Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Grandparents are Here!

Wow, the past 4 days have been crazy busy for us. For the first time since moving to Abu Dhabi, we have family members from the US here visiting. I must admit I've always been a little jealous of other expats that I've seen showing around visiting family members. It isn't uncommon for grandparents from European countries to make the trip to the UAE to visit with their kids and grandchildren, but for Americans it isn't as common.

When we made the decision to move, my parent-in-laws stated that since we were moving their grandkids 7500 miles away they would more than likely end up making the journey to see them(and us) at some point. Well, this past Thursday "Granny" and "PopPop" arrived in the UAE, and we have been on the go ever since.

Although this is the first family visit, we have had friends from the US visit us. One of the cool things about having visitors is we get to be tour guides, and we get to do some of the more touristy things here that we don't normally do all the time. So, their vacation becomes our vacation as well.

Luckily, my in-laws are here for longer than past guests, so we don't have to jam in the sites of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai in just a few days. We've also been able to just give them a taste of our daily life here, so they now have a better understanding of the differences we've had to adjust to in our new life abroad. For an expat, having someone back in your home country understand the changes you are dealing with and adjusting to is huge. I often find myself talking to other expats about how family and friends in our home countries just don't understand this unique place we now call home.

I actually started this blog as a way to try to relay my expat experience to friends and family in the US. I wanted people to understand the magnitude of the changes we've adapted to, both good and bad. Still, I think reading about it doesn't compare to experiencing this place first hand. As I suspected, our visitors have already made note of some of the things I have shared here on my blog, like the abundance of people that try to assist you while shopping here. My mother-in-law noted that there are so many people trying to help you in stores, it's like you're tripping over them. They've also been a witness to what a pain grocery shopping can be here, and a few of the things that make an American or western expat ask "Why?" or "What were they thinking?".

My father-in-law got a taste of one of the unique things here when he went into a bathroom at a local mall......or so he thought. Just like in the states, he looked for the symbol of a man on the door and went in. He was a little befuddled when an Arabic gentleman in the bathroom told him he had to take his shoes off before going in any further. It seems he stepped into a men's room, but this men's room was a men's PRAYER room. PRICELESS!  We all got a really good laugh out of that one.

So for the next couple of weeks, I may be sharing more of the tourist attractions of the UAE with you as opposed to the daily expat life. Perhaps it may convince more of our friends and family to make the journey to this side of the world.

Monday, February 20, 2012

America's My Hometown

Ok, I may get a little sappy here, so I'm just warning you guys. Today, I was making a quick run to the Bani Yas Grande when  this song by Uncle Kracker came on the radio. Maybe I'm a little late, or it's just the fact that most radio stations here are stuck in the 80's. Today was the first time I have ever heard this song.

Anyways, I got a little choked up over it. No, I didn't cry, but I did get that lump in your throat where you feel like you might. Before you start laughing at me or thinking I'm crazy, let me explain why the mention of America and her glory gets me all emotional.

I know I have readers from all over the world now, but I'm going to single out my American compatriots today.  After living in the UAE, I think every American should have to spend some time in a foreign land at some point in their life. Why? Living away from the US makes you love and appreciate it even more. I think there are a lot of Americans that don't understand what a wonderful thing it is to be an American. Sure, we get criticized by the rest of the world (trust me, do we ever). Despite the criticism, to many we still have a life they can only dream of having.

No, I'm not trying to knock my new home. It's just for me, nothing can take the place of America in my heart. I love America and its offer of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all that call it home. Even more now, I love the brave young men and women that sacrifice their lives daily to protect her and her citizens like me.

So, today I'm reminded again that I do miss you, America. I miss Virginia mountains and North Carolina beaches. I miss your green grass and trees. I miss your snow and rain. Most of all, I miss your people... my family and friends.

America's MY hometown.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Visit from the Sandman

On a normal day you can see the gas station to the right clearly.

To the left of this photo is our neighborhood, but the sand is eclipsing  it.

This is all sand, not fog. Imagine being outside in it.

This is what the whole route looked like on our way to Dubai.

The view from my kitchen door. My counter tops are coated this morning.

This is at my front door. That rug is normally blue.

My front porch. The wind not only blew the sand in, it also knocked over plants.

My new sandbox.

My house is dusted daily, but I was able to write my name in sand on a  table  this morning.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Emirati Valentine

In case you can't read the box he's holding, it says sniper rifle.
My husband found this when he was card shopping for me. It's nice to see Westerners aren't the only ones with a sense of humor.

Monday, February 13, 2012

One Little Question

I know I've talked about EXTREME customer service before, but I just have to share what happened to me today. I was at the Dalma Mall looking for the new Ace Hardware, which I found isn't open yet. Anyways, I was craving coffee...shocker, I know. As luck would have it we were out of coffee beans at home, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. I could get my afternoon coffee fix and I could buy a bag of beans for the house.

So, I stopped in at Caribou Coffee on my way out of the mall. Yes, I'm cheating on Starbucks, but they don't have a Starbucks at Dalma. Don't tell my son, he's a SBUX shareholder. As I was walking in, a display with bags of some special coffee caught my eye. I saw the words pumpkin pie spice, and my heart skipped a beat. Pumpkin flavored coffee of any kind is my favorite, but it doesn't exist here in Abu Dhabi...until now.

Of course, I grabbed a bag and proceeded to the counter to order my frozen Caramel Highrise. I asked the clerk ringing me up a simple question, "How long will you be selling this flavor?". It was a reasonable question, because most special flavor items here are only sold for a month. After she consulted with the guy making my drink, I got the answer of one month. I simply stated that I was just asking, because if I liked it I wanted to come back and stock up on more before they got rid of it. So, then the clerk pulls out a huge bag from behind the counter to show me a larger size I could buy if I ended up liking it.

Well, I guess my talking to the clerks caught the eye of the manager that was in the middle of a crew meeting in the corner of the store, so he walked over to ask me if he could help me. I stated very simply that I just wanted to know how long they would be selling the new flavor, because up until now I haven't been able to find it in the UAE. He gave me the same one month answer, and points out just like the clerk did that I could buy a huge bag like they keep behind the counter for store use.

Then, the owner of the store came out of the corner meeting to see if  he could help me. Again, I had to explain that I was just asking about how long they would be selling the bags of pumpkin pie spice coffee, and how the flavor is a favorite of mine. He, like the others, showed me that I could buy the special huge bag behind the counter. I told him just like I did the others, that I was going to try the regular sized bag that I had already paid for and if I liked it, I would come back and stock up.

So here's the funny part, the owner turns to the manager and the clerk making my Caramel Highrise and demands that they brew me a cup of the pumpkin coffee right then and give it to me to try for free. He begs me to go sit on a couch and "relax" while he has his employees prepare a coffee tasting for me. Really? If I hadn't already ordered a drink, then maybe I would have taken him up on his generous offer. I figured that much afternoon caffeine would have me up all night, so I thanked him and politely declined. Then he assured me he would reserve 2 of the large bags just for me, and he instructed his staff not to sell them to anyone else.

Wow, all that over one simple question.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Extreme Recycling

I'm all for recycling, but this is taking it to a whole new level. Pet recycling? Really? "I loved Fido so much, I made a pair of boots out of him when he died."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ZoomZoom..Pull Over!

Gee, guess who got her very first UAE speeding ticket today? Yep, you guessed it, the speed demon pictured above in the Lexus.

I was busted in a section of desert that separates our neighborhood from the one where the kids' school is located. It's a small stretch with just a few roundabouts that I travel several times daily. I confess, I usually go just under 120kph on this road. Today, I was reminded it has a speed limit of 80kph. Why 120kph? Because, there are no speed cameras on this stretch YET. I'll throw in that most people go well over 120kph on the same road.

Yes, it's a really bad habit to base your speed on where you know the cameras are, but it happens. I know people (my husband) that can tell you where all the cameras are on most of the roads around here. Even if you don't know, they aren't forward facing in Abu Dhabi like Dubai, so you can see them pretty easily and slow down before they zap you. I know speeding is bad, but here going too slow can get you killed. 120kph is like grandma speed in the land of Porsche, Lamborghini, and Ferrari.

Excuses, excuses, excuses, I know. I couldn't even give any to the officers running the speed trap, because they couldn't speak English. They all acted like they didn't know what to do with me, because I was asking why I was pulled over. One was finally able to say "speed" and "camera", but they never told me how fast I was going. 

The funny part is I was the only female in a lot of about 8 offenders with more steadily being pulled over. Any guesses on the make up of the rest of the group? If you guessed local males, you win. This is even funnier, because I'm constantly complaining about how they drive and here I end up getting busted with them. Go figure!

After a few minutes of hoping and praying I would get a break, an officer came back to my car with a ticket. It was all in Arabic, and the only Arabic I can kind of read are the numbers. Still, without being able to read the words, I wasn't sure what was what. 

My landlord was kind enough to translate it for me when I got home. It seems I was going 113kph, just 12 over the buffer of 101kph that they allow. It's going to cost me about 300 dirhams thanks to a half off special on tickets they have going on right now. Should I be proud that I'm getting a coupon rate on my 600 dirham violation?

Seriously, I've learned a lesson. Gone are the days of just looking out for speed cameras. Now, I have to watch out for random cars on the side of the road that could be part of a potential sting operation. Seeing that random cars on the side of the road are common here, I guess I have to slow down.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

House Hunting in Abu Dhabi

I'm not sure if it's the fact that I spent 16 years in the mortgage biz, but I love watching house hunting shows.  Prior to moving here I really enjoyed watching the HGTV show, House Hunters International, where new expats would set out to find a house in a foreign land. Watching the show, I would dream of how cool it would be to choose a house in another country with architecture different than what I was accustomed to in Virginia.

Well, I sort of got my wish when we moved to the UAE, but I never stepped foot in any of our potential homes. Instead, my husband, who is an expert at documenting everything, took pictures for me...LOTS OF PICTURES.  I did all of my hunting sitting at a computer 7500 miles away, while he met with agents and walked up countless flights of stairs touring villas.

For those of you that also like house hunting, here's a small taste of what houses look like in Abu Dhabi.  Take note, these are actually on the small side.  Oh, and in case you're wondering, my villa is not in any of these pics.  See if you can spot the oddball.