Saturday, June 8, 2013

Dubai: Know Before You Go

In the spirit of chronicling  my adventures in Dubai, I thought I would share some of my most important tips and advice for future travelers. 

1. You need a car.

Transportation in Dubai is probably the most annoying thing about the city. Let's look at our options:

-Walking: Yeah right. In 140 degree heat?  You learn pretty quickly after arriving that nothing is walking distance in Dubai, except for  two stores in the same mall, and even then it may be a thirty minutes walk if they are on opposite sides of the mall. This is a big city, and it is spread out with not a lot in between.
- Bicycling: Also impracticable. No bike routes, and people drive crazy, so good luck not getting hit by a car. Also, the heat and sand storms make this a particularly unattractive option.
- Metro: Dubai actually has a nice and reasonably priced train system, but it won't take you everywhere, and it is not the fastest way of navigating the city.
- Taxis: Probably the most popular method of transportation, second to a private vehicle. Taxis are reasonably priced, but it can be hard to catch one. If you are in an unpopulated part of town, taxis may be few and far between, but if you are in a busy spot like a mall, you may have to wait in an insanely long line for a cab. 

the line for a taxi at Dubai Mall

2. If you are a woman, or closely resemble a woman, you will be hit on relentlessly.

Dubai definitely gets a place on the wall of shame for poor behavior on the part of its male population. Regardless of your looks, age, or how conservatively you are dressed, you will be hollered at from car window,s propositioned for sex on street corners, and even proposed marriage in line at McDonalds. Every day, at least once an hour. 

Men here seem to lack all forms of respect and decorum when it comes to speaking to females.  I am used to seeing this behavior of men in larger cities around the world, but only if a woman is young, attractive, and scantily clad. In Dubai, if she is a woman, she is fair game. 

The things I have heard coming out of men's mouths in Dubai is stuff you would expect to hear in prison, but don't worry, for the most part, this cooing and hollering is harmless - annoying - but harmless. It is very unlikely that any of these men are potential criminals, so there is no need to worry about becoming the victim of anythings besides a trashy comment. 

At best, you will be hollered at from car windows, that is, if you are actually on the street for  more than 5 minutes (most people don't venture outside in this country, see point 1). At worst, you could find yourself in the center of an international feud, like I did on my first night in Dubai. Basically, I was at a multinational gathering at the home of a British national in Dubai, and a very inebriated Emirati man began hitting on me. Coming to my rescue was an Iranian, who told the man I was married (I'm not married - technically, but close enough), and it's a big sin to hit on a married woman in this culture. The Emirati man and Iranian man began to fight in Arabic, over whether or not I was available to be hit on, because on one hand I am married, but on the other hand, I couldn't be married, because "what kind of married woman would travel alone." You think I had any say in this conversation? Not a word....

3. Want to brush up on your Arabic? Don't bother. 

This is not the place to practice Arabic, or to even begin learning it. 90% of Dubai's residents are foreign, and most are not from the Gulf region. Because practically none of the locals work regular jobs, it is unlikely that you will ever have to interact with an Arabic speaker. When I was in Dubai, the languages I really felt I needed were Urdu (for the Pakistani cab drivers), and Tagalog (for the Filipino waiters).

4. You will not mingle with locals. 

This is true, unless you have foreign friends who have local friends and they provide the introduction. Otherwise, you will quickly learn that the only Emiraties you are likely to meet are the immigration officers at the airport. Most Emiraties don't work regular jobs like, well, most of us do. You will not see them serving food, driving cars, counting cash at the bank, or  practicing medicine (I have seen the paramedics there - no Emiraties).  You will however, see them shopping and lounging around Starbucks....all day. 

5. Ladies, cover up. 

It's the law! That's right, even if you are foreign, you are expected to comply with local laws. This does not mean that you need to practice hijab or wear an Abaya (it's not Saudi Arabia, after all) but you should respect the local culture and dress modestly. 
In my time there, I did see foreign (ehem, British) women wearing mini dresses and shorts in the malls, and I felt embarrassed for them. In a club, however, anything goes. 

Dress code at Dubai mall

6. Drink lots of water - but not tap water. 

Being in such a hot climate will dehydrate you. At first, you may feel that you are just hungrier than normal, however, it's not hunger, it's thirst, and you need to treat it seriously. 
Carry a bottle of water with you everywhere, and never drink the tap water.

7. Don't photograph the women. 

I'm not sure where this rule is written down, if anywhere, but almost as soon as you arrive in Dubai someone will kindly tell you not to photograph  women in abayas. If you are from a region of the world where abayas are very rare, you may be very, very tempted to photograph a scene in Sephora where every woman's face is covered.
Don't do it. 
Unless you can do it like me, sneakily...

beachwear in Dubai

8. Beware sand storms. 

On my last night in Dubai, I had the honor horror of experiencing one of the grossest and most annoying natural  phenomena in the world: sand storms. Five minutes outside and you'll be practically buried. With  my face, mouth, and eyes covered, I stepped outside the taxi and by the time I reached the door in twenty feet, there was sand in my mouth, eyes, under my clothes...ok that's as much as I'm going to say. Gross. 
When there is a sand storm the city is paralyzed. No body steps outside and business ceases to a halt. Glad there are not too many of those.

that's not cloudy - that's sandy!

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