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Reeta: Happy Witchie

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Dubai makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Dubai, etc.

My husband and I moved to Dubai from the UK in 2008 to start up a business. We had good lives back in London but the years looming in front of us were beginning to look terribly predictable… and dare I say it, safe. We’re not foolhardy dare-devils but we’re both definitely drawn to the uncertainty and risk element of new ventures. So one day, there we were. Weighing up commuting and same-old, same-old against an exciting new business opportunity in a sunny new country glittering with possibility. No competition right?

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

Why else, a book deal of course! Haha, just kidding. I was spending most of my time working on the business and needed to get away from targets and goals and get into some fun creativity. Like all places, Dubai has different worlds layered into it. The world I found myself in straddles Dubai and Sharjah and comes with steep learning curves. It’s these learning curves that are the engine powering the blog.

Almost every day seems to find a way to throw up something odd – sometimes “good odd” other times “uh-oh odd” – as an expat of course I want to tell everyone about my discoveries! The blog started as a creative break from work but if I can offer something useful and help someone learn from my experiences, that’ll be brilliant.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

My all-time favourite entry is The Maintenance Man and his Drill. As grossed out as I was at the time, I still laugh when I think about that day.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Dubai differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

With its high rises, swanky malls and grand aspirations, Dubai feels familiar to westerners. Scratch beneath the surface just ever so slightly and the differences are a stark reminder that Dorothy is not in Kansas anymore. In “normal” daily life the differences are minor or simply cute/quaint – where normal refers to shopping, socializing and travelling. The harder differences showcase themselves in business and in any dealing with officialdom. I’ve had male customers refuse to accept my decisions at work just because I’m a woman. If we want to add a new truck to our fleet, we have to ask permission from the Ministry and show high-value customer and supplier invoices to justify the need for another truck. Trade licenses limit a company to the specific activities listed on it. If your trade license says “metal scrap trading” as the activity, you’re not allowed to trade plastic scrap. It’s impossible for expats to legally test an idea without a trade license and premises. Officially, it’s even illegal to babysit or give the odd piano lesson without a license. There’s a quote that fits: “God give me strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Dubai? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

I don’t think it’s possible to be fully prepared for the unknown! I came expecting things to be different and I am enjoying exploring the mysteries of my new home. When you’re on holiday, the differences you see are delightful and all part of the local charm. As an expat, the local charm becomes a short-cut to your soul. No self-help book can introduce you to your strengths, weaknesses and the stretchiness of your boundaries the way expat life can.

I wasn’t prepared for how “chal sey” things are. “Chal sey” is a Gujarati phrase that means “it’s okay, it’ll do”. Building standards and working practices are fairly dodgy. I’ve had an AC repair guy come to the house and work on the electric box with wet hands. I tried to explain how dangerous that is but he’s done it many times so as far as he’s concerned, his experience outweighs my theoretical education.  “Chal sey” he says, pulling out some mysterious electrical appliance that has no plug on the end, just the loose wires. At the wall socket he sticks a screwdriver into one of the holes and the loose wires into the others. The appliance whirs into life. He winks at me, “Chal sey.” I just wish I had some rubber boots on. Well I couldn’t watch so I hid behind the door with my phone ready to call for an ambulance if need be. This kind of thing happens all the time and you realize that in their home countries (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh mainly), there is no Health and Safety or compensation culture and people grow up unfettered by the luxury of best practices – they do what they have to do to get by. The Gods smiled on the AC guy, blessing him with another shot at life and me with a couple more grey hairs and the dawning of glorious wisdom. Just be out when the maintenance people come!  You can’t change a culture. You can only change yourself. And if you can’t, then chal sey - It’s okay, it’ll do.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Dubai?

  • Part-time jobs are rare and cottage industries aren’t allowed. You have to take out a full trading license to even try an idea or you risk a big fine. If you don’t want to do that and if you’re going to be stuck at home, try and decide what life-long ambition you want to get your teeth into (writing, music, dress-making). It is possible to turn a potential gilded cage into the playground for your life’s dream.
  • Try not to cuss when things go wrong. Not only is it illegal and someone might grass you up (yes, seriously), but focusing on NOT cussing gives your brain something else to do, stops your blood pressure rising and makes you look wiser than the ass who wound you up. Kudos. J
  • Put your emotional seatbelt on. You’re in for the ride of your life!

How is the expat community in Dubai? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

The expat community here is massive. Mainly because 90% of the population is expat! It’s fairly easy for westerners to meet people of their own nationality but meeting people who share similar values and sense of humour is of course the biggest challenge.

Because the business takes up almost every waking hour, I’ve definitely struggled with meeting people. I’m lucky to have some great neighbours and I’ve met some lovely ladies through expat groups. People come and go all the time and some people I’ve immediately clicked with have moved onto their next adventure in a new country. Ultimately what has worked for me is just being in a receptive frame of mind as I’m going about my day - there’s a holiday vibe in the air, people are friendly and I’ve made friends of different nationalities through walking the dog.  

How would you summarize your expat life in Dubai in a single, catchy sentence?

It’s like an extra-spicy chicken soup served in a bone china dish – comfort and elegance with the odd shock that bites!

Peter B. Krehmer

"There are so many expats in the UAE, but the InterNations Dubai Ramadan dinners brought some wonderful guests together. "

Suzanne Payne

"Dubai is such an overwhelming mixture of tradition and modernity that I was very grateful for all the support from other expats. "

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