Checking Facebook the other day, I came across a Dubai friend’s post bemoaning the city’s busy roads. She had been stuck in traffic for 20 minutes, she said, meaning her journey to work had taken her, wait for it… an entire 30 minutes.
Sitting in my own car in gridlocked traffic on the motorway, 45 minutes into my daily two-hour commute to work in London, I almost choked on my latte, which I had queued 20 minutes for, receiving alongside it a free dose of attitude from the surly barista, before standing in minus-two-degree temperatures in order to fill up on fuel, which I had the privilege of paying a gut-wrenching Dh500 for.
Yes, I’m back in England after 20 years residing in what I now consider easy expat environments including Dubai. Ah, those were the days. When an outing to the swimming pool didn’t involve breaking the bank, dirty changing room floors, depressing decor and shivering children. When a night out with your husband didn’t feature credit card debt, demanding and overpriced babysitters, and arguments about who should drive (taxis here are infrequent and costly). And when a trip to the supermarket didn’t mean long queues, nowhere to park, surly staff and stress from having to remember to bring your own bags (you get attitude if you don’t) and pack your own groceries in record time.
Even a night spent in – due to the lack of a decent disposable income we have plenty of those – doesn’t deliver what it did in Dubai. I now spend endless nights ‘in’ cleaning my own house, recycling my own rubbish, cooking my own supper and looking after my children, while my husband balances the books. Even the occasional treat – a takeaway from our local Indian (poor quality, pricey and no delivery) – fails to make the Dubai Gold Standard.
And when I do leave my house, which by the way is smaller than most Dubai expats’ balconies, I am not able to do so without serious planning. I leave home each day armed with an umbrella in case it rains, a pair of trainers in case I can’t find a parking space near work, and an attack alarm in case I come across one or more unsavoury characters. Not to mention the extra clothing I must carry, because who knows if the sun will shine or sleet will fall?
Long gone are the days when I would return home after work to neatly folded carrier bags, ironed sheets, polished plants, clean children and a nutritious cooked-from-scratch dinner of butter chicken. Ready meals and rubber gloves are my new best friends, leaving me little time for any real friends. Not that I have many. It’s not so easy making and maintaining new friendships here. People are more suspicious, less open, and likely to keep to the friends they’ve had since nursery school.
It would be lovely to lunch with a friend, I often find myself thinking. This invariably leads to reminiscences of monthly manicures, weekend brunches and hot sand between my perfectly pedicured toes.
These little luxuries that were once a mainstay of my expat existence have disappeared. I can’t remember the last time I had the time, money, energy or inclination to a) pamper myself b) organise a night out or c) go shopping for pleasure.
So, to the Dubai friend ranting about the city’s traffic, and to any other expats thinking about berating life in the City of Gold, I say, don’t take your lifestyle for granted. Enjoy it. Appreciate it. Because one day, like the oh-so-cheap fuel you put in your cars, it might just run out.