Tag Archives | culture

leave your shoes at the door


What it looks like when repairmen come to your house in Abu Dhabi:


Everybody’s shoes get left at the door–whether it’s friends stopping by for a visit or workers coming to see why the dishwasher spews water all over the kitchen floor.

And even if I say to the repairmen, “no, it’s okay, please keep your shoes on,” the guys nod and smile and leave their shoes at the door.  It’s not just repair crews, either–furniture delivery people pause at the doorstep to kick off their shoes, no matter what they’re carrying and no matter what I say; my cleaning lady does the chores barefoot.

Bare feet seem less intimate, somehow, than stocking feet.  Sometimes one of the maintenance guys will have a hole in his sock, sometimes the socks don’t match; it’s like a tiny glimpse into their lives.  It’s an oddly vulnerable thing, isn’t it, that toe poking out of a worn sock?

Seeing the shoes lined up outside a door–or just inside the door, next to the rack that holds the “inside shoes” (flip-flops, slippers, slides) is one of those small moments when I realize I’m very far from “home.”






Continue Reading · on November 5, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, exercise, Politics, UAE, What’s It Like?

in which the godless heathens go to a wedding


image source

Old Longtime friends of my husband’s got remarried this past weekend. For those of you in blogland, yes, I know, can you imagine? They got married on Blogher weekend, thus forcing me to choose between…well, between blogging and my family.

My family won although frankly, it was a tough call. Not only would I miss actual face-to-face conversations with people I generally talk to only on the interwebs, I would also miss the amazing writers who were chosen as Voices of the Year.

But you know, marriage is all about compromise, or so they say, so I bid farewell to my Blogher dreams and off we went to Cape Cod for this wedding. Which was great and lovely and optimistic, as all weddings are and maybe even more so for being the second time around for both bride and groom. After all, in round two, you know what’s coming: stinky socks and weird sleep habits and fortheloveofgodputdownthetoiletseat. In other words, you know that “happily ever after” is more of a wish than a certainty.

My kids have never been to a wedding that they’re old enough to remember, so they had no idea what to expect from this one. Their most recent context for “marriage,” in fact, has to do more with the Supreme Court’s decision about DOMA than about two people plighting troth.  This wedding reminded me, once again, that while I grew up in a nominally Episcopalian household, my children are growing up without any religion, other than the rituals they witness because they live in a Muslim country.  Their lack of religious education meant that instead of spending the ceremony looking at what people were wearing and running my own little Tom and Lorenzo dialogue in my head, I was trying to field questions that should really only be tackled by a licensed theologian.

What’s a Eucharist? What’s a celebrant? What’s a communion?  Are the bride and groom Christian? Are we Christian? What’s an Episcopalian, anyway? Do I have to get married as an Episcopalian? What if I don’t want to get married? What are these books for? What’s a hymnal? Do people know all these prayers, like memorize them? Did you and Daddy get married like this, with a minister? Do you know these prayers?

I got through Eucharist and celebrant, but communion meant trying to explain the whole body-blood-bread-wine thing, and that’s where we went a bit off the rails: how to explain that something can be a literal truth to some, a symbolic truth to others, but not relevant at all in other religions. Caleb was adamant: I am not eating that! Not someone’s body, no way.  Needless to say, we stayed seated during the communion bit of the ceremony

As for the rest of it, what surprised me is that some of the basic prayers stuck with me–the Lord’s Prayer, the call-and-response recitations–although I haven’t said any of those words in decades.  I remembered that when I was a little girl, I had a nightgown with the “now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer embroidered around the collar. Because really, what could be more comforting to a small child about to go to sleep than the phrase “if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take?”

It’s as if along with that prayer, the others also stitched themselves into my subconscious, all because my mom thought she “should” take us all to church when we were young, even though she was not herself a particularly religious woman. I don’t know that my life has been significantly improved by my years in Sunday School or my stellar performance as a horse in the Noah’s Ark pageant, but I suppose it’s been useful to have what amounts at least to a cultural understanding of religion, if not an actual, you know, faith.

I know that cultural awareness and understanding have to be learned; they’re not innate. So my mom chose to teach us about, or at least expose us to, Christianity, while Husband and I are making a very different choice with our kids. Sitting there in the pew, as our friends pledged their troth (again) and my kids flipped through The Book of Common Prayer, I realized that my kids probably won’t ever have Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Zoroastrian) prayers swimming in their subconscious; there is an entire body of ritual that they aren’t learning.

Most of the time I think that’s fine…although I think it’s too bad neither boy will get the opportunity to play an animal in the Noah’s Ark pageant. They’d make great ocelots, or maybe meerkats. Noah saved the meerkats, didn’t he?


Continue Reading · on August 1, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Education, family, Kids, marriage, Parenting, religion

drinks all ’round…

The other night, schedules finally meshed, and a friend and I arranged to meet for a drink at a hotel near the soccer field where our kids were having practice together. It’s been one of those ridiculous logistics things – the night that I could have a drink, she’s busy, and vice versa. Meeting for a drink, in Abu Dhabi, means going to a hotel because Abu Dhabi is, technically, a dry country. Liquor goes against the teachings of Islam. There are no dive bars down the street or a corner pub where you can stop in for a pint. So if you want to meet a friend for a drink, you end up sashaying through some hotel lobby to one of the hotel restaurants or bars.  I’ve been in more hotel lobbies in the fifteen months I’ve lived here than if I worked for an escort service.

Anyway. So this mom and I finally found a night when we could meet for our long-discussed drink; I dropped the boys off at practice; found my friend, and then we tried to find the terrace bar of the hotel: up an elevator, down a long hall, up another elevator, out a side door, and then: a lovely terrace on a beautiful evening.

“Oh no, ma’am,” said the waiter. “It’s Islamic New Year. No alcohol for twenty-four hours. Try our lovely mocktails, ma’am.”

I’m not a mocktail gal. Give me the real tail, or give me nothing. I had Pellegrino. With a twist. What a way to ring in 1434H.

Quite a change from the States or the UK, where almost any celebration is an excuse to drink your face off.

And yet, I think I drink more here than I did in New York. In New York, if we had a dinner party or something and friends brought over a bottle of wine, we might still have the bottle (unopened) two, three, five months later.

Here, in “dry” Abu Dhabi, I always have a bottle of white wine in the fridge; the cabinet in the living room bulges with booze. It’s weird. Is it the vague sense of taboo that fuels consumption? Is it that we have a friend whose day job is philosophy professor but whose hobby is making exquisite cocktails? Or is there some genetic trigger lurking in the blood that flips to “sauvignon blanc” when placed in the petri dish of expat-ness?

There are liquor stores in Abu Dhabi, but to shop there one needs, ostensibly, a liquor license. The license is free; you order it online, provide some verification (mostly that you’re non-Muslim and employed), and then in about a month you get an imposing package:

All you need in this package is this little card, which looks like an ATM card but has your picture on it:

Your monthly allotment is supposed to be some percentage of your salary, although the reports from friends of who gets to spend how much at the liquor store varies so widely that it’s hard to figure out what’s what. And then, of course, there are those shops where if you just pay cash, you can “forget” your license and nobody says anything.  I mean, so I’ve heard; I don’t mean I’ve actually done that.

The license only gets used in liquor stores; it’s not used in bars or restaurants.  Yes, yes, I can hear what you’re thinking “that’s like Big Brother watching over you; they know when you’re buying booze…”  I guess that’s true. “They” do know, here, when I buy liquor. Of course, Amazon knows when I’m buying god-knows-what on their site – to the degree that they send me messages telling me what else I might like to buy; and so does iTunes; and so does pretty much every other online shopping emporium. Let’s face it: we’re all watched, mapped, dissected. If you have any doubts about that, just email David Petraeus. He can give you the low-down on being watched in cyber-space.

The drinking-and-driving laws here, I will say, are ferocious. Get into even the tiniest fender-bender and if you’ve got even a whiff of wine on your breath? You’re toast, dude. Thank god people don’t drink and drive, is all I can say. The driving here is bad enough without tossing drunks into the mix. Basically everyone I know adheres to the same principle: planning on a drink or two? Then cab it to your destination, cab it home.

And yet, because we’re in Abu Dhabi, irony capital of the world, the last time I went to the liquor store, where I had to order several cases of wine for a business party we were having, the cashier rang up my purchase on my credit card and then swiped my liquor license to see how much of my quota I’d used that month.

“Congratulations, ma’am,” she said. “You used up your limit, so you get a free bottle of wine.”


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Continue Reading · on November 15, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, food

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