After four years in Dubai, Becky Lucas knows the city’s cringe-inducing moments all too well
The other day, while waiting for a lift, a strange sensation swept over me. Something between nausea, self-consciousness and nagging mystification – something otherwise known as awkwardness.
The three lifts, despite only travelling between a handful of floors, were out of sync, leaving those wanting to be lifted hanging around for up to two minutes (a lot of things can be done in two minutes – breaking 100m sprint records 6.2 times, for example). Second, the lift interiors were mirrored. While this cleverly helped to fool me into thinking the lift interior was far bigger than it was, it also meant I could see myself, and everyone else in it – from 12 different, not particularly flattering angles. Cue shoe gazing, the abrupt end of conversation due to uncomfortable physical proximity, zero eye contact and shuffling into furthermost corners. In short: it was rather awkward.
While standing in the lift, staring at the disintegrating leather on my brown boots, I began to think about other awkward Dubai situations. The hello/goodbye kissing debacle, for example: is it one, two or three? A hug, a handshake or a lopsided nod? A pat on the shoulder? A pat on the head?
Then there are the overly honest comments from certain members of Dubai’s population: the brusque notifications that you’ve lost or gained weight, you should have a husband and family by now, or that you look really, really tired today. People are never this honest in the UK. What’s wrong with saying things like this behind each other’s backs?
And what about the post-brunch introduction? So you met last Friday afternoon, but now, in the cold light of the mall, you don’t know them from Prince William and they’re insulted – or vice versa. Alternatively, there’s the accidental meet and greet mid-email-conversation: you haven’t had time (or inclination) to reply to their numerous email invites, and now you have to explain your silence face to face. Face to face!
Surely, in bigger towns, you don’t have to dodge so many social dangers? Surely, in a bigger town, you wouldn’t realise you’ve know your mate’s latest squeeze far too well? In a bigger city, perhaps your slightly awkward feelings about unintentional partner-swapping wouldn’t then culminate in road rage directed at the hire car going at a snail’s pace in front of you, whose driver you then realise is a colleague – that not-very-close colleague who now lives in your compound, and is angling for a lift to work every day. People have moved neighbourhoods for less. People have even moved cities. But I couldn’t possibly do that. You must know how awkward it is bumping into people you know at the airport, then realising you’re going to have to share the same flight…