Some people slot straight into Dubai life when they first arrive. If that’s you, I raise my glass. Others – I suspect the majority – struggle to get to grips with the school system, have no idea where to live, don’t get how healthcare works, and tie themselves in knots trying to sort out the million-dollar question of what to do about home help: part-time, full-time, agency, sponsored, live-in, live-out – or whether they even need a maid at all.
On the one hand, so much is familiar about Dubai, from British shops such as Waitrose, M&S and Boots to the fact that you can readily meet other English-speaking expats but, ultimately, the UAE isn’t the UK, and much is done differently. While some things are easy to find out, others come in many shades of grey, and mistakes, such as sponsoring a maid who doesn’t gel with your family, can prove costly. I appreciate that we’re all different, but here are a few things I’ve learned:
Do I need a live-in maid?
Of course not. But, if you’ve got children, especially small ones, it can be very helpful in a life where most of us don’t have family to hand. But if your top lip’s curling in horror at the thought of you wafting about in a silk kaftan while the hired help scrubs the floors, drop that image right now.
Live-in help is an extra pair of hands. It’s that extra, familiar, adult to watch the baby while you nip out for a pint of milk; that ‘auntie’ to babysit in the hours between the end of school and you finishing work; and a very welcome person to tackle the mountains of dust that seem to blow in under every door and through every a/c unit.
However, it’s also true that everything from cleaning and washing to ironing and baby-sitting can be outsourced without you having to have live-in help – so sit in a quiet room and ask yourself if you’re willing to share your home with someone who’s not family, because that’s ultimately what it boils down to.
Do I need a four-wheel-drive?
Not unless you’re planning to drive out in the desert (even then, many people keep a specific 4WD for that). But, once you’ve sat at a traffic light in a hired sedan car and noticed that your head’s at the same height as a Nissan Patrol’s bumper, it’s possible you’ll change your mind. Especially when you’ve seen how people drive here.
Is the traffic always this bad?
No. It’s sometimes worse. Foggy morning? JBR on a weekend night? Sheikh Zayed Road just before Iftar? You’ll learn what to avoid.
Why do people flash me when I’m driving at the speed limit in the over-taking lane?
Because almost all speed cameras are set 20kph above the published speed limit.
Can I get a part-time job?
Serious part-time jobs that pay pro-rata are rarer than a lion in a Landcruiser – that is, you do see them from time to time, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled.
So how do I hold down a full-time job when schools finish around 2.30pm?
See ‘Do I need a live-in maid?’
Where’s a nice place to live?
In a nutshell: close to your children’s school. Remember you may have multiple pick-up times if the kids are different ages, and there’s absolutely nothing pleasant about three hours a day spent in the car, however lovely the school.
What’s the summer really like?
Hot. Will you survive it? Yes. Will you enjoy it? Maybe more than you think. There’s lots to do here in the summer, including children’s summer camps to suit all tastes, budgets and ages so there really is no need to hot-foot it back to the UK come the end of June – unless you want to.
If you stay, you’ll experience what I think of as ‘Dubai Lite’ – a much more chilled-out version of the city, with minimal traffic, loads of parking, no queues in the supermarket, and gloriously empty beaches just begging for a sunset swim. A Brazilian blow-out and an LVL eyelash lift will also help.
Will I put on the famous ‘Dubai stone’?
Not necessarily, especially if you stay away from the brunches – which leads me on to…
Will I be a social pariah if I never ‘do brunch’?
That depends entirely who your friends are.
British mum Annabel Kantaria has lived in Dubai for a very long time and is the author of best-selling domestic thrillers Coming Home and The Disappearance. The One That Got Away is out in September 2017.
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