Be Careful Over There – What?!? I Live in the UAE!

Be careful over there! my American friends said to me. As if the Middle East is simply one big mosh pit of danger, mayhem and debris.

Be careful doing what? I thought to myself. Choking on lobster, slipping on a marble floor, or poking my eye out with a canape skewer?

What exactly do they think could happen to me? — I LIVE IN THE UAE!

Oh, no, you’re mistaken. I don’t live in Saudi Arabia. I can drive here. It is fine. And I don’t wear an abaya. Although on a bad hair day it sure would be a snap. And if I decide to do so it does not effect my feminism. My human rights are not limited as you might think they would be. I just can’t look like a harlot when I’m walking the streets. So far that hasn’t been a problem for me.

None of the craziness you see on TV is anywhere near me or my family. This is the wealthiest place in the world. There are no beheadings or prison camps or things like this you might read. I am perfectly safe here — I LIVE IN THE UAE!

In the UAE, they prefer that I not scream obscenities or flip my middle finger at the crazy new driver that cut me off at the pass. Yes, in the States I would shout, shake my fists, and tell them to kiss my arse.  But I really don’t miss that privilege and it is okay by me, if we all focus on a little more civility. You see, it is a conservative place in many regards. They prefer if we all do not behave like total schmucks, lugheads or goofs. In fact, everyone here uses their manners and are extremely gracious; they call me madam and my husband sir and they go out of their way to please us.

They must be thinking about Iraq or Iran and they are as close to the UAE as New York is to West Virginia; although, you must agree, there is a huge difference between them. If you lumped New Yorkers and West Virginians together, any American would tell you they have nothing in common. They may be the same religion and in the same country but there is a world of difference between them. We live in a bubble, a very expensive bubble it may be; that separates us from the rest of the Middle East. Life here is grand we have no complaints. We live in a world of over-the-top excess. Free from the badness many nations face.

There’s no danger here. We are a very happy bunch. We shop and we explore and we eat fancy brunches. Tell the media how happy we are and to stop lumping Muslims together. There’s nothing threatening about being here. Get out your maps and look into it. Get on a plane and come visit us.

We are here of our own choosing we like our little Utopia. Please save your be careful over there for someone who needs it. We are living the dream. Please come and see it!

We love living in the UAE!

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26 thoughts on “Be Careful Over There – What?!? I Live in the UAE!

  1. Thank you for posting this. I doubt some of the lower class people living there feel quite so magnanimous, but I felt very safe there and it did not bother me one bit that they did not serve alcohol outside during Ramadan. The light show outside the mall in Dubai is wonderful to say the least and I like the houses I saw very much. My main question, out of curiosity, is who wears all the gold I saw in the souk and to what events? I really wanted some of the rugs, mostly from Iran, to add to my mini collection, but we were in too big a rush and I probably could not afford them anyway.


  2. You are right. There are no objections or much restrictions to women campare to other arab countries. As for as abaya is concerened, women are free to wear what they like. As my personel exp i have seen plenty of emirati women wearing shorts,little observable outfits and very next day fullly covered. And many times men are bound to dress reasonably if they are wearing knickers.
    It is very safe place to live. Just obey the rules and no one can stop you. Mosques are open at door steps,pub and bars are on an arm distence go whereevrer you like.


  3. Having also lived in AD I can’t deny there are wonderful reasons for people to visit and live. However, I think your post lacks a touch of reality, you may be looking at your ‘utopia’ through rose tinted glasses. The hotels and malls you visit to dine and shop are built by the hands of modern day slaves. Women have to fight for their freedom after their rape is considered to be infedelity. Businessmen sit in jail awaiting a ‘fair’ trial and their only mistake was belieiving that they could conduct their business with the protection of the law. Expats are at the whim of any Emirati whether it be legal, fair or justified. You can absolutely live in AD without encountering too much trouble personally, but to deny the existence of the trouble around you is naive. The bubble you live in, whilst pleasant, is not a true reflection of AD which is seemingly beautiful on the surface but has a very nasty underside. I think the people telling you to ‘be careful’ have every reason to do so, and you would be wise to heed their advice.


    1. Hi,

      I don’t think your response really addresses the comments issues. I will also preface this by saying I’ve lived in Dubai for a number of years so am not writing from an armchair with no experience

      You say: “I am not saying that these things do not exist in our utopia.”
      Except though, that you are quite specifically and explicitly saying in your post that problems and issues do not exist in the UAE, that it is a problemless and suffering free country. In your words the UAE is a utopia which means quite literally a place with no problems in it, a perfect country. You haven’t written a post that chooses to highlight certain positive aspects of the UAE, you’ve written a piece that
      “There’s no danger here. We are a very happy bunch. We shop and we explore and we eat fancy brunches. Tell the media how happy we are and to stop lumping Muslims together. There’s nothing threatening about being here.”
      That’s just blatantly false. It can be a very threatening place to be, not just for the well known exploited labourers, but also for women who are constantly at a disadvantage simply because of their gender, businessmen who face courts simply because a check has bounced, every driver on the road who is terrified for getting into a crash with an Emirati because they will always be right, the list can go on and on.

      Sure, the UAE can be a great place and I would not be where I am now if I hadn’t have moved there, but to write a post like this that does not simply ignore the problems there but explicitly states there are no problems whatsoever is rather naive an blind.


    2. “The hotels and malls you visit to dine and shop are built by the hands of modern day slaves.”

      That’s a common myth. The labourers actually earn significantly more in UAE than they do at home and come to UAE voluntarily. Try talking to them: you will find they are mostly happy to be gainfully employed and proud to be able to support their families back home. Between them, they transfer billions of dollars to their home countries. That income makes a huge difference to some of the world’s poorest communities and is a powerful force for breaking the cycle of poverty.

      “Women have to fight for their freedom after their rape is considered to be infedelity. ”

      If it is proven to be rape, they will have no problems as that is obviously a crime in UAE. Assuming you are referring to the case of Marte Dalelv, she was only sentenced after she admitted lying about being raped, and confessing that the sex was consensual (on the bad advice of her employer). You can read more about it here:

      “Businessmen sit in jail awaiting a ‘fair’ trial and their only mistake was belieiving that they could conduct their business with the protection of the law.”

      I assume you are referring to the case of Matt Joyce, who was on trial for fraud? You can conduct business with the protection of the law, but fraud is still illegal.

      “Expats are at the whim of any Emirati whether it be legal, fair or justified.”

      Not really. Emiratis still have to abide by the law. There are frequently examples in the local press of Emiratis being arrested.

      “I think the people telling you to ‘be careful’ have every reason to do so, and you would be wise to heed their advice.”

      You do of course have to be aware of your environment and respect local laws. However there is a big difference between being culturally sensitive and succumbing to fear-mongering propagated by a sensationalist media. Gina has the right attitude.


      1. Not only have I talked to those ‘slaves’, but several are personal friends. And it’s an absolute SHAME and DISGRACE to this wealthy country how little they make, and the conditions of the labor camps. Does it really appease the national conscience to know their pitiful salaries are slightly higher than in other countries? Because it shouldn’t. FAIR WAGE is a concept that transcends nationality.

        I don’t know what you have experienced, but I work hand in hand with many Emiratis, and there is NO way the law applies to them as it does other residents. Perhaps on paper, but we all know ‘wasta’ rules the country.

        The UAE offers MOST residents a very comfortable life, safe and free. Gratefully I’m one of them. But those who make our lives so comfortable are not properly compensated or protected.

        No comment on the rape issue. But the idea of being “proven” implies an actual investigation…without presumptions. Yeah right.

        Bottom line: Enjoy all the country has to offer, and pay it forward by being generous to those who serve. Avoid any and all confrontations with Locals. Respect the culture and laws, and stay out of trouble. Because the UAE is a great place to live.


    3. Every place has troubles no matter where you go, it is much better than many other places you could go to, even if the other places are fully developed. The UAE is relatively new, and like any child they live and learn from them. Do you think any empire was made in a little over a decade? Also learn the laws, learn your rights before you speak. The reason to why they are the way they are is for several reasons that the history of the nation has to show. I was born in Dubai, I am an Emirati woman and couldn’t be more proud. Many have a huge misconception on who we are as people and that included our local residents. So please what you base these few problems that happen once on a blue moon, do not judge this nation for the wonderful, free and safe place it was to grow up in.


  4. Having recently returned after 5 amazing years in Abu Dhabi, I agree wholeheartedly with your post. This was my experience exactly but with the added joy of discovering the boundless love, care and support shown to us by our Emirate friends and colleagues when my husband was diagnosed with a serious illness. I will be forever grateful for the kindness and practical care he received with no expectation of gratitude because ‘that is what you do for your brother’. Awesome!!


  5. Thank you guys for such great comments, and hopefully whoever came to the UAE and loved it will visit u once again, and to those who didn’t, in sorry we didn’t meet your standers.

    I love my country too aya farah


  6. Wow. All I can say is wow. Yes, it’s safe here, which is nice, but it’s so obvious that you’re one of the expats that can gloss everything over as long as you have your booze brunch, spa treatments, maids, etc. How extraordinarily superficial you seem. I won’t even go over what all is so wrong with the system here, but the fact that people can totally ignore all that because they live in a world if “over-the-top excess” is quite honestly, disgusting.


  7. In reply to Nunya and Jacast, I think there are phases expatriates go through in response to the cultural differences on the individual level and cultural level. The blogger seems to be new to the UAE and soaking up the pleasures which are at first wonderful. For instance, the blogger refers to ‘they’ who call her in respectful terms of madam but those saying madam they are not the same theys of the host minority, the Emiratis, who are also rather varied in terms of background. Anyway, there is more complexity on the
    social and political levels, which is not appropriate to discuss openly. While the bloggers can report whatever she feels, this post does not really explore the complexities of living in the UAE, but it also, in a way, makes fun of the superficial pleasures.


    1. Thank you for reading. The Abu Dhabi PTA is a humor blog. It is designed to make people smile. It will never be an investigative report, a sociology study, a power tool for heavy duty reform. I focus on the good. Not all of my posts are as fluff as this but they are all designed to be edutaining on a level that I feel will be of interest to the largest group of readers possible. My goal is to make the Middle East less frightening for the average American reader — although, due to this piece, the blog is now read in over 115 countries. My educational background is in Critical & Creative Thinking/social innovation and my area of interest is humor and social change. MVDH, you are right, the post does poke fun at the superficial pleasures. Many of my posts do. I am not new to the UAE, but I like writing from the perspective of someone who is still in the honeymoon stage. I very much enjoy living in the UAE and I want to share my experiences with others to hopefully dispel many of the stereotypes that exist about the Middle East. Again, thanks for reading. Best, Gina


  8. I read an article in the paper that said “victims brought it on themselves by allowing such interactions…”Their first question is usually “how did you get yourself in this situation”, as we all know “men can’t control themselves”. <—insert sarcasm
    I also agree with Rain Lover


  9. Hi, as the only Brit working for a large American company, I have to “sell” Abu Dhabi consistently to our friends across the pond. Thank you! This is a very useful perspective. I’ve lost copunt opf the times I have had to reassure people, to the point I wrote a guide. If you don’t mind, I may add this to my “useful links”.


  10. I lived there too before i moved out, the place has no social or job security. You live at your employers contract mercy and you think thats not slavery!!? UAE is among those middle east countries only in the world that you will be born and die and never get citizenship or have equal rights and privileges from the government as the locals, expatriates or foreigners are different things than the local Emiratis, who wants to live in such a country!! i have a friend his dad has lived there for 40yrs and has to renew his residence permit despite his personal and other people like him’s contribution to building UAE. People live in fear of the police in UAE than criminals, if anything worst crimes are committed by local Emiratis who have an upper hand and favor in their judiciary system, i know a girl from Kenyan who died in hospital after being assaulted by some Emirati men for resisting their harassment. So next time you go about coloring
    UAE, remember there is always 2 sides of a coin!!!!


  11. With its cosmopolitan feel, skyscrapers, malls, towers, and different cultures; the UAE can be a very enjoyable place to live in , have some work experience, and earn some good tax free money for some expatriates.

    As any other country, it still has a gloomy side about it, some social issues, taboos, and things that people will not dare that much to tackle, all resulting from being culturally open ,and mixed.

    People tend to be treated, according to their nationality, especially when it comes to employment opportunities; looks like a stock market where some nationalities are up and others are down. It is a true fact; that I witnessed myself , and even some local emaratis admitted that .

    Prostitution is widespread; girls from different nationalities; some of them having this as their main source of income . despite being a Muslim country; I saw things that I have not seen that much living in a European country like the UK.

    At some point , everything seems to be money oriented, superficial relationships; not denying that The UAE is a safe nice place; can be good for few years for some people yo grow financially .


  12. “UAE is among those middle east countries only in the world that you will be born and die and never get citizenship or have equal rights and privileges from the government as the locals”… you are not paying any income tax…then why are you expecting citizenship?

    to all the people who think that the laws here favor the emiratis, have you considered the fact that they (the emiratis) cannot actually be deported? but otherwise, all the laws apply to them as well….and those of you talking about ‘wasta’…. do not tell me that the same does not happen in your own home country…that would be a blatant lie!

    secondly, have you not heard that Sheikh Mohd pardons hundreds of petty criminals every year during ramadan, expat and locals as well?

    I’ve had many run ins with the police here in Dubai (don’t ask why, but I have) and everytime I was treated fairly and with respect, you know why? because I gave my respect to them as well…..remember that respect is earned.

    Dubai is a wonderful place to live, if you follow the rules and regulations and the laws set by the government, and why shouldn’t you? will you not be punished if you broke laws in your own country? and I’ll let you know I’ve lived in many countries over a period of time and believe me, the Police force here is the most tolerant and respectful than any other country I’ve been to.

    To all those wo keep talking about the plight of the laborers here…have you considered that they bring this situation onto themselves? I work in a construction company and have very close contact with workers a lot of the time…and do you know why they are frustrated? its because their families have put so much pressure on them to keep sending money…the guys who are not sleeping or eating or getting medicines, their families are building multiple level houses back home in their own country…..i’ve had enough of people blaming their financial problems on Dubai as a state….if you are getting caught up in all the bling, glitz and glamor, that’s ur own fault!

    I do not say that Dubai is perfect, sure its got its flaws, but really people, if its so bad, why don’t you go back where you came from? what’s keeping you here? why did you come here in the first place?


  13. Hey Gina

    Hilarious post; sounds like Singapore for Muslims (and expats like you). Shop, shop and shop some more; the national sport !!
    Speaking of Iran, last night Anthony Bourdain’s show was in Iran; it was fascinating, heartwarming a little bit sad. Iranians are very educated, warm hospitable folks caught in a country with a restrictive government. Sadly, the western journalist who spoke freely, an American-Iranian living in Tehran was arrested after the show aired and his whereabouts are unknown. Anyway I just thought I’d mention that

    Thanks for following my blog; I love your witty sense of writing and will enjoy following.

    Rob and Diane


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