when they’re being milked as it increases production!

Comments are closed.