Going Home for Christmas?

13 Dec 2011
By Ahlanlive.com

Don’t board that flight without our tips on getting through the festivities

So, Christmas is on the cards and along with it for many of us is the annual flight home to the bosom of our familiar friends and families. Ahhhh, the comfort! The joy! But wherever home may be, once nestled there, life in the Middle East will seem like a million miles away and while it may be the norm here for us to talk spas, bars and supernannies while wafting a manicured finger around, the same might not be said for the places where we grew up. So how do you suddenly slot into the old routine with confidence? And how can you showcase the ‘UAE you’ without coming across like a conceited show-off? Put thoughts of massages and posh meals behind you and read on.

How to acclimatize
“One key issue that you have to bear in mind when you return home is that while you have been experiencing change in a new country, lots of things in your home town may have remained constant,” says Emily Cheyne, lifestyle coach and owner of Dubai based Know How Life (www.knowhowlife. com). “Consequently with your new perception and outlook your home country can feel quite different and alien.” Overcome this by writing a wishlist of things to do and people to see while you’re there. Says Cheyne, “If you’ve been a bit slack on keeping up with friendships since you’ve been away then make the effort to get in touch again. This will make you feel more connected and remember all the things you love about your home country, your friendships and families. Buy presents that are relevant to your expat world so that people feel involved; camel milk chocolate is always a crowd pleaser. By doing this you’re sharing - in a funny way - a part of your new life.”

Boost your confidence
You’re walking into the Christmas party, family gathering or catching up with old friends in a local bar or pub. Still feeling unsettled? It’s time to review just what you have achieved of late. “Think about what you’ve gained from living abroad, how you’ve grown and developed and how the travel has changed you,” says Adrian Fernand from social protocol, etiquette and good living site, I Do Believe I Came with a Hat (idobelieveicamewithahat.com). “You’ve lived in a foreign land, so remember you’ll be one of the most interesting people in the room - unless you’re hanging out with a member of the UN, a pop star or a Pulitzer Prize winner. Just go with it.” Vivienne Strettle, a change consultant at Dubai based KVS consultancy, agrees, “It’s all about what you want people to hear. When you’re speaking you’re on the stage and you command the floor and the conversation. People don’t know what you’re going to say until you decide.”

Your image overhaul
Feeling out of the local fashion loop? Well no one will be expecting you to look like you’ve stepped out of the pages of Vogue. “Dress as you feel comfortable,” suggests Fernand. “It’s likely that since living in the UAE you have adjusted your wardrobe to suit local customs, so don’t go to drastic lengths to integrate. Remember to pack appropriately and if you’re going to a colder climate, take extra layers of warm clothing with you if you don’t plan on freezing. If others remark that your dress sense has changed, just smile and say that change is what is fashionable.”

How to hold yourself
If you’re feeling nervous about seeing everyone again just remember that your acquaintances might well be feeling the same, too. Banish those butterflies in your stomach, smile and walk around the room with confidence. “Be yourself,” says Fernand. “After periods of long absence, the dynamic between friends and family can change and initial interactions might seem a little jerky. Largely this can be attributed to nerves, but once both of your guards are down, it’ll be like picking up from where you left off. Strettle continues, “If you feel anxious try to remember a situation where you previously felt confident. If you have a hobby that you love imagine how you feel when you do it. Picturing yourself in that scenario will help you to recreate that positive feeling in a negative situation.”

The art of conversation
There is no better way to put people at ease than to encourage them to identify with you. “Having lived in the Middle East, you’re going to notice many distinctions between local and Western culture,” says Fernand. “Some will be glaringly obvious, while others will take a while to make themselves apparent. Take everything in your stride and try not to focus on these differences. Likewise, play down successes and never discuss money. Modesty is a virtue best suited to everyone.”Help people to warm to you by finding similarities between your native home and the UAE, adds Strettle. “Talk about how everyone in Dubai wants the same thing as they do back home, for example, a good life. The guy helping to build the fancy structure down the road wants to earn money to send home. Everyone on the planet wants the same thing. The language may be different but underneath the people are still the same, people complain about the same things. No one is ever happy with the government, traffic or other people’s driving.”

Nip the negativity
Concrete jungle? Milton Keynes in the sun? Etc etc. We’ve all heard the negative comments from outsiders about how Dubai supposedly has no soul or community, so how can you shrug off such challenging conversations? “Speak honestly and explain that Dubai is what you make it,” says Strettle. “You make your own community but if people visit and see it as a transient place, well, that’s just their opinion.” There will always be those who are jealous of the experiences you’ve had and will resent you. “Unfortunately this can’t be avoided,” says Cheyne. “What you can do is ensure your stories are fitting with the situation and you’re not seen to be bragging. Make sure you avoid sentences and replies to conversations with, ‘Well in Dubai we do…’”

Learn to listen...
“Your life abroad might seem glamorous,” says Fernand. “But don’t forget that others have been going on with their lives too. Be empathetic and listen to their stories and ask questions.” Adds Cheyne, “Ask two questions for every one asked to you. You don’t want to be seen to be ‘hogging’ the limelight. Get interested in your family and friends and what’s been happening. This will also make it easier for you to feel more ‘at home’ and less alien.”

Just relax!
“Talk openly and freely about your new life,” says Fernand. “Your nearest and dearest will be interested in what you’ve been doing and are hoping for you to impart details.” Cheyne continues, “Remember that Christmas in your home country is not like a Friday brunch at a hotel. Don’t lose sight of how you belong there. You’re loved unconditionally by your family and friends. They’ll be heartbroken if they think you’ve lost touch of who you are.”

Sentences that are only acceptable in Dubai
Leave these phrases in the desert if you don’t want your nearest and dearest to disown you

•  ‘What do you mean I’ve got to pay for bubbly?!’

•  ‘I know I’ve already had one this week, but I really need another pedicure.’

•  ‘Can I use my Entertainer voucher here?’

•  ‘You just can’t get a good nanny these days can you?’

•  ‘I’m sorry, I only do swimming outdoors…’