The worst things about Dubai
In writing this I’ve realised that I’ll never be allowed out of the country should I post it whilst still here. Though very open in some ways, the Dubai authorities do not take criticism well, so though this was written over a couple of days at the beginning of July 2006, it’s only being posted now.
This was actually much harder to decide than the best; there are quite frankly so many frustrating things about living here it was hard deciding what to include! Now before you all start getting up in arms telling me to pack my bags and leave, trust me when I say I could name just as many bad things about living in Blighty. Like anywhere you live there are things about that place you dislike, downright hate or drive you slowly round the bend. And remember visiting for a holiday or a business trip is NOTHING like living in a place. So in my humble opinion these are the worst things in no particular order…
Many people may be surprised at the amount of racism in Dubai; it’s portrayed to be such a multicultural society, but trust me it is evident EVERYWHERE! From the door policies of bars and nightclubs, to job recruitment and wages, from the letters pages of the local paper, to the treatment of your fellow residents, it’s sometimes excruciating to see the levels of intolerance due to nationality. Dubai has a racial pecking order, in many ways similar and as complicated the Caste system in India; I could write a novel on it. As a white Brit and my colour unfortunately is very relevant here, I have suffered little racism, but it’s EXACTLY because I am white and a Brit that I have suffered so little. I’m sorry to say that my cousins from the subcontinent are not so lucky.
It is hard to imagine how bad, inconsiderate, arrogant, dangerous, oblivious, aggressive, crazy, stupid, and fast people drive here. To put this into perspective according to Dubai RTA in 2005 a staggering 300,000 cars were involved in accidents on the city’s roads injuring 2330 people and killing 236, 100 of whom were pedestrians. This equates to a per capita of 17 deaths per 100,000, making Dubai’s roads some of the most dangerous in the world. Not to bore you with stats too much but it’s interesting to note that 88% of the car accidents were caused by male drivers, 25.12% were locals, 25.12 % were Pakistanis and 18.96 % Indians. I don’t want to stereotype but its hard not to when you talk about Dubai’s driving public. You have several categories of driver here none of them very good, it’s impossible to determine which is more dangerous as in their way they all cause way too many deaths on our roads. Here are some of the drivers you may come across on the roads.....
The Habibi – normally driving a Land Cruiser with blacked out windows. They opt for an almost horizontal driving position, one hand on the wheel the other holding their phone. You spot them in your rear view mirror, flashing their headlights and speeding towards your rear bumper. If you can’t get out of the way they will drive so close to you that you can no longer see their still flashing headlights, then overtake you on the hard shoulder at 150 KPH or swerve across 3 lanes and undertake the entire highway. Impossible to avoid once on your bumper so if possible move when at least 2KM away, and keep your eyes peeled.
Supermum – normally driving a Prado or Porsche Cayene. They adopt the side-on driving position, one hand on the wheel the other fixing their Shayla/lipstick/phone whilst talking to the kids in the backseat. The kids will never be in child seats or wearing seatbelts, and quite often they’ll be on mum’s knee in the drivers’ seat. They sit at green lights too busy with other matters to notice, then just before they change screech through making rude hand gestures to the frustrated honking drivers behind. Beware them on highway as they have a tendency to lane drift.
Just of the plane – normally driving a Nissan Sunny or a clapped out Honda. They assume the hugging wheel driving position, both hands and head on the steering wheel. Rarely carrying less than 4 passengers squashed into the backseat, they have two very different driving styles; the slowly slowly better better (SSBB), or the faster faster better better (FFBB). SSBB will hog the middle lane, moving over at the last minute to exit the highway, and if traffic is busy will actually stop until space for them to change lanes appears. FFBB will drive about 2 millimetres from your bumper, believing there are fuel efficiencies to be made driving in someone else’s slipstream. Both driving styles have a tendency to lane drift, normally when the driver nods off, and have no idea how to merge into moving traffic, so the stop then go merging style is preferred. Rarely are lights or indicators used, again this reduces fuel consumption. Beware them on the highway at night, if they miss their exit they will reverse down the highway to rectify.
The Trucker – driving well obviously HGVs, but also busses, they prefer the 360degree driving stance. One hand on the wheel, the other eating their shawarma, head in perpetual circular motion chatting to their passengers, or checking out female drivers from their elevated position, though rarely do they look at the road or its other users. Their driving style is dependant on what they drive, the HGV will be driven at a very slow speed on the highway, but never stops, not for roundabouts, give way signs, traffic lights or pedestrians. Once on the city streets the HGV will be driven at breakneck speed, but again rarely do they stop. The bus will be driven at breakneck speed at all times, they will stop but only on the hard shoulder to pick up passengers who flag them down anywhere and everywhere, corners will always be taken on two wheels. Both driving styles prefer the left lane to go right and the right lane to go left, and the all the way around the roundabout in the outside lane option. Avoid them at all costs anytime!
Racerboy – driving any expensive sports car or wannabe sports car with go faster stripes and fins, courtesy of their normally absent fathers. Racerboys adopt a plethora of driving stances, but can be identified by one very common dominator; speed! Like their hero the Habibi they favour the flashing headlight, though prefer to weave in and out of lanes in aggressive manoeuvres so you don’t ever actually see their flashing headlights as they squeeze into the 2 millimetre stopping distance the car behind you has left, causing them to slam on and 6 cars back a 4 car pile-up. Your escape from the racerboy is hampered by his mate being in the next lane with window down chatting to your bumper-buddy! Your only option, pray….
Please note that whilst all these things I have witnessed with my own eyes here in Dubai and the statistics are true and very, very scary, I’m being a little tongue in cheek with my driver categories. And I’m not saying that ‘Westerners’ are better or safer drivers, I think that we’ve had more years of road safety drilled into our sub-conscious. That said I’ve seen too many expat brats driving daddies Merc or mummies 4X4 as if they own the road.
Sorry I’m gonna start with the stats again, but you need them to understand what Emiratisation is. UAE nationals or Emiratis account for only 20% of the population of Dubai, the rest are expatriate workers apparently there are 60,000 Brits here (it’s the weather in Blighty), but there are a lot more Indian, Pakistani and Filipinos. It’s a very simple fact if you don’t work you leave, unless of course you are very, very rich and can afford to live here. There are no state schools, dole or NHS for expatriates, though there is for UAE Nationals, so it’s a very expensive place for expats to live. Apparently there are 35,000 out of work Emiratis, Emiratisation is about replacing expats with these dole-ites! Now I’m all for this, nothing I dislike more than a scrounger, but it’s the way the Ministry of labour chooses the jobs that will be Emiratised that seriously pisses me off. Are the taxi drivers, construction workers or waiting staff being replaced with Nationals, hell no! Only those ‘cushier’ jobs the Emiratis want to do, heaven forbid they’d have to clean a toilette, they wont do their own never mind a hotel rooms.
The banking sector for example has to have 40% of their workforce Emirati; this creates a problem, because well there aren’t enough Nations with the experience to do some jobs. So what happens, and I’ve witnessed this when I worked here, is that you advertise a Management position, you look through the CVs of these kids just out of university who really believe they are entitled to a managerial position, when they’ve never even managed what they will wear each day never mind a team of people. But you HAVE TO EMPLOY AN EMIRATI, so you invite the more experienced ones to interview. If they turn up, they’re always late and it’s role reversal for the interview. I’m not interviewing them, they’re interviewing me to decide if they’ll take the job I’m gonna offer. When you decide who you’ll offer the job to, based primarily on the fact there’s only one candidate with any experience, you pass the info to the Emiratisation manager in HR. Most large companies will employ an Emiratisation manager to ensure they meet their Government targets and therefore are not fined or worse loose their trading licence. In my case this was a young Emirati, her sole responsibility is to convince other Emiratis to come and work for us. Well 2 days later she comes back with sorry he wont accept your salary, he wanted twice the monthly salary you’ve offered, meaning he’d be paid almost as much as the bleeding chairman – Nationals are VERY expensive to employ costing on average 2 to 3 times more than an expat. Naively I’d expected the Emiratisation manager to ‘sell’ the job to him as he’d be working for a huge multinational company with great prospects etc. But no; all she’d done was call him to make the job offer and tell him what we were willing to pay. Why have her then? I could just as easily have done that, as could any of the other HR staff. Anyway I talk to him, convince him to come on the original salary, and then set about showing the bloke what he’s being paid for. Of course he thinks he’s there to boss the rest of the team around, take credit for their hard work, hand out his shiny new business cards to all and sundry and do pretty much nothing else. Needless to say he didn’t last very long and the Emiratisation manager soon left to be replaced by an Indian national with much more HR experience.
So now the Ministry of labour has decided that all private companies have 18 months to replace every HR manager and secretary with a National. I’ve never met a national who can type 100 words a minute or take shorthand, and where all these Emirati HR managers are hiding is beyond me. I completely understand the Government wanting their own looked after and they should be, but come on be realistic about it. Surely it’s better to give grants to businesses to employ Nationals making them a more financially attractive alternative to expats? And start making culture changes so Nationals are willing to do more jobs, not just those the brain-dead civil servants think they should and are willing to work their way up the corporate ladder!
After re-reading this I wanted to temper my rant a bit. I don’t want you think I dislike Emiratis, that honestly could not be further from the truth. I’ve met some very hard-working, diligent and intelligent Nationals. If you make an effort to get to know them and show an interest in their heritage and culture they are so delighted it brings tears to my eyes. Their hospitality is world renowned and with good reason, try getting out of a locals home without being so well fed and watered you can barely move. Again I’ve made some generalisations in my post and it must be remembered that though Dubai is a very old trading post, the UAE is a very young country and only a few generations ago most Emiratis were bedouin. The pace of change here has been astronomical and with oil wealth much has come to these people in a very short time, so much that they want everything and now, especially the younger generations. It appears no-one is willing to work their way up the corporate ladder learning the business and earning their status. I mean not to cause offence and Emiratisation is absolutely required, but for the sake of the future of Dubai shway, shway…..
Poor service and Big fat liars
The service you receive everywhere in Dubai except hotels is most of the time shocking, sometimes dire and rarely good. Taxis are one great example if you call to book a taxi for a specific time it never turns up. So instead you call when you want one, well good luck, it can take anything from 5 minutes to a couple of hours for your cab to arrive. The biggest issue is that you’ve no idea when it may arrive, trying to get anywhere for a specific time is a complete lottery. Whilst the cab driver may be polite and efficient the booking staff you speak to are as much use as a chocolate teapot, they refuse to tell you how long your taxi will take, they are quite honestly the most unhelpful people you could wish to not meet!
Another side to the poor service is people who tell you what they think you want to hear, it’s almost as if people are afraid to tell the truth, if something will take a week to be done, they’ll say three days. Needless to say that will drive anyone mad. The best example was the beach road beautification project. In the local paper the head-honcho was questioned about the completion date. It was due for the end of January 2006 and anyone with half a brain could tell it was way behind schedule. Instead of admitting this he announced in the press that they would complete on time as they were re-doubling their efforts and working more shifts. Well it is now July 2nd 2006 and beach road is still not finished!
It feels like the whole of Dubai is under construction, cranes are the main feature of the skyline, from the airport to the Marina to the sea and everywhere in between. With man-made islands, the tallest tower in the world, the largest shopping mall in the world, and over 300,000 new apartments due for completion over the next 18 months it’s not surprising. New roads are being built, normally after the houses or apartments causing major traffic headaches, new bridges over the creek and Sheikh Zayed Road and thank god a light railway, MRT kinda thing. As a consequence the whole city as bathed in concrete dust and sand, churned up by the heavy plant. I look from our 31st floor window and can see the mist-like veil that encompasses the city. I’ve no idea who will live in these 300,000 apartments as all the expats are loosing the jobs due to Emiratisation, except of course the construction workers and toilet cleaners. Unfortunately their 400 dirham a month salary won’t stretch to a Jumeirah Beach Residence studio.
Treatment of workers
Now this is one thing I see red most at. From construction workers to housemaids, from petrol pump attendants to supermarket checkout staff, from waiters to street sweepers, the conditions some of these people live and work in are quite frankly atrocious. Not only are they paid a pittance, some are housed in labour camps. If that term brings to mind POWs then you’d not be far from imagining the situation some of these people endure. Portacabins with 12 – 14 men per room, little or no air conditioning and no privacy. Strikes and protests are becoming more common as workers demand better treatment. Recently workers protested at a labour camp as they had no water! Can you imagine? These men work 10 – 12 hour days outside in blistering temperatures and when they return to their ‘homes’ there is no water.
Housemaids are treated like slaves, they don’t get a day off, they work 24/7 cooking cleaning, doing the laundry and babysitting, they get paid peanuts, are rarely provided food and in some cases must pay their employer to live in their room! They are beaten, made to pay for any damages and even replace the vacuum when it gives up! If they complain they are thrown out with little chance of getting home as they’ve no money and most cases have had their passports taken for safe keeping by their employer.
The general public talk to their waiter, the petrol pump attendant, the checkout girl etc. as if they are vermin. Rarely is eye contact made and as for P&Qs forget it, the most they’ll get is a grunt. If their dinner is not completely to their satisfaction expect a tirade of abuse directed at the poor waiter. Now don’t think for one minute that these people can complain and have their abusers banged up for a month, it doesn’t work that way. These kinds of jobs have no status and therefore no rights, so they must put up and shut up.
I’ve made some generalisations here, there obviously are exceptions, the housemaid who is treated like one of the family, the construction worker or chambermaid who lives in nice clean air conditioned staff accommodation. Actually on the whole hotel staff are very well treated by their employers if not their customers! But they really are the exception, most workers especially construction workers are treated worse than I would treat a rabid dog. These poor men are exploited before and after they arrive; I heard a story about construction workers being recruited in India. They are told that if they say they are an electrician or a plumber they will be paid 1000 + dirhams per month, and they will have their wages docked for the first year or so to pay for their flight and work permit, it costs around 6000 dirhams for a workers visa. When they arrive already in more debt than they can imagine it is obvious that they are not skilled so will only be paid 450 dirhams per month as a labourer. At that rate it will take them over one year with no salary just to pay for their work permit! Where to these men work? Surely for some small unscrupulous tyrant with no power or prestige? No, at Dubai international airport!!! Remember that the next time you book your dream holiday to luxurious Dubai.
Like most places it seems not a day goes by without you reading about someone being jailed for breaking the law. But what constitutes breaking the law and the sentences given here are to me anyway, crazy; it just doesn’t make sense or seem logical to me. Now I know I’m living in a Muslim country that is subject to Sharia law and please don’t think I’m having a pop at Islam, I AM NOT! There are the usual rapes and murders, infrequent compared to most cities and not very widely reported but they happen, drugs are another go to straight to jail card as they should be, but a month in prison for swearing at someone? Very recently an American bloke so frustrated at the developers of his expensive new home lost his temper. He’d had problems that were supposed to have been fixed, he like me was not happy at being lied to and the general poor level of service he’d received. When he visited the developers office for the umpteenth time to complain he just couldn’t take the lack of ownership, responsibility and general disregard for sorting his problem and snapped. He verbally abused the poor (and I use this term ironically) Customer Service Representative and swore at her. I’m not condoning what he did, I’ve worked in the customer service sector and had more than my fair share of irate customers, but I can completely sympathise with his situation. That said, he was wrong, but a month in jail? A bit on the harsh side I think, especially when you compare the sentences given to a group of young men who gang raped a woman, they got a year each!!!! So raping someone as 12 times as bad as swearing at someone??? See what I mean about logical!
You are imprisoned for issuing a rubber cheque, ok that’s not a very good thing to do, but the banks take a blank signed cheque from you as a guarantee for a loan. If you default on the loan they cash the cheque for the total amount owed, of course you don’t have the money for one months payment so you’ll not have enough for the entire amount; the cheque gets bounced and hey presto, the police knock at your door and you’re off to jail! The unfortunate welders working on the roof of the Oasis centre were jailed as they were the cause of the blaze that destroyed it. They were not arsonists just poorly trained and unsupervised. The one that did me more than anything was the tale of 2 British women who were raped. They got into what they thought was a taxi, it turned out to be the journey from hell, 2 men sexually molested one woman and raped the other. The women, both married reported this hideous crime. The perpetrators were arrested, convicted and jailed. One woman left the UAE, she couldn’t bare to live here anymore. The other woman who chose to stay was then arrested and jailed for adultery! The courts did eventually see reason and release the woman but please???? How can you even think of arresting the victim of rape for having sex with the rapist? If that’s not crazy I’ve no idea what is….
I had to add to this post as in the last few days several high profile cases have been reported in the press. The drunk driver who killed a 30 something year old was sentenced to 4 months, a property swindler who conned millions from investors was given 30 years, and an American R&B star was sentenced to 4 years for carrying 1.2grammes of cocaine on his way to Niomi Campbell’s 3 day birthday bash at the Burj. He was pardoned just hours after his conviction and left Dubai the same day, and so the crazy continues….