1. I forgot that a standard work week runs from Monday to Friday.
In the Middle East, our work week runs Sunday to Thursday to allow for Jumu’ah prayers, which occur every Friday. The Friday prayers are a communal experience, where those of the Muslim faith gather together. Throughout our time in the Middle East, we’ve always lived close to a mosque and hearing the call to prayer throughout the week is a peaceful reminder of where we live. Of course, firing up my computer at work on Sunday morning is a strange start to the week. A glance at my Instagram feed shows West Coast friends still out partying on their Saturday night. It’s also made for some tricky travel and holidays, but for the most part, we’ve adjusted.
2. I accepted transient friendships.
By definition, the Middle East is home to a number of expats and there’s an expiration date on everyone’s time out here. So, when making friends (even those of the amazing life changing variety), there is always an expectation you will either leave or be left. It’s a bit jarring at first, but the upside is having a place to stay in a number of countries around the world. Friendships are also easier to get started here — there is no pretense. If you like someone or share an interest, you can simply ask them to coffee (or the netball league or a ladies night). As a more long-term expat, I also consider it my duty to help anyone new to town. After all, we’ve all been the person who’s just landed and has no idea what’s going on.
3. I stopped planning for rain.
In Dubai, it typically only rains four or five days a year. So, I have no idea where my umbrella is. I never check the forecast, because we essentially only have two default temperatures: ‘hot’ and ‘not as hot.’
4. I stopped thinking of other countries as far away.
One of the biggest perks of living in the Emirates is that literally everything is geographically ‘near.’ And, oh, how my definition of ‘close by’ has changed. With Europe somewhere between 4-6 hours, Africa practically next door and Asia just a few hours further, I’ve been delighted to add a number of stamps to my passport. Add in some better than domestic airlines (the Gulf carriers are all modern and most fly directly) and this is one of the more difficult things I would have to give up if we moved back to the States. Essentially, after making the 14-hour trip home to the States, anything under 6 hours is a short flight.
5. I stopped worrying about safety.
While I am still always diligent in my surroundings, life in Dubai is safe. There aren’t any senseless tragedies involving gun violence. For the most part, I do not feel the need to lock my car or home. In one instance when I happened to leave my purse (with money and identification cards) in a taxi, the taxi driver called me the next morning and returned everything as I left it. Yes, I made sure he was compensated for his actions. Also, this story is the rule, not the exception.
6. I stopped expecting to get paid every week or every other week.
Receiving a paycheck every week, or every other week was standard living in the United States. But for the past nine years that I’ve been in the Middle East, that’s changed to once a month. Budgeting works a little differently, especially when you consider that rent is due not monthly but once a year. Learning to pay for an entire year’s rent at once took a bit of getting used to.
7. I’ve realized that leaving the house isn’t always necessary.
Whenever I visit my parents, I’m struck by how reliant we can be on the car. In Dubai, nearly EVERYTHING can be delivered. From all kinds of food — seriously, fine dining to McDonald’s — to housewares to, legend has it, alcohol. If you want to be a hermit for a weekend, it’s entirely possible. And because of all the amazing cuisines here, you could go through a number of different styles of food without ever having to repeat.
8. I’m no longer a polite driver.
It’s not that I’m not used to driving in high-density situations — I lived in Los Angeles for five years. However, my level of aggression is now reaching epic levels after my years in the Gulf. While not as bad as Qatar, there is no room for hesitation, of any kind, on the roads of Dubai. One must assume that a person will enter your lane from any direction at any time. I’ve so far resisted the urge to reverse on a highway (a common sight), but I can’t promise I’ll never commit this travel violation.
9. I forgot how to pump my own gas.
I realize there are states in America where attendants are required to do this (New Jersey, I’m looking at you), but where I lived in Atlanta and Los Angeles, we were responsible for pumping gas ourselves. While visiting Chicago earlier this year, I went to the gas station and had an actual moment of ‘How do I do this?’ I realized it had been over 18 months since I’d held a nozzle. This isn’t to say it’s all easy over here in Dubai, it’s common to wait 10-15 minutes while queuing for petrol and there aren’t very many easily accessible stations.