Friends and colleagues of ours from Manhattan are moving here next year, various children in tow, and I’ve been emailing back and forth with them about all the weird little details involved with moving to…not quite the far ends of the earth but a further end of the earth than, say, Westchester.

This morning, I got an email in which S. asked “Did you ever get huge pangs of “oh shit–what the hell am I thinking moving to Abu Dhabi?” And maybe in her email she mentioned that some people in the family were maybe crying a little bit about the thought of this impending move. I’m not saying there were tears, I’m just saying that there might have been.

It’s not a bad question, actually. In fact, it’s a question that, with a slightly different verb tense, I ask myself pretty regularly. Tears are also not unusual.

Here’s what I wrote:


Dear S.

Well DUH of course you’re going to cry. Maybe even daily, hell maybe even hourly. You’re moving HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD.

I mean, holy crap, right?

And so there will be parts that suck a little and parts that suck a lot.

That said of course, as “hardship duty” this barely, barely qualifies.  Everyone speaks English, there is an intact government that doesn’t open fire on its citizenry (or at least not when the news hounds are looking), you can buy likker, wine, and bacon and really, what more is there?

But yeah. Plan to be exhausted for a while–weeks after the move is finished and you think you’re “settled,” you’ll realize that you’ve never been this tired in your life. Holding it together for everyone else can wear a person down to the nubs, so be ready to be easy with yourself. Sit a lot. Maybe lie down occasionally. Drink, if you’re a drinker. And kiss your efficient type-A New Yorker self good-bye for a while. She’ll still be there when you return. I’m finding that actually if you move more slowly, it’s okay. It feels weird but everything mostly gets done (mostly) and no one else seems to be moving super fast. It’s not a very efficient city. It’s not Rome, but it’s not Manhattan, either.  On the weekends, you’ll maybe hear about this festival, or that exhibit, or that kid-friendly event, and you’ll be all “okay! we are totally there and we’re getting there at 10am and really seize day, dammit.”

That’s a great idea except that all those special events open at like, 2.  Maybe 3.  But if you go to that event at 11pm or midnight? There will be tons of little kids running around having a great time.

You will be fascinated by the contradictions and weirdnesses of this place. I’m trying to dig deeper but it’s hard to find ways out of the expat bubble–and inside the expat bubble, it’s easy to float along with relative freedom. It’s not Riyadh; you’re not going to be stared at (or worse) if your arms are exposed or your hair or god forbid your knees.

That said, however, as KSB asked in this comment, it is a city that has different attitudes for different shades of skin. It’s a city with two or three (or ten) tiers: the one I live on, for white euro/north americans, is pretty comfortable. For others, it’s less comfortable. Husband, with his brown skin, is asked for ID every time he goes into the boys’ school, while I waltz by the security kiosk and no one even blinks. And a (white) colleague here has a wife who is from South Asia, and she is not treated with the same deference I am.  As for “locals?” Emiratis rarely cross paths with expats, unless you work in one of the corporate offices owned by the government.

So no, it’s not perfect by a long shot. But there are interesting people here doing interesting things–a group started a farmer’s market; there are people making art and music and working for conservation effots. And, as with anywhere, there is an idiot contingent, most of whom drive around in polysyllabic fancy cars that end in “i” – Maserati, Ferrari, whateveri. I don’t even blink any more when a Lamborghini pulls up next to me at the stoplight. I see a yellow one around a lot that always looks to me like the swiss cheese hats that Green Bay Packer fans wear on their heads.

Anyway.  It’s an easy place, in a lot of ways – which means the weirdnesses sneak up on you with a WHAP when you’re least expecting it. Little stuff, like WHAT DO YOU MEAN I  CANT BUY PURE VANILLA EXTRACT?  WHY DO FURNITURE STORES ONLY SELL CARMELA SOPRANO’S CASTOFFS? I NEED A LICENSE TO BUY BOOZE? VEAL BACON?  There are big weirdnesses too, but I’ll save those for later, after you’ve already bought your plane tickets.

Here’s the thing: the weather is (mostly) lovely; there are good restaurants; the people you’ll be working with are terrific; it’s a kid friendly city; you’ll do yoga on the beach and kayak in the mangroves; it’s safe and quiet and relatively clean.

And every day–even on those teary, exhausting, pull-your-hair-out-crazy days–you’ll get an absolutely gobsmacking sunset that makes you really glad you don’t live in the concrete canyons of Lower Manhattan anymore.

Yes, you’re going to cry, but mostly? You’re going to be fine.


(that’s really how the sunset looked tonight, I promise – no camera enhancements whatsoever)

linking up this post to Bees with Honey – thanks Bruna!

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