Liz: Lizzy Of Arabia
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Abu Dhabi, etc.
My name is Liz Totton. My blog is called Lizzy of Arabia. I am originally from New Jersey in the USA, but we were most recently living in the Seattle, WA area. We moved to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in August 2013.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started Lizzy of Arabia in August of 2013 when we left the USA to come live here in the UAE. Initially, I wrote just to keep my friends and family stateside apprised of our new life here in Abu Dhabi. It has morphed into more of a forum for me to attempt to understand this culture and better understand my own through the eyes of others. There is no better way to get to know your roots than through travel and writing. I am sure I have kept this blog alternately as open form kind of journal to work out all the new experiences I was having. I have tried to be very honest about our experiences here because, frankly, we all have Facebook where we can view everyone’s imagined lives. The web needs a bit more honesty as does the blogosphere, in my humble opinion.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I do. I think my favorite post was right in the beginning. I’ll admit, blogging sometimes feels like a chore but, every now and then, an idea just comes to you with a BOOM, and you can’t ignore it! The Sultan of Oman was like that for me. The post has little really to do with Oman or its monarch, but I love it because, in a way, it captures how very little I knew about any aspect of this region when we first got here. I was a total blank slate and virtually every person that I encountered became a character in my experience, a portrait that I painted with words. In short, the initial impressions here were the deepest. I think my early post convey all the excitement you feel when you first move somewhere, before they become more tainted by the cynicism you experience when you get to know your locale a bit better.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Abu Dhabi differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My life here is not very different to the life I led in the US--no one believes that, but it’s true. Being a mother of young-ish children (they’re not really that young anymore…sigh…), most days revolve around my children. I take them to school, and then I run around our complex for exercise. I eat. I blog. I meet friends for lunch or coffee. Then, I go back to pick the kids up at school and chat more with friends, moms and teachers there. I enjoy my kids’ school tremendously. On weekends, we try to find adventure or just relax at the beach. Our kids go to birthday parties, sleepovers and play-dates.
I honestly experienced very little culture shock, though the UAE is radically different to the United States. I came to this region for the differences, not the similarities. Everyone’s different though. You could live in this country in very much the same manner you did in your home country. American chain food and retail stores abound. We don’t frequent them, but they are here. I think the hardest thing for me to get used to is the summer heat—it’s oppressive. I do not enjoy being inside in a controlled climate. I disliked winter at home for the same reason, but nowhere is perfect all year round. The other seven months here though are pretty close to perfect.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Abu Dhabi? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I am not sure anyone can honestly prepare you for the challenges posed by life in a foreign country. What may be wonderful to one person can be just terrible for another. Driving here is a great example. Many expats choose not to attempt to drive here at all—the roads and highways are so disorderly (aka frightening) to many and taxi-ing around is dirt-cheap compared to the West. I, on the other hand, love driving here!
Rationally, I know these roads are not the safest in the world but sometimes, if I close my eyes, it feels like the Wild West, lawless and free. (Yes, I am aware that I shouldn’t be doing that whilst driving but it does help you drive more like a local, and what you can’t see coming from behind you, can’t scare you. Just kidding ;)). There are days when it’s maddening as well. Like any aspect of life, it just depends on the day, your mood and your patience threshold. So, no, I personally do not think any person’s platitudes or sage wisdom can ever fully prepare you for life abroad, but I would suggest reading local, expat blogs, and this website is a great place to start!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
This one is tough. I am on a pretty steady diet of sun and humor here--I look for it everywhere! I need a good, hard laugh every day and, if I don’t get it, I get depressed. I am not sure that many people share my sense of humor; it can sometimes be a bit immature, I’m afraid. I will say that most of the time the things I find hysterical are more linguistically-inclined. I LOVE languages. I have studied many and find how others appropriate my language and culture amazing and often really funny. I think the hands’ down funniest day I ever had here in Abu Dhabi was nothing more than brunch with two friends in a café. The incident centered around names, specifically the names that non-English speakers choose for themselves when they come to an English-speaking country if you can call the UAE that?! I guess you can. It’s hard to sum it up here. If you are interested, please visit my blog and read A Girl Named Jelly. If you think you might share my sense of humor, I also love this post. I think it well sums up some of the more absurd aspects of life here in the UAE: What’s in A Name? And, it too, is about the use and misuse of language.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Abu Dhabi?
Just three? I have SO many. I will try to condense. Here goes:
- I would tell them NOT to bring the entire contents of your home like we did. While it’s nice to have your things, all that stuff is dually an albatross around your neck.
- Case in point, the antique, heavy piano that we brought from home. It was just not feasible to bring it into a small apartment on the 8th floor, but how could we have known what type of residence might appeal to us here? I would add that finding a blogger who lives in the city to which you are thinking about relocating is a great idea.
- Please do not rely on anyone, with self-interest in your taking a position or not, for information about the city. Some will, of course, be very honest. But others may not. The latter was our experience. Please do your research before you make the move abroad. You won’t regret it!
- I would also advise a person considering a move to Abu Dhabi, in particular, to bring a sense of humor. Many aspects of life can be very frustrating here. If you are able to laugh about it, you will stay much saner.
How is the expat community in Abu Dhabi? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community here in Abu Dhabi is many and varied. It’s disproportionately enormous compared to the native population. Such a lopsided amount of natives has not been the case in any other country that I have ever lived in. It makes for a fascinating bunch, I will say. What I like the most is that few of the people I encounter are actually from here, and that is surprisingly equalizing. We are all new here and going through the same challenges. I think we see each other more as peers and pillars than people I encountered at home where, unfortunately, we so often see what sets us apart rather than what we have in common. Having said that, I would LOVE to meet more locals. I don’t really know how, but I would welcome the opportunity to learn about this country from a local’s perspective.
Making friends here is easy. You won’t have to look very hard to find like-minded friends here. There are thousands of Facebook groups dedicated to every hobby or sport you can imagine and lots and lots of friendly people here who have most likely been new here not so long ago.
How would you summarize your expat life in Abu Dhabi in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s seems corny but, for me it would be something like this: “Life in Abu Dhabi is family, friends and fun in a wonderland of sand dunes, extravagance and sun.”