Love it or hate it, Dubai has become a trendy destination and has grown exponentially from the creation of the UAE in 1971.
From a small village living off the pearl industry, to what is now home to over 200 Guinness World Records, Dubai has evolved in an impressive and truly unique way over the 44 years of its existence.
Many expats come to work, live and enjoy the year round sunny weather, tax free salaries and intercultural awesomeness.
YES, but… Having been an expat in Dubai for three years now, I have had the occasion many times to encounter typical stereotypes, misconceptions and cliches about Dubai that happen to be total bulls&*%.
Let’s debunk some myths together.
So, do you have to cover your hair?
Covering your hair is neither imposed, nor expected from anyone, Muslim or not. You can cover your hair if you have a pretty new scarf, if you’re having a bad hair day, if it’s raining (yes, it happens!), or for any reason that is approved by you and only you. No one will ask you to cover your face or hair in a mall, in the street or at work. That being said, a lot of women here are covered, of course, we are in a Muslim country. Everyone lives together in perfect harmony as long as there is respect, that is also one of the biggest advantages of having such a melting pot of cultures, religions and nationalities living together in Dubai.
BUT….You will only be expected to cover your hair when visiting a Mosque (check out Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai, or even better, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi for an unique experience!).
So that’s it, you stopped drinking and partying?
Anyone that knows me, from France, Holland or Dubai, knows that this is not realistic. I am a person that enjoys seeing my friends, going out and having a few drinks now and then and if Dubai was year-long dry, it would not be my home now. Funnily enough, despite Dubai being a Muslim state, Dubai’s economy nowadays is mostly based on tourism and entertainment. Dubai understands this, and has adapted to accommodate the numerous tourists and expats with what they want. See the Best Bars & Clubs in Dubai by Lonely Planet.
Beach bars, rooftops, underground pubs, Ibiza clubs, garage parties… Anything is possible.
BUT…. In Dubai there is what we call “Dry Nights” which mark religious holidays. This means no alcohol is served and most bars and clubs are closed for one night until 5pm the day after. Dry Nights are often synonym with house parties. (Make sure you own a license!)
On a scale of immensely wealthy to I-just-bought-my-third-Porsche, how rich are you now?
First of all, rich is a subjective concept, but I will take it as being able to pay rent, bills, food, and have enough money left to go a bit cray and rent a yacht for a weekend, go brunching, on regular holidays and have a shopping spree whenever you want. (Hello, dreamy life!)
Well, this is not my case (yet.).
Sure, I am not homeless and I enjoy sushi delivery a few times a month, but money here is easily spent. As previously said, Dubai is based on tourism and everything here WILL make you want to spend money. Your self control must be strong.
You do have to work hard though, most of us don’t have a 9 to 5 set job, most likely a 9 to 8. Dubai is a place many come to work, make and save money. But you know what? Ask a 20-something expat how much he/she saved the past month. Get ready for a embarrassed face, an awkward laugh and a barely audible “Erm, nothing. Next month, Inshallah.”
BUT…. Shopping, going for happy hour, renting a boat for a birthday party, going brunching every weekend and having little weekend escapades now and then are the daily life of many expats in Dubai. Some also live on AED 400 a month, and sleep on bunk beds.
From what I heard, there is nothing else but malls and beaches. What about the culture?
This is a very common and interesting question. Dubai is immensely different now compared to what it was when it started. Among the 7 UAE states, Dubai (and Abu Dhabi to a lesser extent) is the one that has lost most of its original culture. What you need to know is that Dubai is divided in two, very different, sides, that we commonly name “Old Dubai”, and “New Dubai”.
New Dubai will be the Dubai most people know about, the shiny, tallest, fancy, VIP-style Dubai. The beaches, the Palm Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab, Dubai Marina and so on.
This is the expensive, crazy, superlative Dubai.
Then there is the Old Dubai, that seem to have stopped in time. There, you can find the Gold Souq, the Spices Souq, the Cultural Centre, old streets, abras (traditional boats), small local delicious eateries, and hidden shops and tailors. This is where you should go if you are after culture. Get lost in the old dirty streets, bargain gold at the souq, get a suit tailored for peanuts, take an Abra for AED1, sit down and observe the people. Dubai has a soul, you just have to know where to look for it. See the List of Souqs in Dubai by Lonely Planet.
It’s almost August… Shouldn’t you be like, super tanned?
Well, no. I am currently whiter than I have ever been, and you know what? It’s okay.
It’s currently about 45 degrees Celsius (113F) and going outside is literally the equivalent to walk into an oven, while the breeze is equivalent to a hair drier, and the humidity makes your sunglasses go opaque.
The sea is 30 degrees Celsius (86F) and going to the beach is the last thing I want to do on weekends.
BUT…. Pool might be an option, as well as fake tan (not for me, thanks.) But honestly isn’t it better to come home at Christmas looking so tanned all your friends hate you? Point proven.
So, do you fast during Ramadan and all?
Ramadan is a special month of the year for all Muslims around the world. Dubai being a Muslim state, the law indicates that no one, Muslim or not, shall eat, drink or smoke in public places during the whole month, from sunrise to sunset.
That does NOT mean I’m fasting all day! Instead, I will eat in appropriate places, and drink when people can’t see me. This is FINE for me, and even if some people might not agree (I am always open for debate, by the way, so don’t hesitate to ask questions), I find it OK and almost normal that we have to follow these rules. Plus, did I mention I’m quite a fan of Ramadan in Dubai?
BUT… Ramadan only lasts a month, so why not go on the cleanse you always wanted to try? Also, Ramadan is also about charity, sharing and peace, so time to start yoga, donate to a charity or volunteer!
How do you date? I mean, I heard you can’t even hold hands!
Alright, so according to Dubai Law, PDA are not allowed, and if you get too close to your partner in public (read: french sloppy kiss or sex in back of a taxi), you might land in trouble. That being said, I never had an issue with holding hands, hugs or goodbye kisses. You have to remember that any situation is unique and you must show respect before anything.
I think most people are smart enough to understand that you can’t slap your girlfriend’s ass while entering a movie theater, or make out heavily with a bloke you just met in a club. That is just called being respectful and, honestly, after having seen people literally having sex in the street in Amsterdam, I don’t mind a little modesty.
BUT… Sometimes you might miss some freedom, and not being able to officially live together when not married is a bit annoying. But the UAE is our home away from home, so we accept the rules!
There you go, I hope you learned a few things and that you enjoy these insights about fake Dubai cliches and life in the UAE as an expat.
We will make a video talking about these more in depth, so please do ask us questions and let us know your thoughts and comments. Cheers!