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:
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)
My crim law prof from law school was a consultant for the new criminal code of the Maldives, so I’m not shocked they’ve had a revolution. This was a guy who gave an all-rape final exam (men raping women! men raping men! blaming the victim! queer panic defense!) and then wondered why some of the exam takers had panic attacks mid-test. But I digress. I hear it’s awesomely lovely there. Have a great time. As long as you don’t run into Richard Engel, it’s probably still safe for tourists!
Seriously? All-rape final exam? Isn’t that, like, against the law? Yikes. Glad I never went to law school. I’m pretty sure the Maldives are fine now – it was like the revolutionary minute and now it’s over. (She says, fingers crossed). And all they have for economics there is tourism, so I’m hoping they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them, so to speak. We’ll see… thanks for stopping by.
Your friend is fortunate to have you soften her landing and guide you through the relocation process. Often, it is not the big, systemic, or official things that are hard to navigate, but the small, everyday, mundane, and social–one can’t learn these from books or school, and they may seem almost trivial individually but as a whole can be very confusing, difficult, and exhausting. Almost like trying to break a maddeningly complex secret code without anything resembling a decoder. Well, at least in my experience. 🙂 To have help from someone who has traveled the path a little bit ahead you can make such a bright and enormous difference. I hope you and your friend get to enjoy many laughs in AD together!
When I think about what you did, coming to NYC for your degree–negotiating the complexity of that ridiculous university AND the city (and the country) – I’m in awe. Laughter (and baking) always helps!
It’s good to think about how different life is in other countries. I appreciated reading your perspective and I bet it helped your friend feel more reassured.
I don’t know if she felt reassured or…more anxious! But I think knowing upfront that it’s going to be hard helps – if you’re like me and make tons of lists, it’s easy to think “okay, I’ve got my lists, so it’s all going to be okay.” Lists help but I wish I’d been more prepared for how BIG the transition would be…thanks for stopping by.
This is probably true of all overseas moves.
I know what you mean about the racial discrimination though – I have friends who have lived there.
The racism is pervasive–so pervasive that in some ways it’s easy not to see. And yes, I think *any* overseas move generates these feelings of “OMIGOD” … it’s just always so far away, kind of no matter how you slice it. Thanks for stopping by.
While I have never moved oversees, I can tell you that moving far from what is familiar is incredibly unsettling. Until you figure out the little things and get settled, anyway.
With very few changes, I could have written this article about moving from San Diego, California to Goose Creek, South Caroliina. The pace, the attitudes, the food choices… it probably would have been easier to move to London or Paris, honestly.
But we adapted, we were fine… and we eventually moved back to California. 🙂
Anyway – I hope your friend has a great move and enjoys the adventure!!
(found you via Mom 101)
Hi – thanks for stopping by! Before we moved here, we were contemplating a move from NYC to South Bend, Indiana…and in many ways, like your move to South Carolina, it would’ve been a MUCH bigger culture shock to move to Indiana than moving here. One does adapt, though…eventually. One’s children may continue to say “you’ve ruined my life!” for ever…but I persist in believing that change, within reason, is good for their little lives. (I hope! 🙂
Your letter made me laugh. Love the sunset!