Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Will the uproar in the Middle East get to the UAE?

When I decided to create this blog, I vowed to stay away from religious and political themes. After all, as mentioned in my welcome text to the left, I am no expert on such issues.
However, due to the current uproar in several parts of the Middle East and the concern several people demonstrated for my safety, I feel the need to write a few words on the subject just so you know how things look like in the UAE.
Before I get into that, let’s recap… As you know, 2011 begun with a wave of region-wide protests by pro-democracy opposition groups. Demonstrators in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria and Libya took the streets to demand political reforms and constitutional changes.
In Tunisia and Egypt, protestors were able to oust presidents who had ruled heavy-handedly for many years. In Syria, recent news show that, in a rare moment of responsiveness to public pressure, President Bashar Al Assad accepted the resignation of his cabinet. In other countries, the turmoil is still going strong, especially in Libya, where strikes against Colonel Qaddafi and his government include an international military intervention of large scale.  
Now, to the question everyone has been asking me: how is the scenario in the UAE? Well, so far so good. And, in my humble opinion, it will probably remain that way.
Although the country is fully engaged in humanitarian operations and has committed six F-16 and six Mirage aircraft to help enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, the situation in the United Arab Emirates is of pure normality.
The way I see it, the UAE is kind of like Switzerland: neutral. You must remember that it is home to many international organizations and has extensive diplomatic relations with other countries, playing a significant role in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the United Nations (UN).
On top of that, 80% of its population is made up of expats – and over half of them are non-Arabs, coming from India, Philippines, Sri Lanka and several developed countries in Europe, North America, Asia and Oceania.
Most expats, like me, are here because the UAE offers them a good quality of life and a better economic prospect than the one they are presented with in their home countries. I can’t really picture them going out to the streets to demand anything…
As for the locals, I can’t really talk on their behalf. However, it seems to me that they are quite happy with the way they are cared for by the government, showing real adoration for the royal family and showing support for their actions. I also can’t anticipate them eager for a demonstration anytime soon…
So, I guess you can all stop worrying now. I am perfectly safe and sound and everything is a-okay in the UAE. Will let you know if anything changes!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The art of haggling

Many people I know are terribly ashamed of haggling. I’m not. I love the thrilling sensation of negotiation, the back-and-forth of communication, the exchange of power and the possibility that, at the end of the battle, I might actually walk away with a good deal.

Most places, especially the larger establishments, won’t really give you room to negotiate. There is a fixed price and that’s that. But others, believe it or not, are willing to accept a counter offer.

Keen to try? The shops located at the smaller backstreets of Abu Dhabi and the souks in Dubai are a great way to practice the art of haggling.

I was just there myself with a friend who was visiting from Brazil. You won’t believe the great buys we were able to pull off! Hand spun and woven pashmina shawls went from AED 45 to AED 30, hand embroidered sandals went from AED 130 to AED 100 and an embellished ottoman case went from AED 150 to AED 50.

My friend and my husband were terribly embarrassed, uncomfortable and mortified, feeling awful for the fact that I was trying to get things for half the asking price. But, at the end of our very successful afternoon, they finally understood that haggling is necessary, especially at the souks.

A few tips for the haggling beginners:

- Set an overall budget to spend
There are many interesting things at these little stores and souks and it is easy to get carried away. So, only take with you the amount you are willing to spend.
- Define a target price for every item you want to buy
Before heading out, do some research on how much would be a good price for the items you want. It takes two to negotiate and your opposition might be in a better position if you simply show up making wild offers without previous information.
- Carry small notes with you
If the seller wants AED 30, you offer AED 10 and give him AED 20 expecting change, you might lose the battle. So, don’t show up with large bills and no change. Just show him the money you want him to see – nothing more.
- Look around without too much enthusiasm
If you show excitement and that huge grin appears on your face you are probably doomed. Show the vendor you are ready to walk out the door empty handed if you don’t get the price you want. Not that you are willing to sell your soul to have that beautiful tunic…

For more information on where to try all the above techniques:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March in Abu Dhabi: music, literature, entertainment and beer!!!

We are already 10 days into the month of March and the fun is about to begin in Abu Dhabi. Whatever your age, sex or taste, I bet you will find the perfect event for you. There is definitely something for everyone!

Into music?
You can start by heading down to Yas Island ( tomorrow night (March 11) for the Thirty Seconds to March concert. Rock is not really your thing? Well, you might want to try Yas Island on March 18 for the Stevie Wonder concert. But if you are more of a classic type of person, then you have to check out the many cultural events, scheduled from March 19 through April 4, at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi Theatre and several other venues, as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival 2011 (

Into literature?
I have five words for you: Abu Dhabi International Book Fair ( Six days. Over 150 events. Authors, poets, illustrators. Half a million titles on display. To check it out, just head over to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre between March 15 and 20.  

Into entertainment?
You will have a blast at Big Boys Toys ( This exhibit, that will take place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, from March 16 through 19, is simply the ultimate playground for the young and the not-so-young boys. There is a little bit of everything to keep them entertained: high-end cars and custom vehicles, speed boats, jet boats and cruisers, the latest digital entertainment and mobile communications, unique up-market gadgets, fashion, lifestyle, adventure… And, if the women want to tag along, there is a ladies zone especially for them, plus a music lounge and an international village with flavors from around the world.

Into beer (that's right, beer in Abu Dhabi!)?
Join in the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on March 17! This day, named after Saint Patrick, the most commonly recognized of the patron saints of Ireland and originated as a Catholic holiday, has gradually become more of a celebration of the Irish culture. So, get your green clothes out of the closet, proudly display your shamrock ( a three-leaved plant used by Saint Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian people) and get ready to dance and drink beer with the Irish and non-Irish in bars like PJ O’Reilly, Heroes, The Tavern, Coopers, Captains Arms and many others spread throughout the capital.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dubai present at the Brazilian Carnaval

The UAE and Brazil are located many thousand miles apart. Their people speak different languages, have different cultures, live by different values. But today, Carnaval (one of the most celebrated holidays in Brazil) brought these two countries a little bit closer.

It was approximately 1pm in the UAE when the sun rose in Brazil. While everyone here was already halfway through the first day of the week, people in Brazil hadn’t even noticed Saturday had long gone as they watched Gaviões da Fiel, the sixth samba school to perform during the second day of parades in São Paulo. The theme selected? Dubai.

For exactly 01:04 minutes, the members of this samba school sang and danced the story of Dubai: a land that started with pearl trade, that discovered huge amounts of oil, that diversified its economy and helped encourage businesses by offering incentives and establishing free trade zones, that made several architectural statements and that became one of the main tourist destinations in the world.

I must confess I don’t really do Carnaval. Only once in my life have I gone to the 'sambódromo' (place where the samba schools compete every year) in Rio de Janeiro and I don’t remember ever going out to follow the 'blocos' (groups that perform around the streets with thousands of followers behind). But I do like the concept of Carnaval.

Carnaval brings people together. The poor and the rich, the old and the young, members of different religious communities, political parties, soccer teams; they all sing, do the samba and celebrate as one – even if only for a few days.

In addition, the samba schools that compete against each other in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo also help educate people. Every year, each of them select a theme and tell a story through lyrics, rhythm, costumes. They manage to take information into the homes of people who would probably not get information elsewhere.

So, congrats to all the schools in São Paulo, who performed Friday and Saturday, and good luck to the schools in my beloved Rio de Janeiro, who will perform today and tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I am here trying to figure out what would be Sheikh Maktoum’s reaction to… hum… the… hum… Brazilian... hum, let's say, ‘representation’ of Dubai…


Friday, March 4, 2011

Walkers Club

March 4. Officially, this means we are still in winter, but, unfortunately, temperatures in Abu Dhabi have started to rise once again.

This week, after a great long period of low 20s, the thermometers went up to 37 degrees Celsius.

Sure, this was probably just a heat wave. The temperature has gone back down a bit now and the wind is blowing strong, but I guess summer will be here before we can actually say springtime!

So, while we continue to enjoy the outdoors, it’s time to start thinking of indoor options for when the heat is on.

Want to try something different? Perhaps you might want to head down to Abu Dhabi Mall, join the Walkers Club and enjoy walking inside the climate-controlled mall, from 6am till 10am, every single day of the week.

All you have to do is go to the Customer Service Desk at Abu Dhabi Mall, hand in two passport size pictures and fill in the free registration form. Once they issue your ID card, you are free to roam around.

Not into exercise? Well, think of this as a great opportunity to window shop with peace and quiet and an added bonus: a few calories left behind along the way!

For more info: +971 2 645 4858 or