This week saw me land back in Dubai after a whistle-stop trip back to my home of the UK, primarily for the wedding of two very close friends. Its amazing how quickly the visit swept by – always the case with holidays I guess – although I did manage to pack in it, so it was to be expected. One thing the trip back, after nearly five months living and working in the UAE, allowed me to do was reflect on some of the key differences between Dubai and the UK. Some are obvious whereas others seemed less so until I was actually faced with them. So, in no particular order….
Roads & Driving
I opted to hire a car during my stay back in the UK, much as I currently do in Dubai, and so booked one online with a well known car hire firm. The first difference was obvious the minute I climbed in to the little car I had rented – standards of cleanliness. In summary, whoever had been tasked with the job of cleaning the interior hadn’t done a great job, with sticky marks over the dashboard where I assume someone had spilt some kind of sugary drink or set up a family of jelly babies or the like, and general crud just sitting in the drink wells and other nooks and crannies. I had never really thought about it before but the cars I have picked up in Dubai have always been spotlessly clean, inside and out. So, Dubai scored highly on that front for starters.
Driving out of Heathrow and on towards Guildford I kept thinking to myself that I would “be on the M25 – that behemoth of a UK road and one which I had always been a little intimidated by – shortly. When I spied the junction for the M3, however, it suddenly dawned on me that I had in fact been on the M25 already although I had been casually feeling as if I was still on one of the small, provincial roads leaving the airport. Wow! The fact is that the road leading up to where I live is a three lane highway, with the actual motorways all being six lane monsters. As such, the M25 actually felt, effectively, like my driveway! Add to that the fact that the driving was significantly less stressful, almost verging on relaxing, given that people tend to adhere to the Highway Code on UK roads, and what used to be a bit of a stressful experience pre-move now felt like a pleasant amble.
One very clear motoring difference between the two countries is petrol prices. How much for petrol in the UK?! Its insane that it costs me in dirhams what it did in sterling to fill the tank of my little hire car and considering that the last time I checked the exchange rate it was about 5 dirhams to the pound, this means it costs five times – yes, FIVE TIMES – what it does here in Dubai to be a motorist. No wonder people have to think long and hard before grabbing their car keys in the UK. And you have to fill up your petrol tank yourself! What hardships! That last point was quite funny actually as it was quite surreal having to yet again step out of my car to fill my own tank before venturing in to the petrol station to pay. Here in Dubai we are afforded the rather lazy luxury of being able to simply pull up, get the tank filled and pay without ever having to leave the driver’s seat. See, told you, I am being spoilt 🙂
Size and Spreading Out
It’s perhaps no major surprise that in a city that is ever expanding and where one can simply build on more undeveloped land (ie the desert), the sense of space is palpable in Dubai. The houses are bigger, the rooms are bigger, the roads are definitely bigger, everything, in fact, is just bigger. Consequently much of what I experienced back in the UK felt smaller, more snug, comfortable, like a homely hug, including the cities that I found myself in. Given the fact that most of the major cities and towns in the UK have medieval roots their centres have this sense of intense density which I quite enjoy, in contrast to Dubai, which a) doesn’t really have a city centre per se and b) is just so, well, big. Single lane 1-way systems are just something you don’t see here in Dubai and the idea of being able to walk from one side of the “city centre” to the other is simply laughable, not least because you’d probably collapse from heat exhaustion before reaching your destination.
Green & Pleasant
Everyone that has lived in a hot, arid environment mentions that the first thing they notice about home is how green and lush it is, something that I know we often take for granted when actually living in the UK. And so it was for me, as I couldn’t help luxuriate in the fact that everywhere you looked in the UK there was a wonderful palette of greens and yellows, with fields of arable crops contributing to the latter. The air also felt less heavy, less oppressive, as it is starting to in Dubai with the intense heat and humidity of summer rapidly building. One of my favourite moments of the trip was stopping to take in the stunning rolling hills, pastures and picture-postcard perfection of the Shropshire countryside during a run when I was in the county for my friends’ wedding. Don’t get me wrong…. I love the fact that I get to look at stunning beaches, enchanting dunes and futuristic landscapes, but nothing can quite match the breathtaking beauty of rolling English countryside on a sunny summers day. In fact it is this fact that I am sure temporarily offsets many peoples’ vocal intentions to emigrate, usually forged during the dark, wet winter months. If only we saw a little more of the sun in the UK then with scenery like we have it truly would be glorious.
Still, on the one hand we have rolling green pastures in the UK, Dubai rules supreme when it comes to stunning beaches. I visited the North Norfolk coast during the trip home to see my folks and although it is always great to venture to the coast, I rather fear I have been spoilt when it comes to what I now expect from a beach. The shingle peppered damp sand and murky grey-brown waters of the beach and sea, coupled with the dated and somewhat delapidated appearance of the town itself just cannot compete in my mind with the soft golden sands, azure warm waters and picture-postcard beachside paradise that Dubai represents. Although parts of the UK coastline can boast incredible sands and holiday brochure-esque waters, the fact that Dubai can throw in almost year-round guaranteed perfect beach weather means that it wins hands down on the seaside front.
Dubai can be a bit confusing when it comes to certain rules, with those pertaining to alcohol being one such. Technically the consumption of alcohol is, as I understand it, illegal, and yet there are literally hundreds of venues at which you can get served a drink, or five, not to mention the option to indulge in a booze-fueled brunch each week. Although you can basically get hammered with what seems like the blessing of the authorities, you have to be careful when out of these licensed premises as simply having alcohol in your system breaks UAE law. As such, the trip home in the taxi can feel like a gamble – say the wrong thing or otherwise piss your driver off and they are well within their rights to drive you to the nearest police station whereby you will be promptly arrested, charged and subsequently face the penalties, including likely deportation. Now it is no secret that I am a massive lightweight – I have often admitted as much – and so I have generally given alcohol a swerve whilst living here. Being able to order and enjoy a drink in the UK without worrying that you’re a law-breaker was refreshing and although I did have a few drinks whilst home, including obviously at my friends’ wedding, I didn’t really find myself thinking, “Wow! I have really missed this!” In fact, I would have happily remained totally off the plonk but its amazing how much of an important aspect of social interaction “having a drink” is, meaning that saying no often feels hard to do, which sounds really silly I know. What I was very aware of, however, is that my overall consumption was very low and even at the wedding, normally an excuse to really let your guard down and indulge, I drank very little. The result was I always woke feeling refreshed and not dreading the day – a feeling that I enjoy far more than the ones invoked by alcohol at the time. The other thing that is, however, unfortunately evident in the UK and not really seen here in the UAE, and related to the rules governing drinking, is the presence of drunken, unruly behaviour in town centres and other such areas. You simply won’t see groups of drunk people getting lairy and causing problems out on the streets. If anyone did dare to then they would very swiftly find themselves sobering up in a cell with further repercussions to look forward to.
The Weather. Obviously.
Last but by no means least, one of the main big differences between the two countries is clearly the weather. Whilst you are guaranteed year round sunshine and scorching temperatures year round here in Dubai, the climatic game of lucky dip that symbolises our summers in the UK mean that it is inevitable that we love to talk about the weather. I actually really enjoyed the refreshing change that having an active, unpredictable sky, complete with the occasional downpour, provided and compared to current scorching heat and sticky humidity that we are currently enduring here in Dubai, the UK ‘summer’ was very agreeable indeed. Having said that, knowing that I was returning to a hot, sunny ‘holiday resort’ at the end of my stay did make dealing with the less than summery conditions all the more bearable, and even enjoyable. I generally felt differently, of course, when I lived in the UK.