I bumped into a neighbour at the swimming pool today. I don’t know her well, but she seems really nice, hence I’ve got her earmarked as friend potential (you have to stay on the look-out in expat society, as people tend to leave).
I knew she’d recently been on holiday, so I flagged her down and cheerily called out, “How was your trip?”
“A disaster,” she replied, the look on her face saying it all.
She’d arrived at Dubai airport – her husband already in situ having taken an earlier flight – to discover she shared her passport number with a criminal and wasn’t allowed to leave the UAE.
The officials agreed she clearly wasn’t the criminal (who was a man anyway and committed the crime before she’d even moved to the UAE), but there was nothing they could do and paperwork needed to be completed.
And, in typical Dubai fashion, the red tape is dragging on and has involved several trips to the court to sort it out. I felt so sorry for her – she stayed in boiling-hot Dubai the entire summer with her three kids and her husband working in Iraq during the week. This was to be their first get-away in months.
Of course, my neighbour had done nothing wrong at all, but as expats living in a Muslim country we have to be really careful to respect local customs and laws.
Things that can land you in trouble in Dubai include:
• Public displays of affection – kissing and hugging is considered an offence against public decency
• Sex outside marriage – even expats must be married to live together
• Dancing in public – allowed at home and in licensed clubs, but classed as indecent and provocative in public
• Drinking at home without an alcohol licence
• Bringing certain things into the country, including some prescription medicines, anti-Islamic material and pork pies
• Photographing locals, especially women, without permission
• Flipping another driver off on the roads
• Showing your underwear in public
There’s zero tolerance when it comes to drink driving – if you are found with even the smallest trace of alcohol in your bloodstream you will be jailed. And you’ll have heard about the expats who defaulted on loans they took out to finance the good times and had to flee the country – leaving their cars to collect sand at the airport – or face prison.
A British friend of a friend of mine did find herself locked up in an underground cell at the notorious Bur Dubai police station. She’d accompanied a man she’d just met back to his apartment and called the police after his jealous ex-girlfriend arrived and tried to attack her with a knife. Both girls were arrested and forced to share a cell for a month, becoming great pals by the end (you might have read about it in the Daily Mail!).
As for my neighbour, her husband returned to Dubai and they spent the week at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm, not telling anyone so the kids weren’t upset they were staying down the road – and looking out over his company headquarters while having a drink in the evening.
I hope the bureaucracy is out the way soon and they get another holiday, because as much as I love this place, you do need fairly regular breaks too.
And if you’re planning on visiting Dubai anytime soon, just be careful not to give anyone the bird, even if they’ve just committed a jaw-droppingly bad offence on the road, and remember, the beach is for sunbathing, not sex. Dubai is great, but Ibiza it aint.