Despite the number of French restaurants in Dubai there are just 10,000 French expats living here. We talk to a few about their life in Dubai
I’ve just returned to Dubai after 18 months back in Paris. I’ve come back to do the same thing I was before – helping the UAE landforces with the maintenance of the tanks that we sold them. Because we designed them, we teach soldiers here about their upkeep. After another year or so I think the forces here will be fully trained and won’t require our help any more.
I like my lifestyle here – I get an expat salary and my accommodation and car are provided. In my spare time I do things I couldn’t at home, such as skiing (bizarrely), as well as watersports like kitesurfing and diving. So I asked to return when my last contract finished. C’est une bonne vie!
What’s the difference between Dubai and Paris? Dubai is a city of light. Paris is a city of love. I miss the history of Paris – it is built on years of romance. Also, radio stations are almost all Arabic and English, so I miss French programmes.
Here, the traffic is heavier and it’s very artificial. The malls are all very stale. But I do like the skyscrapers of Dubai. I suppose you cannot find so much cheap labour in Paris, so skyscrapers don’t go up there. Dubai is a new country, so it will take time to develop its own personality. If I fancy some French food I go over to Paul café in BurJuman for their excellent croissants, Saint Tropez at Century Village or to Le Notre for their decent cappuccinos.
Olivia, 26, Axelle, 28, Audrey, 25
Axelle: I’ve lived in Barsha for six months and work in cosmetics, while Olivia here has been in Dubai for eight months, living near me in the Marina.
Audrey: And I’m the old-timer – I’ve been working in entertainment and staying in Deira for two years. I’m the odd one out.
Axelle: But we still like her!
Olivia: Axelle and I are both from Paris and Audrey is from Bordeaux in the south. We all met at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Most of our friends are French. French people mainly stick with French people in Dubai. But I do have English, Australian and American friends too.
Axelle: I like living in Dubai. Mostly because every weekend feels like a holiday. You can go to the beach and chill. It really breaks the week up.
Audrey: The French music they play at events like this is very stereotypical – we don’t listen to accordions! We go out to Barasti when the weather is good and any other outdoor places as much as we can. We look for places that aren’t too superficial, because Dubai can be very two-dimensional. A lot of the time we just have dinner parties – so we can spend a long time enjoying the food.
Axelle: I miss French bread so much.
Audrey: I miss the food too, definitely. Especially at the moment, because all the good berries are in season now back home.
Axelle: The coffee here is not as good as at home. In Paris you have real restaurants, real coffee, real bread… Here everything is imported. Although La Maison d’Hotes restaurant is French-owned and superb.
The Hyatt also has a cool revolving restaurant where they serve all kinds of food, including good French food. If I’m still feeling homesick? I buy Le Figaro newspaper to keep up to date with what’s happening at home. You can get hold of it in most of the shops.
I used to believe Paris was more expensive than Dubai. But recently accommodation has become so dear, the cost of living in each place is pretty much the same.
Even so, you can enjoy an easy life here. You get so many things for almost nothing – at shopping centres they put your bags in your car for you, which would never happen in Europe.
I live in the Springs with French flatmates, who work for French organisations here, like me. I work for a French food and beverage company. When I first arrived, two-and-a-half years ago, I met up with a friend from home who was already living here. He introduced me to his friends, who were all French too, and I quickly became part of the group.
I think I’ll stay another six months to a year. I’m beginning to feel ready to go back to Paris, to be with all my family. I can barely remember why I moved here in the first place. I guess I wanted to go abroad and find fun and adventure. An acquaintance called me and said he thought he had a place and job for me here, so I came over on vacation to check it out – and never left.
Tarak Klabi, 26
After four months of living here, I’m still having fun. The money’s good and I’ve made a lot of friends. They’re mostly French-Arabic, from all over the place – Algeria, Cameroon, Tunisia, Lebanon. It’s a very multi-cultural place. I speak French, English and Arabic, as my parents are originally from Tunisia. If I spoke Urdu as well, I’d have all the main Dubai tongues covered!
We hang out in Arabic cafés most of the time, smoking shisha and eating mezze. There’s a place called Karisma on Sheikh Zayed Road that we like. I’ve always eaten this type of food, although the Arabic restaurants in Paris are not as good as here. I don’t actually eat out much in Paris, because it’s more expensive. Although here I have to share my flat because rent is pricier. I had my own studio in Paris.
I don’t have any ‘goals’ set for my time here. I came because I wanted to live in another country. So far, I’ve lived in the UK, Finland and Florida, working as a computer engineer in each. I spent the most time in Leeds, just over a year. My favourite place out of everywhere, including Dubai, is London. There are so many different people there and it’s very laid back. I’ll stay in Dubai as long as I’m enjoying it, travel as much as I can, and then eventually move back to France.
Cultural programme: The Alliance Française, along with the French Embassy, runs art exhibitions, cinema, dance, conferences, concerts and theatre for adults and children throughout the year.