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Tag Archives | economics

Does This Mean We’re Grownups?

Husband and I, we are a rental people.  Or we were, until last week.

While friends were working on a second house, or a vacation house, or a condo somewhere spiffy, we were renting an apartment in Manhattan (which we moved out of when we left for Abu Dhabi: now we got nuthin’).   We felt vaguely smug about it, too: instead of lying awake at night wondering which creak or drip was going to cost us a fortune in repairs, we knew we could just call the building manager and someone would show up to fix the problem.  Equityshmequity, we figured.

Other people had a car, maybe two cars if they lived in the ‘burbs; they had mechanics and garages and lube jobs. (Is there any way for that not to sound obscene? Methinks not.)  Long before Husband was Husband, he owned a succession of incredibly beat-up cars, each more decrepit than the last, but by the time he became Husband, we were firm Manhattanites: car-less.  We rented cars when we needed them and–again–felt smug when we returned them to Messrs Avis and Hertz.  A few years before we moved out of New York, my mom “sold” me her old Subaru for about a dollar: it had more than 100K miles on it but it got me back and forth to my job in Westchester, and in a way that perhaps only another mother could appreciate, I started to think of my drive home in thick traffic as “me time,” even if those precious private moments occurred while I sat bumper-to-bumper on the FDR.

When we moved to Abu Dhabi, we tried to go car-less at first: taxis here are easy to find and not very expensive, but after a while it got tiresome trying to flag down a cab while hauling a week’s worth of groceries.  So we rented a Toyota Yaris, which was a bit like driving a golf ball.  Fuel efficient, sure, but puttering down the road while the Armadas and Land Cruisers and Denalis thundered past made driving a white-knuckled, sweaty-backed experience.  So we went up a size: Tiida, or Tilda, as I liked to call it. Tilda made us a little bit more visible, but she accelerated about as quickly as you might imagine someone named Tilda would, and she wasn’t very big. I got tired of craning my neck around the wheels of the huge SUVs that rule the roads.

Driving, you see, has become a part of my life. I have to drive somewhere almost every day; the errands that I could get done on a long walk in New York are impossible here. It’s sort of like Los Angeles in that regard, except that gas is a helluva lot cheaper–and there’s only one brand of gas: the government-owned Adnoc.  As a result of all this driving? I know the names of cars–I can distinguish between an Armada and a Land Cruiser at thirty paces–and my ass has come to resemble the seat cushions of the Rav4 that we started renting after a near-miss in Tilda.

The Rav4 at least got us into the sight-lines of the lumbering SUVs; I felt a little bit safer as I carted children hither and yon (mostly yon, alas), as I shlepped groceries around, as we went up the Zayed Road (aka the death highway) to Dubai. True, the sightlines for me were crappy–I had to constantly hitch up in my seat when I wanted to change lanes–and, of course, there were all those car-rental dirhams sliding out of our bank account into Mr. Thrifty’s coffers.

So we did it. The grown-up thing.

Dear reader, we bought a car.

A Serious Car. An Officially Fancy Car.

Seems there was a fantastic financing offer, seems there was an amazing warranty offer (five years: everything free, from oil to brakes to, I don’t know, touching up the highlights in my hair? Who knows).  Seems that the car salesman, a lovely man named Alaa (pronounced like…yep, that’s right: it’s as if I bought my car from god), really really wanted to make us happy; he wanted to treat us like Very Important People (to which I wanted to say “gosh, I bet you say that to all the customers”) and my friends? His blandishments worked, although I like to think that my talk about being immune to Prestige Cars and the fact that I started to walk out of his office when he wouldn’t meet our price, may have had something to do with things. Husband also invoked his dear departed mother, who, when hearing that Husband had declined law school in favor of a literature PhD, bemoaned the fact that he’d never drive a nice car.

Her ghost is smiling now.

This car? It does everything. It does everything so cleverly, in fact, that the day after we bought it, I got in to do some errand or other, stared at the dashboard for a while, pushed a few buttons, and then had to call Husband to ask how to turn the damn thing on.

Well. It doesn’t do everything. The German engineers forgot to install a bicker button, which would silence backseat bickerers by sliding a piece of soundproof glass between the drivers and the squabbling passengers.

I tootle along feeling pretty near invulnerable, I have to say: I can see everything; I can stop instantly when the guy in the far-right lane decides to make a left turn; I can see to change lanes as the Armada comes barreling up behind me, flicking its brights and honking because it needs to get to the red light up ahead really really fast.

After a few days on the road, however, I have to say that I don’t feel quite so fancy: when you’re flanked in the parking lot by one of these:

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 and one of these:

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It puts things into perspective. My fancyshmancy is someone else’s Lumina.

Nevertheless, Husband and I are settling into our new life as owners. When we leave Abu Dhabi, we’ll sell the car, but until then, the half-hour drive out to the boy’s soccer practices seems a little less painful.

Husband, in fact, has been exploring a solution to the missing bicker button in this car. “I was looking at a convertible the other day,” he said. “A two-seater.”

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Liam indulging in a little automotive fantasy at the car showroom

Continue Reading · on April 27, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, growing up, Kids, shopping, UAE

the invisible labor of vacation

Our vacation in the Maldives a few weeks ago was perfect, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

It seemed as if we were in a natural paradise…but “natural,” these days, isn’t always what it seems:

There were no mosquitoes:

The beaches were clean and smooth:

There were lovely palm frond shelters around the pool and along the beach:

Someone walked around almost every evening at dusk and fumigated for mosquitoes; teams of men raked the beach in the early morning and late afternoon; these women sat for hours one day and wove new “native” shelters for the poolside cabanas.

One of the divers, Sabu, who led the snorkel trips had worked at Kandooma for four years. He, and a number of other workers, live on the island directly across the channel from the resort:

Sabu likes the Maldives, loves the water. But when he looks across the channel from his village to the resort, I don’t think he sees Paradise.

I think he sees a job.

Continue Reading · on April 1, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Travel

Thoughts from the Flight Deck

Pre-flight:  
We got to the airport at 8PM for our 10PM flight. A family of four, with one medium suitcase, and two small duffel bags, which isn’t that bad, given that we’re going to be gone for a week. (And yes, each of us had a carry-on bag, but still, it’s not that bad.)

We also have: 4 laptops, 1 iPad, 4 or 5 iPhones, and 2 iPods.

I can’t really explain to you why we have so many pieces of electronica. I’d say that all the gear is breeding at night, after we go to sleep, but you probably wouldn’t believe me.

There’s no more hiding the truth: resistance is futile. We have been assimilated: we are the iPeople.

In-flight:  News flash: the pods in front are way better than the other seats on the plane. 
I have a pod all to myself, with my own TV and a seat that spreads out into a bed.  A lovely be-hatted flight attendant handed me a glass of champagne when I sat down, and there were pillows and blankets stacked neatly in my chair.  In  steerage coach behind me, a baby started to wail. And as if in response, a baby on the other side of the plane began to howl, and then a third, in a kind of Gregorian chant of misery.

Sitting up here, separated from the hordes only by a thin cotton curtain (really, it should be something more…sound-proof, don’t you think?), it’s easy to feel indignant: that baby is ruining my champagne enjoyment.  Superiority and a sense of privilege come with the price of my ticket, I guess, although of course we didn’t pay for our tickets; they came with Husband’s job.  It’s seductive, this pampering (which, of course, ain’t nothing compared to what happens in the pods even in front of these pods); I imagine that if you always traveled in the pamper-pods, it would be easy to believe that, in fact, you really are better than those people jammed cheek by jowl by butt-cheek in the rows at the back.

The difference between ten and six and forty-something: Caleb and I looked through the movie guide; he chose the show he wanted to watch when the inflight videos started; he drank his apple juice and fiddled with his seat buttons. Then he put his head on my lap and fell hard asleep. Didn’t budge when I took off his shoes, slid his chair down into full recline, unzipped his sweatshirt, and rolled him onto his seat, off my arm.

The ten-year old, on the other hand, has moved his seat up and down several times, played several video games, read a few pages in his book, watched the beginning of a movie, and then ordered two croissants, a chocolate cookie, and a sprite. His grin could light the plane from here to North Africa and given the sugar he’s ingested in the last three hours, I’m not sure he will ever sleep again.

And me? I’m on my second glass of champagne, thank you very much; the baby chorus has died down, and frankly I could use a massage but they don’t seem to be offering those on this flight. Unbelievable. Thirteen hours and no massage?  I am definitely writing a letter of complaint.

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Continue Reading · on November 22, 2010 in Travel

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