‘I hear you’ve upgraded your work wardrobe,’ a friend in London noted in an email recently. She’d been told this nugget of information by a friend in Frankfurt, who’d heard it from another friend in Dubai. First, it worried me that my clothes were being talked about. Have I been overdoing the shoulder pads? I fret. Then I’m flattered they find this kind of information interesting enough to pass on. But then, that seems to be the way with most ex-Dubaians.
Not only do the emirate’s ex-expats keep in touch, but they know more about the goings-on over here than I do. A past-it soap star touches down here for the week? They’ve seen the photos online. Another fantastical record-breaking development is announced? They’ve read the news report and written an exclamation-mark-speckled comment (signed off: ‘You can take the kid out of Dubai… but you can’t take the tinted windows off the Hummer’ or some such).
Often, it’s because they’ve gained their new job due to their previous experience in the Middle East, and are required to keep up with the news in this part of the world. (A situation most amusing if said person spent most of their time here carping on about the place.) Then there’s the second type of ex-resident: those that come back quicker than you can say ‘self-assessment tax form’.
‘I got back to the UK and quickly realised the standard of life here is outstanding,’ one colleague confided recently (moments after freaking out about his mountainous workload, curiously). ‘I’m talking about the simple things – like driving to work and seeing the Burj Al Arab, a mall with a ski slope and the tallest building in the world, all within a 20-minute drive. In the UK I used to drive past Scunthorpe Steelworks and a dyke every day.’
Another friend from the famously beautiful New Zealand has a similar story. ‘I was sick of the whole Dubai scene after two years,’ she confessed. ‘But then, when I got home, everyone wanted to know what it’s like to live here. It was a bit of a shock when I had more good things to say than bad.’ So it can’t just be the steelworks/Burj comparison, then.
Lastly, of course, there are the gossips. This lot keep in touch purely to feed their ferocious curiosity about what everyone over here is up to, while thinly veiling a fervent desire to jump on a plane and head straight back to their crumbly Satwa villa.
I suppose what I’ve learned from these voices ‘beyond the border’ is not to take Dubai living for granted. And to bolster the shoulder pads if I want to keep on making world news.