By far, one of the funniest things about living in Abu Dhabi are the stares we get from some people for simply having lighter color skin and hair. I know some of you are thinking that there are plenty of expats here just like us, so why would we get stares. To explain this I will give a quick geography lesson on Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is generally split up in two parts, on island and off island. On island refers mostly to what some would call downtown Abu Dhabi where most of the highrises and big businesses are located. On island Abu Dhabi and off island Abu Dhabi are both coastal areas along the Arabian Gulf(aka Persian Gulf). Yas and Reem are both islands, but are still referred to as off island. I used to think there were a lot of bridges and waterways in Hampton Roads, well Abu Dhabi has it beat but there are no bothersome bridge lifts here. Most of the expats live on island, but that is slowly changing with new larger neighborhoods being built off island where families can have large 7 bedroom villas with a yard and pool for the price of a 2 bedroom apartment on island. We live off island, and every time I drive on island I am so thankful that we made that decision. We did, however, choose an area that has a higher concentration of locals and other non-western nationalities.
So, on to the starers. It is completely normal for us to walk into a store in certain areas and have EVERYBODY look at us and keep looking at us. I always think back to how my mom taught my sister and I that it's rude to stare at people, especially if they are different than you. I don't think these folks here ever got that lesson. I've been walking through a mall and had groups of men walking the other way stop turn to face me and just gaze like they are boring holes through me. And no, I'm not wearing anything skimpy or inappropriate. I try really hard to dress in a way that does not offend the Muslims here and their more conservative beliefs on clothing. I only show my knees and shoulders when we are going to hotels for dinner where it is acceptable.
The stares aren't limited to just me, we get them as a family as well. My 15 year old son, who I will just refer to as AW from here on out(since this is a public blog), has made the staring a source of entertainment. Those of you reading this that know AW, know that he is the outgoing comedian in our family. On several occasions we have been driving down the road when a bus filled with Pakistani or Afghan laborers will be beside us and everyone on the bus will be staring at us. This can be a little unnerving when you're the one trying to drive. AW uses this as a chance for a laugh, and will not look away from the bus full of gawkers. Instead, he gives them a taste of their own medicine by staring back with what we call his "cutesy stare". This is where he tilts his head, puts his chin on his hand, and does a big creepy smile while opening his eyes really wide. In less than 3 seconds, he turns the bus of starers into a laughing audience. The laughter quickly spreads to our car as well, and I can't help but to crack up laughing at him.
Most of the time when we go out, I have to beg AW to tone down his boisterousness in stores here, because well you guessed it.....it gets us even more stares. He's so funny though, because as I'm trying to discretely plead with him to stop making the stares worse he will get close to my ear and say things like "they're all looking at you". He'll also throw in what we refer to as his "creeper" look when he does this. Again, it makes me crack up.
In all honesty, AW actually makes the staring easier to take by turning it into something I can laugh at. Still, I say some folks need to learn that it's rude to stare. So, if you're in the US and you see someone from another country wearing a dishdash, abaya, or sari and you're inclined to stare, imagine what it would feel like to have the tables reversed and you be the one that looked out of place.