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13 June 2014

10 things that may surprise you about the UAE

Living in the UAE can be a cultural shock for many. Three years after I left Dubai I still think twice about eating in public because of the Ramadan restrictions and it took me a long time to hold hands again in public again.

But there are several other things that make the UAE a peculiar place.



1. Petrol is cheaper than water


Filling the car in the UAE is very cheap thanks to heavy Government subsidies so expect to pay very little. On the other hand, water is more of an essential resource given the dryness of the desert. So you are likely to pay 1,75 Dhs for a litre of petrol whereas water will cost much more. 

2. For the price of a Volkswagen Golf you can drive a Porsche 


Yes, that's right, cars are ridiculously cheap. So much so that not having a luxury sports car is very rare. For the price of a Golf back home I could own a Porsche. And given the very active second hand market with most expat salaries you can buy a Ferrari if that is your dream.

3. Drinking is allowed but only under the roof of a 4/5 star hotel




In all Emirates except for Sharjah, drinking is allowed in the premises of luxury hotels and resorts. That means that almost all high end restaurants and all clubs are within hotels. However the definition of hotel premises can be quite wide as space is not an issue and they tend to occupy vast expanses.

4. Dressing inappropriately is illegal


Warning at the Mall of the Emirates

You will find all sorts of signs everywhere reminding you to cover shoulders and knees. When I lived in Dubai these signs were not there but with the more recent influx of tourists the Government has had to add little stickers in public places to remind everyone that it is not just frowned upon but that such behaviours can carry fines. 

5. Camels still cross the road



Aside from the main 6-lane highways crossing the country there are several side roads which are built through the desert. 

Outside of the main urban centres the UAE is a large desert and nomads and Bedouins still live there herding camels and goats. It is not a rare sight to see a camel by the side of the road or crossing it as soon as you leave the main cities. In fact, when I moved to Dubai I used to drive through the desert to a residential area slightly away from the sea and camels by the side of the road were a daily affair.


6. It is ridiculously safe


Safety is no one's concern. Being robbed is unheard of. You could go to the beach, leave a stack of money on the towel, have a swim and come back to it untouched. At most, someone may get up to keep it safe if the wind picks up. Be careful when you go back home, I have the bad habit of behaving as if I was still there leaving by bag unattended and my mobile and wallet on the table.

7. You can bathe in natural pools




Despite its very arid and dry desert like landscapes the UAE also has a few natural wadis and pools which fill during the winter season. They are a refreshing and revitalising stop a couple of hours away from Dubai that make for a wonderful day trip. You can also camp at night and enjoy a clear sky or take a room at the nearby hotel.

The pools are formed in the small canyon in the Hajar mountains and feel very much like arriving at an oasis. 

8. You can spot dolphins


Off the coast of Musandam, a piece of land sandwiched by the UAE but actually belonging to Oman, you can join a dhow cruise and spot dolphins swimming in the sea. Although diving is also possible the corals and marine life are not so much something to write home about.

9. Women cannot drive or be alone in a car in Sharjah


Women can drive and be in a car with male strangers anywhere but in Sharjah where alcohol is also completely forbidden. As the UAE is made of 7 Emirates each with their own Sheikh and laws you may run into the conundrum of trying to get to the airport in Sharjah where a few of the low cost airlines operate from Dubai with a male taxi and suddenly get into trouble when crossing into the other Emirate. Luckily there are female only taxis ready to solve this problem.

10. You can go skiing, indoors


Company outing to the mall to ski

Yes, if you had yet to hear, there is an indoor ski slope in a shopping mall in Dubai. You come out of the 45 degree heat and into the 17 degree AC and then change into winter gear to access the ski slopes where you can play with snow or even take a chance at skiing. Now, that will give you true bragging rights.