Has Your Personality Changed After Moving to the UAE?

We all expect a culture shock when we move to the other side of the world. But how about when we return home on holiday?
ByJennifer GibsonThursday , 10 July 2014
Has Your Personality Changed After Moving to the UAE?

We’re not really special, my husband and I. We’re pretty ordinary folk and, until we moved to the UAE, we led pretty ordinary lives. 

We had a flat, not an apartment, and were looking forward to one day buying a house, not a villa. We had a second-hand car that started the first time, most of the time, a decent social life and enough cash to afford us a lunch on a Sunday and the occasional big night out.

Life at home was good, if a little lacking in adventure. That’s what was missing for us: we wanted adventure.

And so we, like so many of the UAE’s expats, came to the sandpit for a bit of adventure and excitement. 

Two years abroad, we said. Two years to experience something new, enjoy some sunshine and save a bit of tax-free cash, ready to return home and then start a family. 

And we weren’t the only ones. For some, the goal was buying a home or saving for a wedding. For others, it was to travel and experience other cultures. But my friends and I all set off here with one thing in common – an end date in the calendar, a point at which we would return home and resume “real life.”

I pride myself on not missing deadlines, but I failed dismally on that one. Three years, three rented properties, two cars and a baby later, my husband and I still feel like newbies. Those two years came, and went, and if anything, we’re less inclined to return to the UK than we ever were before.

It’s a tale familiar to the UAE’s hundreds of thousands of foreign residents. I have friends who set off from the UK, the USA, Australia and elsewhere over a decade ago with the same two-year plan. They’re still here, and they’re not going anywhere.

Perhaps it’s because life here moves so fast. Perhaps its because the rising cost of living has made saving a longer term goal than initially expected. 

Or, could it be, maybe, that we all enjoy this sunshine lifestyle just a little too much?

The High Life
The truth is, life here is pretty darn good. And nothing throws it into context quite like the prospect of a summer spent at home. Whether you’re a full time worker taking a week or two off to attend a wedding, visit family or escape the heat, or whether you’re one of the migratory population who spends the whole summer in cooler climes, the chances are the life you’re returning to now bears little resemblance to the one you live here, day in, day out. 

And while many of us are at pains to remind our loved ones that living here isn’t a constant holiday, the chances are your existence is a tad more glamorous than you were used to before you set off on your expat adventure.

I was contemplating this recently, as I started to prepare for my son and I’s first summer away from the sun. About halfway into the list of things I’d need to take with me, I scribbled the words ‘manicure kit’. Paused. Then followed it with ‘nail polishes, various colours.’ You know, just the essentials… 

The Real World
Confession: Before I moved to the UAE, I had never had a professional pedicure. I could also count on one, rather scruffy, nail bitten hand, the number of times I’d bothered to have a salon manicure. I feel embarrassed typing that sentence, and positively mortified imagining my glamorous fellow Dubaiites reading it. 

But honestly, these days the mere prospect of a summer doing my own nails is making me break out in a cold sweat in my living room.

#First World Problems. 
I can’t be the only one. I’m sure some of you would also have laughed at the idea of a weekly mani-pedi being a mere essential, rather than a luxury, not so very long ago. 

And yet, here we are, running to the salon every time we get a chip in our gelish as though it’s the most natural thing in the world.

What’s more, truth be told, it’s not just my nails that have changed. Oh no. My travel to-do list has thrown up a whole slew of quandaries I’d never even have considered back when I was a Scottish native rather than a pampered expat in Dubai.

Half of my wardrobe these days is dry clean only. No big deal. Except I’d be laughed out of my parent’s unassuming little hometown if I tried to find someone who would collect said clothing, take it away for a professional clean and bring it back to my front door 24 hours later.

What about if we run out of milk? It rains in Scotland. And you can be sure the corner shop isn’t going to send a man on a bike to make sure I get my morning latte. You run out of milk, you walk to the shop. Walk. Did I mention the rain?

The list goes on. Free parking outside my favourite shops? Don’t be daft. Drive through Starbucks? Erm, no. Drive through ATM? Are you having a laugh?

Luxury or Necessity?
I always argue I’m the same person as I was at home. Sure, we have a cleaner (I still can’t bring myself to say maid) who comes and helps out once a week – I’m honestly not sure we’d be able to see our floors these days if I didn’t – and our car gets washed twice a week by the man who visits our apartment block car park. But I wouldn’t have thought of myself as being used to a life of luxury. Until I started that list.

Suddenly, a recent study by Standard Life that found a staggering 97 per cent of UAE-based Western expats spend their money on ‘luxurious’ rather than ‘essential’ lifestyle options seems a great deal more believable. Because, unwittingly or not, with my cleaner, my 4x4, my spacious home and my not-entirely-high-street wardrobe, it seems I’m somehow now living a life that puts me squarely in the 97 per cent.

So I’m looking at this summer as a detox. As a welcome return to simpler times. I’ll put my son in his buggy and walk to the town to buy groceries. I will pack a machine-washable wardrobe. Heck, I’ll even run a vacuum around the house myself. Maybe. Just do me a favour and don’t ask to see my nails…

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