Thursday, October 28, 2010

Money talks

Everyone always asks me how expensive it is to live in the UAE. Well, I can’t really answer that question without posing another question: compared to what?

I guess it is all a matter of perspective and I wouldn’t really be accurate if I answered this question based on my reality. So, I’ve decided to put together some numbers for you. That way you will be able to make some comparisons and draw your own conclusions.

But, first things first. Let me get you acquainted with the local currency of the United Arab Emirates – the Dirham. As you will see in the examples below, the colorful Dirham comes in paper notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. You will also find coins of 1 Dirham and 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 fils (1 Dirham = 100 fils).

The UAE Dirham is fixed and pegged to the US Dollar. This means the following rate remains unchanged:

1 US Dollar (USD) = 3.67 United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED)

Now, moving on… A few examples to help you see how much things cost around here…

Please remember most of the numbers below are an average, based on my lifestyle. You will definitely be able to find cheaper or more expensive options.

·         3 bedroom apartment in a good, central neighborhood, in Abu Dhabi city (annual rent)

AED 200,000 to AED 450,000 = USD 54,500 to USD 123,000

·         Bill for two at a five star restaurant (appetizer + main course + dessert + bottle of wine):

AED 400 to AED 800 = USD 108 to USD 220

·         Bill for two at an average restaurant (appetizer + main course + dessert):

AED 80 to AED 150 = USD 22 to USD 41

·         Bill for two at a Japanese restaurant (appetizer + sushi + sashimi + dessert + sake)

AED 200 to AED 500 = USD 54 to USD 136

·         Friday bubbly brunch for two (open buffet + unlimited soft drinks and bubbly):

AED 400 to AED 900 = USD 108 to USD 245

·         Burger King Whopper Meal (whopper + fries + soft drink)

AED 18 = USD 5

·         Pizza Hut large pepperoni pizza

AED 43 = USD 12

Shopping and Services
·         Grocery store monthly bill (for a household of two)

AED 1000 = USD 272

·         Maid (two times a week – total of 32 hours)

AED 1300 = USD 354

·         Car wash (one-off)

AED 30 = USD 8

·         Fuel

AED 100 = USD 27 (to fill up the tank of a Volkswagen Tiguan)

·         Two movie tickets

AED 60 = USD 16

·         Two entrance fees to spend the day at a hotel health club (access to pool and beach)

AED 200 = USD 54 (weekdays)

·         Two tickets to a half day desert safari (including BBQ dinner)

AED 300 to AED 600 = USD 82 to USD 163

·         Two tickets to visit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

AED 200 = USD 54 (dated and timed) or AED 800 = USD 228 (immediate entrance)

·         Two Grandstand F1 tickets (3 days + concerts by Kanye West, Linkin Park and Prince)

AED 4000 = USD 1090

Health and Beauty
·         Gym membership (annual)

AED 3000 = USD 817

·         Manicure and pedicure

AED 130 = USD 35

·         Facials and massages

AED 300 to AED 1000 = USD 82 to USD 272

·         Waxing/threading

AED 300 = USD 82 (eyebrow, underarms, bikini line, full legs)

·         Blow dry (medium length hair)

AED 100 = USD 27

·         Cut, wash, dry, style (medium length hair)

AED 250 = USD 68

For more information on what to do in Abu Dhabi and how much it will cost you, take a look at

I’d really like your opinion on this… According to the numbers I gave you and compared to your reality, would you say Abu Dhabi is an expensive place to live?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

FAQ: expat fashion

I was just reminded by one of my followers that I never mentioned anything about the way expats dress around here. So, I went back to a few other questions friends often ask me about this and put together a little FAQ for you. Let me know if there is anything else you’d like to know on this topic.

As a woman, are you expected to be covered when you go out in public?
Absolutely not. I wear regular clothes (T-shirts, jeans, skirts, etc.) just like I would anywhere else in the world.
Is there any item of clothing you should avoid wearing?
I personally avoid wearing clothes that show too much cleavage, that are extremely tight or that show too much leg. I feel it’s a sign of respect towards the people of this country and the local customs and values. Plus, it’s a way of preserving myself and avoid unwanted attention from men.
Should you dress any differently depending on the place you are going to?
If you are going to a place where you know there will be a lot of locals or a lot of men, I think you should try to dress a bit more conservatively. I mean, there is no need to go overboard and get an abaya or a burkha, but perhaps you might want to stick to pants, a shirt that will cover your shoulders and no cleavage. On the other hand, if you are headed to a hotel or a place where you might find a lot of expatriates, then you might be able to pull off a more revealing outfit.
What would be an appropriate outfit for a day at the beach?
Bathing suit of course! But, again, try to remember that you are in a Muslim country… This is not the place to parade around in tiny bikinis! Also, if you are walking or taking a public transportation to the beach, please cover yourself with something that is not transparent, short or revealing.
Do expats need to wear something specific to visit a Mosque?
Well, first of all, be careful about trying to get into a Mosque. For the most part, only Muslims are allowed in. However, if you do encounter one where you can go inside, you will most definitely need a different outfit for the visit. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (I’ll talk more about it in a different post), for example, will require women to wear an abaya and a veil to cover their hair. In addition, men that show up in shorts will have to wear a dishdash. But, don’t head to the mall just yet to purchase these items. You can get them for free at the entrance of the Mosque. Just please return them at the end of your visit, ok?
Should men worry about what they wear?
Not really. Men can pretty much wear anything. My only advice would be for you to check the dress code of hotels and restaurants you plan to stay in or visit to ensure you are not banned at the door because you are wearing shorts, jeans or flip-flops. Also, don’t attempt to take off your shirt in public (unless you are enjoying the sun at a beach or hotel pool) or walk to the beach in your Speedo’s.

I guess it all comes down to respect and common sense doesn’t it?

Note: according to one of the comments I received after posting this blog, it is offensive for men and women to show their knees in some places around town. So, please keep that in mind as well!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Movie etiquette

I just noticed my last couple of posts were a bit on the negative side. What can I say? There is no heaven on earth, right? So, although there are many interesting and wonderful things about living in the UAE, like the fact that we don’t have to worry about violence, that we live comfortably and that the sun shines almost 365 days a year, there are still many things we are trying to get used to.
So, before going back to being positive, please allow me to vent a little bit more. This time I’ll take you on a journey through movie etiquette in this country. Actually, scratch that. The LACK of movie etiquette in this country…
Before moving here I thought the worst possible mistake you could make when it comes to going to the movies was to attempt a session at one of the big theatres located at Barra da Tijuca (one of the neighborhoods in Rio) on a Sunday afternoon. Well, not anymore. Going to the movies in the UAE, especially during the weekends, is literally stepping into the twilight zone.
People don’t whisper once in a while to comment on a specific scene, they have animated conversations all the way through the movie. They also have no shame in answering their mobile phones, which only happens after the damn thing rings loudly over and over again. I’ve seen it all when it comes to mobiles:  a man allowing the phone to ring a few times while he screened the call, a woman walking calmly back to her seat (where her bag and screaming mobile were), frustrated to be interrupted from her little walk around the room, girls texting incessantly throughout the movie… And the children – oh, the children. They scream and run as if they are in a playground. Sometimes they even bring their video games along and you need to watch the movie with that annoying noise on the background.
Besides all the noise, they also have the talent to redecorate the room. Take a look at the picture below.

When the session ends, or they get bored, whichever comes first, they simply get up and leave. They are incapable of taking their trash out!
You are probably thinking to yourself: I would never take this. I would get up, ask them to stop talking, turn off their mobiles, control their kids and clean-up after themselves. Right? Well, I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. They don’t care. Not only are they unable to say I’m sorry, but they even manage to look at you as if you are the crazy person, the party pooper, the freak.
Well, I've decided that from now on I'll only go to the movies during the week or attend the early bird sessions that take place in the morning or early afternoon. This freak wants peace and quiet!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Panadol anyone?

Sorry I haven’t posted for such a long time, but the past weeks have been a bit crazy and, to top it all off, I have this persistent cold that does not want to leave me alone!

So, between a cough and a sneeze, I decided to come and write a few words on a very appropriate theme: why I simply hate feeling sick, especially here in the UAE.

To tell you the truth, the health insurance works really well. Most of them give you access to basically every hospital or clinic and you pay only AED 50 (around USD 14) for the Doctor’s appointment. In addition, you even get some of the prescribed medication for free in the local pharmacies.

The problem is I simply do not trust Doctors here. They all seem to ask the same questions and prescribe the same medication – no matter what the symptoms are. Cough? Panadol. Fever? Panadol. Pain? Panadol. Brain tumor? Panadol. What the hell?!

When I fell and twisted my right foot a couple of years back they sent me home initially saying it was nothing and that all I needed to do was rest and take – guess what – Panadol for the pain. It took them a month to find out I had actually tore one of the ligaments and the reason they did investigate it further was because I pressured them to do so. Unbelievable!

And this is only one example of bad experiences I had with Doctors around here… So, I really avoid them as much as I can and set aside a couple of days whenever I go to Brazil to see my Dentist, OBGYN, Ophthalmologist and so on.

Ok, perhaps I should not generalize. There might be good Doctors around here somewhere. I just hope I get to meet them by the time I decide to have a baby. Otherwise something tells me the only help I’ll get during labor is from a dear old friend called Panadol…

Lord have mercy on me!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

No, not Inshallah

Inshallah. This was one of the first words I learned when I moved to the UAE, it is probably the word I hear the most around here and I am pretty sure this is THE one word that can get my blood boiling instantly, as soon as it comes out of a person’s mouth.
Inshallah translates into English as ‘God willing’. In my understanding, this term should be one of those powerful things you say when you are faced with a challenging or very difficult situation and need extra strength to deal with it. Sort of like a prayer to call upon a blessing or a ‘little hand from above’.
Problem is the words YES and NO have been entirely replaced with Inshallah around here. Here are some of the conversations I have almost on a daily basis:
With a guy from the phone company:
- So, do you think you will be able to install my land line this week?
- Inshallah

With a colleague from work:
-   I’ll wait for you to send me your numbers this afternoon so I can add them to the report and work on the presentation.
-   Inshallah

With a customer service representative from a store:
-   You said the furniture would be delivered to me by Monday and it is now Thursday. I need this here before the weekend.
-   Inshallah

Seriously?!?!? It drives me nuts! In the beginning I thought it was kind of nice, you know, like a polite thing people would say before actually committing to something. I was wrong. It’s just Inshallah. Period.

Everyone uses it for everything all the time and most of the time you just know there is no chance in hell of something happening when the word Inshallah is thrown in the mix.

Sometimes I get so frustrated I actually say: No, not Inshallah. I need to be able to make plans. I need specific dates and deadlines.

Guess what the answer is. Yes, you got it: Inshallah you will be able to.

Yeah right…