Luxury Meets Lethargy—Welcome To The Emirates
Here in Dubai, you can find whatever fits your idea of luxury.
When hunger strikes, you could pop into Bloomsbury’s to order the world’s most expensive cupcake (US$1,100). Or come face to face with the sharks over a plate of poached oysters at the underwater restaurant in the Burj Al Arab (renowned as the world’s most luxury hotel).
The Talise Ottoman Spa offers the world’s most luxurious facial—involving a 24-karat gold mask. And, if you need a Lamborghini, you can rent one for US$700 a day.
Want to get anything done here in the United Arab Emirates—especially something involving paperwork? Well, that’s a different story…
Since leaving Ireland three years ago, I’ve been teaching at a number of elementary schools, first in Abu Dhabi and now Dubai. My favorite brush with local administration was in pursuit of police clearance in Abu Dhabi last year.
I needed the clearance to apply for a new teaching job and was relieved to find there’s a desk at the Marina Mall where they deal specifically with this process. This, I thought, would save me from hours of polite queuing in a police station, watching local after local jump ahead. (Emiratis are truly skilled in the art of queue skipping.)
I approached the policeman at the desk and enquired about a clearance certificate.
“No, I don’t know,” came the response, “check the information desk.”
I followed his pointing finger and turned 180 degrees to a desk about a meter behind me—the mall information desk.
Laughing, I spoke to the lady at Information, explaining that I was told police clearance could be attained here at the mall.
“Oh yes,” she laughed, “it’s right behind you.”
Two years of living in this part of the world and knowing how these people work, I asked her if she could explain in Arabic to the policeman—who was pretending he couldn’t understand me—the reason for my presence before him.
Only after this lady’s intervention did he reluctantly take my ID, employer details, and payment…and process the paperwork.
To his credit, he did it all with a smile. But he’d rather not have had the bother. If I hadn’t showed up that day, he could have sat and chatted with his friends without the hassle of clicking, typing, printing, or stamping.
This is typical of doing business in the UAE. For all its futuristic construction, modern infrastructure, and cupcakes of edible gold, customer service here is Third World (and slower).
Trying to get a phone or Internet connection can be excruciating. “The system is down” is a common reply. Or the assistant abandons you indefinitely to pray or use the toilet. You are constantly turned away because of higher personal priorities.
Then, there’s inshallah—the most overused word in this part of the world—meaning “God willing” or “if Allah wills.” For customer service staff, inshallah is the favorite get-out-of-jail-free card…
For example, you hand over your passport to have your paperwork processed (as I’ve had to do a number of times) and ask when you’ll have it returned…
You’ll likely hear: “Tomorrow, inshallah!”
In other words, “If Allah allows everything to run smoothly, then you’ll see your passport tomorrow. If you come tomorrow and it’s still not ready, then it wasn’t meant to be. (And, if I don’t show up, it’s because Allah wanted me to do something else.)”
This is simply the way of life. A way you gradually adjust to.
Why am I still here? Two reasons…
First, the UAE offers some of the most attractive benefit packages to skilled expat workers. On top of your base salary (which, as a teacher, works out a little higher than my Irish salary), it’s not unusual to find your annual rent, health care, visa for you and any dependents, annual return airfare to your home country, and your children’s education costs covered as standard. Note: Rent in this part of the world is high. One friend rents a standard three-bed villa for 200,000 dirhams per year (about US$54,500), payable a year in advance in one lump sum.
Second, you don’t pay any tax on your income. With your rent, health care, and other big expenses covered, this means your take-home salary can be your disposable income.
This is how I get to live in a luxury villa in the best part of Dubai. I can afford to drive a car that would cost a fortune to run at home. My income can be spent on dining out, entertainment, and trips to the salon. I’ve had dental braces fitted for a fraction you’d pay in the United States or Europe.
It’s like being on vacation every day: nice weather, beaches, and restaurants. Realistically, most of us couldn’t live this way in the long term. For now, though, I can live with the inefficiency, the crazy traffic, the inescapable calls to prayer five times a day (starting before dawn). And, don’t get me started on Ramadan…
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