10 Things I Wish I Knew About Dubai Before I Moved Here
1. IT. IS. HUMID.
What is wrong with the internet. Why did no one tell me? How could I not know?
When I left the US, I knew Dubai was crazy hot, but you kind of assume it’s a dry-heat, you know, because all the desert.
When I landed here on September 1, I was shook how freakin’ humid it was outside. It literally felt as though I was walking into a hot shower. I had the taxi driver who drove me stop by a gas stations so that I could take out dirhams (UAE currency), and the window panes of the gas station were literally dripping sweat from all the condensation.
2. Transport is so cheap, and effortless.
The Dubai Metro System is impeccable. There are stops almost every mile or so, and they’re very easy to get to—even my school has a metro stop right in front of it, not even 1 minute walk away.
The best thing about the metro is that it costs only 3.5AED (1USD/.88EU) for each ride.
Taxis are also very cheap, and have a minimum of 12AED (3.2USD/3EU) for every ride—most 5-10minute rides don’t even end up exceeding the 12AED if you don’t end up in traffic.
Taxi drivers are also some of the most friendly people I’ve met in Dubai. I always seem to end up in a conversation with them of where they’re from
3. Everyone smokes indoors (cough).
I really shouldn’t just say indoors. They smoke outside, inside, and on top of every building, park, and restaurant in the entire city.
Smoking tobacco is definitely more a part of the culture here as shisha (hookah, for you hipster Americans) has been a cultural norm of the Middle East since forever.
However I just couldn’t prepare myself for the amount of smoke indoors. Especially in clubs and bars, people smoking shisha at every couch and countertop, and cigarettes at every hand in the bar.
Even now 3 months later, I wave my hand in front of my face to try to breath at clubs (rude, I know, sorry, but oh well), and come home smelling like a pack of Marlboros. Yuck.
4. Yes, people really are that rich.
Yeah, I’m not sure why this was so unexpected to me. Dubai is literally infamous for having the most luxurious, extravagant, gaudy, people in the world.
But its truly another thing to see it in real life. Like, the Lamborghinis and Audi’s filling my schools parking lot. The casual yacht party invites, and apartment parties in the Burj Khalifa.
When I walked into the Mall of Emirates I looked at the stores immediately around me, and when I only saw Balenciaga, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Audemars Piguet, etc. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Of course, they do have affordable stores here. I wish I’d known that Carrefour is a popular store here, and is basically the Walmart of the Middle East. I wouldn’t have packed my pillow and sheets with me coming here!
I usually shop at the Ibn Battuta mall (also metro accessible) because the prices are better than the Dubai Mall or the Mall of the Emirates, and they still have all my favorite stores like Sephora, Forever 21, H&M, New Look, and New Yorker.
5. Yes, people Tinder here.
Before I came here I always heard how restrictive the UAE government was in terms of personal usage of apps, software, etc. But since being here I’ve really not noticed a difference in my daily life.
I cannot confirm personal usage of said meet-up app, but let’s just say it works. As do other dating apps like Plenty of Fish, OKCupid, Match, etc. (I promise I’m not using all of these Mom, LOL).
Even though it’s a Muslim country, because there are so many expats living here at least some of Dubai does casually date.
Other apps that I was worried about not working, but do, include:
- Snapchat (but you can’t Snapchat live video)
- Netlfix (but like 3/4 of the shows aren’t viewable)
- Whatsapp (but you can’t Whatsapp call)
6. It really is insanely safe here.
This was really a surprise! I’d actually heard before I cam here that Dubai was a very safe city because the punishment for breaking laws is so severe. And no, I never fear a terrorist attack, bombing, or whatever else the media sensationalizes against the Middle East.
No, I’ve never been attacked or profiled here for being black/American/a 5’3″ woman.
No, I’ve never had ANYTHING stolen from me, and yes I’ve left my Mac book, iPhone, and wallet out in the open and it was always there when I came back, or turned into security. Seriously, every single time.
No, I’ve never felt unsafe getting into a taxi while intoxicated in the middle of the night. Like I said, the taxi drivers here are closely monitored and are so so nice.
Of course, don’t be dumb. This is still the UAE, and no matter how Westernized it may feel, it’s in your best interest to always follow the laws and customs here.
That means try not to belligerently drunk, don’t disrupt the peace with fighting or cursing, don’t dress scandalously when in public areas like the mall.
7. Yes, you can drink here.
Yessss. One of my greatest fears moving here is that I wouldn’t be able to drink (I just turned 21 in August, sue me).
unluckily for my liver luckily for me, there is practically a bar or club in every hotel in Dubai. And there are a lot of hotels in Dubai.
The best thing about partying here is a little weekly holiday called “Ladies Night” (cue choir).
And the best thing about Ladies Night is that it’s literally every night.
That’s right ladies, you can no joke get ~3 free drinks a night from different venues.
I use Ladies Night, Dubai to see what Ladies Night deals are happening that night, and we go from there. It’s amazing.
Dubai is also famous for it’s brunch specials, which usually happen on Friday’s. Brunch is actually code for “Drunch” which is code for “get drunk and eat as much as you can from like 10AM-4PM for like 300AED”.
It’s always a good time.
8. Yes, people still speak Arabic here.
As a student who actually came here to learn Arabic, you won’t believe how much negativity I got for choosing Dubai.
“No one even speaks Arabic there”, “It’s so Westernized everyone just speaks English”, “WHY would you go to Dubai to learn Arabic?”
Yes, I digress, living in a country like Oman, Jordan, or even Morocco may have been better to be fully immersed in the language may have been better to become fluent.
But don’t knock Dubai!
First off, I’m learning in a school. I could come to Dubai to learn French, Spanish, or Portugese if I really wanted to. And I have an A in my Arabic class, thank you.
Secondly, Arabic is still the national language here and it is definitely widely spoken.
As a matter of fact, so it Tagalog, Tigrinya, Urdu, Punjabi, Mandrin, etc.
So no, people of Dubai don’t “just” speak English (snap!).
9. Wow! It gets cold here!
Guh. What the heck.
I came here because people told me it was summer time vibes all year round, and now it’s early December and it’s 60°F/15°C at night here??
Okay, I’m being dramatic. It doesn’t get that cold. But I literally assumed it would be bikini weather every day here, and now I’m telling my mom to ship me my favorite leather jack from back home.
10. Seeing people in hijab, kandura, abaya, and niqab becomes daily life very quickly.
Back in Virginia, I would be hard-pressed to see a woman in hijab honestly. And if I did, I would only be able to wonder where she was born or when she moved to the United States.
So initially seeing so many women covered and men wearing the same white robes was an adjustment.
I really thought every guy wearing the kandura (white robe with long scarf on their head) was the Sheikh. HA!
But sooner than I realized, seeing this style of dress became the norm. I’ve learned so much about Muslim dress here it’s really been incredible. Not just Emerati dress either, but Pakistani, South Indian, Omani, and other countries too.
For example, before I came here, I would have though it was disrespectful or cultural appropriation to wear hijab if you weren’t Muslim. But I’ve learned anyone can wear hijab—it’s just a scarf. And you don’t buy it at a special hijab store either, people wear hijab with scarves bought from Forever 21!
(Do you get that, West? It’s just a scarf.)
Dubai always seems to get a bad rap in the media.
I’m not saying that all of it is without cause. There have been horrible things that have happened in Dubai from people getting detained and imprisoned for things they might not have been for in other places in the world.
But every country has it’s pros and cons. Just because one country lives operates a certain way doesn’t mean it’s wrong—it means you need to open your mind and try to understand their perspective, even if you don’t 100% agree with it.
If you don’t want to come here, don’t! You need a lot of paperwork and a visa to live here anyway.
But if you’re interested in one of the most multicultural, excessive, adventurous, spontaneous, and gorgeous cities on the planet, Dubai will be waiting for you!