Places to Visit, Tourist Tips

One month on: 12 things I’ve learned about Dubai life

The main thing people talk about when it comes to moving to the Middle East are the laws; not being allowed to live together unmarried, no showing affection in public, not wearing revealing clothing… and all those other cultural things. But, there are a few other things I’d like to share beyond the classic Middle Eastern perceptions.

1. Driving

With 8 lanes on your side of the road not being unusual, it is a free for all. Use of indicators is slim to none, undertaking is a regular way of driving, and people squeeze into unimaginably small gaps last second. Petrol is mega cheap here, 2.12AED per litre – that’s 44p. So expect gas guzzling oversized cars everywhere. Don’t be surprised to have a supersize 4×4 inches away from your bumper flashing their lights until you let them pass. Lorries can only drive between certain hours too so you’ll see a flood of them enter the highway when it gets to a certain time. Oh and no one says thanks but it’s kind’ve accepted that way.

2. Mosques & Prayer Call

This may be obvious to some, but a big difference I noticed in the landscape over here is the number of mosques. There are so many! As every mosque has one or two minarets (the towers from which the mosque call takes place) they are visible everywhere. And they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from beautiful and obviously well invested in ones, to more humble smaller buildings. You can expect prayer rooms or mosques in the most unusual places too, including the driving test centre, malls etc. The prayer call, also known as adhan, happens 5 times a day and varies in timings dependant on the height of the sun. You’ll likely hear the soothing call wherever you are, including throughout the malls.

3. Get Exploring on Fridays

Friday is the quietest day on the roads and simply everywhere. This is due to Friday being the holy day. It is perfect to get out and explore – especially as Fri/Sat is the weekend here so you likely don’t have work the next day either!

4. Much to Do

So I had looked this up before I moved but there is WAY more to do here than I anticipated. As well as the world famous malls, there are multiple theme parks, light shows, I saw fake snow last week, quirky fancy eateries, skydiving, indoor skiing, a huge gaming centre like I have never seen before, not just brunch but also drunch, lots of street art, the souks, traditional boat rides and sooooo on. I guess since the majority of the population here don’t drink they have got inventive with their things to do.

5. Public Transport & Taxis

Taxi or car is a must if it’s not winter as it is too hot to walk anywhere, even to the metro. You won’t really see many buses, though where they do have them, the bus stops are little air-conditioned indoor shelters. I’ve only been on the metro once as it doesn’t reach where I am due to its limited network. Rental car has been our main means of transport so far and most companies will deliver the car to you for free. There are plenty of taxis to hail here but if you want to order a taxi at the tap of a button then Careem is the way to go. Uber is also over here but I have found Careem to be slightly cheaper. If you hop in a regular taxi, don’t be surprised if they don’t know where to go and ask if your GPS is working before borrowing your phone to navigate – this has happened multiple times to me and also friends.

6. Shopping

Most people have heard about the huge malls here, but have you heard that the parking is pretty much always free – amazing! On the flip side, the not so amazing thing about shopping here is the returns policy… some shops simply don’t do returns, others have 4 days, some just 2-day return policies; quite different to the UK’s standard one month for a full refund and you can likely still exchange after that. And if you order online from somewhere like Namshi (pretty much a baby ASOS), you can choose to pay cash on delivery but no refund option, or if you pre-pay for your order on card you can get a refund, which initially is Namshi credit… which you have to specifically request goes back onto your card. Weird hey?!

7. Payment Methods

In the UK I simply wouldn’t get my purse out. I paid with Apple Pay on my phone for everything. Sadly that is not really a thing here yet, in fact, a lot of places don’t have contactless yet. It’s crazy really as Dubai is so advanced in technology in some respects; I mean they’re testing drone Costa deliveries and a two-person self-flying taxi….

8. Contacting a business

Similar to payment methods, contacting a business here feels surprisingly slightly backwards. Their websites and social media are a little behind the times, making user experience not as smooth as could be. Interestingly though, What’s App is often main means of contact for companies and that includes within the business world too – I even had to book my hair appointment by Whats Apping someone. Maybe because phone contracts are pricier here, gotta make use of the wifi!

9. Limited chance to practice Arabic

Whilst my other half is trying to pick up Arabic as he works in the local schools, I, on the other hand, haven’t had many situations where I have been able to practice the language. The service industry here is largely made up of people from the Philippines, India, or Bangladesh who too mostly don’t speak Arabic – so depending what you’re doing over here, it’s highly likely you won’t be in situations where Arabic is used. This is probably a relief for some, but I was hoping to practice at least a little.

10. Organised Dubai

One thing I noticed that I find quite interesting is how the city is structured. Things are grouped together and named as they are… Internet City, Media City, Design District and so on. You can find everyone you expect in their suggested areas – for example, Internet City is home to Google, Snapchat, Facebook etc. Shopping for something, you will come across the same, whether it’s a high street of car accessory shops, or in the mall where you will find evening wear shops together, kids shops together, designer menswear together etc. I don’t know how well it works for business but it sure makes navigating around easier for the customer.

11. Plugs

A nice easy one. The plug sockets are the same as the UK. Winner.

12. 7 Star Hotel Burj Al Arab

This is more an FYI that the Burj Al Arab, also known as the Sail, which is a 7-star hotel can’t be visited by any old person. Even if you pretend you’re considering booking there in your poshest accent after you’ve had a few drinks at a brunch, it is unlikely they will let you in. You can, however, get access for FREE to the pricey private beach that overlooks the Burj Al Arab. The only advertised access is through being a hotel guest or buying a 450AED adult day beach pass – that is £92. BUT if you simply book drinks or food at Shimmers restaurant, you’ll be dining on the private beach and be able to slip onto it for that perfect photo opp. It helps if you go earlier in the day; yes it will be slightly hotter, but that’s why there is space for us mortals who can’t afford to stay there.

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