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Archive | lost in translation


People here speak English.They also speak Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Tagalog, Gujerati, and god knows what else.  Most of the cab drivers here speak better English than the cabbies in New York.  On the one hand, yay! Everyone should speak English, shouldn’t they? I mean, shouldn’t there be a law or something? And then, of course, on the other hand, we earnest expats wonder where we will find the “real” Abu Dhabians?

The city seems a bit like Los Angeles or NYC  in that almost everyone here is from somewhere else…and the people who are really “from” here are very hard to find.  Plus that, when you leave the downtown area, where we live, the neighborhoods look like any swanky nabe, anywhere: walled villas set back from the road, green grass (green!), expensive shops and car dealerships: BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Ferrari.

On my way to Spinneys (a British grocery store), the cab drove through one such Al Swankia neighborhood and for a moment I could have been in Beverly Hills.  When I walked into the grocery store, the illusion of Western life persisted: orderly aisles, food from Waitrose, rows of Campbell’s Soup, Betty Crocker pancake mix, frozen pizzas, organic frozen vegetables.  All very Whole Foodsy (with prices to match), all very familiar.

And then…this:


Behind sliding glass doors, at the back of the store, a section of the grocery store set aside for us pork-eaters. In this room you’ll find porky happiness: babyback ribs, pork chops, and bacon, which comes with a sort of Surgeon General’s warning:

I wonder: what would constitute “pork for Muslims?”

Also in the pork room? Wee packets of pork scratchings, which I think are what George Bush the First liked to eat, yes? Pork Rinds? (Ah, the Bushies. What a classy group.)  The pork room also held shelves of Pop Tarts, that lard-based breakfast of champions. Should we call them Pork Tarts from now on?  (And yes, yes, I confess, if the box hadn’t been almost eight bucks, I would’ve brought some home. I loves me some Pop Tarts. )

Pork, it seems, resides in unexpected places. For instance, in seafood:

So yeah, everyone here seems to speak English, and yeah, there’s a Baskin-Robbins two doors down from our building, but squid balls and the pork room remind me that we’re a long, long way from home.

Continue Reading · on August 18, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, food, lost in translation, NYC, shopping, Travel, UAE

Things I’ve Discovered…

Yesterday I wrote about things I missed, so today it seems only fair that I write about a few discoveries.

First thing: we’ve traveled to the other side of the world and found ourselves in…mall culture. It’s hot as hell here, if hell were filled with air the consistency of hot tapioca.  Combine the heat with the whole Ramadan fasting-from-sunrise-to-sunset thing and you create a month-long interior, mostly nocturnal culture.  After iftar, the meal that breaks the fast at sunset, people head outside…to the mall.

And you know? Mall culture is pretty much mall culture, world wide. Is this what Thomas Friedman meant by “the world is flat”? You be the judge:

Given the weather here, something from Louisiana almost makes sense. Almost. This outpost of US culture, however, does not:

Hardees? Really?  (These pictures are slightly blurry because I had to take them in a hurry–seems there’s a wee prohibition against photography.)

Discovery two: yes, Virginia, there is liquor here, right out in the open, just like at home:

Furthermore, the beer is available just down the aisle from the chips.  And in the next aisle over, some serious gourmet imported coffee:

Outside the mall and grocery store, a more original fast food.

When I walked by this bush, I thought that brown blob was some hapless bug, but it’s not. It’s a date. From a date palm, one of several growing outside Marks & Spencer:

Shimmy up the tree, and the snacks are yours for the taking. Or you can get them in the supermarket.

I’ve also discovered that when the horizon isn’t covered in a heat-induced haze, my windows are filled with the blues and greens of the gulf:

Continue Reading · on August 16, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, lost in translation, Travel, UAE

Romantic Room

I went back to the Marks & Spencer Mall today to find out what kind of hanky-panky goes on in the romantic room, which is so publicly advertised on the sign at the front of the mall.

I’m sorry to say that we will never know what happened in the romantic room, my friends, because as so often happens in romance, the actuality was far, far less than expected.

I found the store towards the back of the mall:

But inside were only a few stray wires and a dustball or two:

The reflection you see is the children’s clothing store, doing a bustling business across the hall from the Romantic Room.  Isn’t that always the way? Children arrive and Romance goes right the hell out of business.

Continue Reading · on April 22, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, lost in translation

the signs are clear…the meaning, not so much

Traveling to another country–traveling anywhere–creates the opportunity to learn new phrases and traditions. Sometimes, though, things get lost in translation.


“How come no one takes anything from those shops,” Liam asked me after we gone through customs in Abu Dhabi and were standing outside waiting for our cab into the city.

“What shops?” I wasn’t paying attention; I was too busy breathing the warm air, tangy with the smell of the ocean.

“Those duty shops, in all the airports? How come no one steals the stuff?”

Now he had my attention. “Well, all those things cost money. You have to pay the cashier and–”

“What cashier? You mean someone works there?”

I nodded. Comprehension dawned across Liam’s face. “I didn’t think anyone worked there, you know, like it wasn’t anyone’s job. Like, free of duties, right?”

Reminded me of my friend S., whose mother, a number of years ago, was extolling the delicious eggs she found at a small country market in Maryland. “They’re wonderful,” the mother said, “but what’s a range chicken, do you think?”  My friend S. stared at her and the mother explained: “They’re free range eggs, and they make great omelettes but I’ve never heard of range chickens before.”  Clearly the store needed to re-think the placement of its hyphens. S. brought her mother to the store where she paid for about a week’s worth of not-free free-range eggs.

Example II: This sign, from the mall near to where our apartment is in Abu Dhabi. The sign hangs just inside the entrance to the mall:

What do you suppose happens in the romance room? If we were in another country, I’d guess hookers, but given that we’re in the UAE, I’m thinking not. Maybe it’s the place where men and women go to hold hands?

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Continue Reading · on April 21, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, lost in translation

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