Scottish Dubai

There are about 20,000 Scottish residents in the emirate. With St Andrew’s Day this week, Minaal Pervaiz and Hannah McCrorie chat to three of the city’s Caledonians

Suzanne McDonald
Suzanne McDonald
Carole Ann Benbrik
Carole Ann Benbrik
Jacqueline Muir
Jacqueline Muir
Interview, Expat focus, Area Guides
Interview, Expat focus, Area Guides
Interview, Expat focus, Area Guides
Suzanne McDonald, 37

‘I’ve been here for 11 and a half years. I’m practically a local now! My husband is a pilot for Emirates, so that’s the original reason we moved here. But if he wants to move now, he’s going to have to take me away kicking and screaming!

‘About six Christmases ago I went home and my aunt, a toffee maker, taught me how to make this traditional sweet called a tablet. Then I realised that this could sell in Dubai because there are a lot of Scots here. When I lost my old job as a PR due to the credit crunch, I thought to myself: Hey! Why not give it a try? That’s when I founded my company, Toffee Princess.

‘I’m a member of the committee for Dubai’s Caledonian Society. We have a lot of balls coming up, specifically the St Andrew’s Day ball on November 19. We’re expecting about 400 Scottish people, all dining and dancing in a room together. My kids are very proud to be Scottish and always take up any opportunity to wear a kilt, such as at the Rugby Sevens in December. My son even sprays his hair in blue and white, the national colours.

‘I love Dubai. I love the buzz here – it’s always busy. When it rains here, it’s a novelty! I also love the fact that there are so many different people and cultures here.

‘People don’t think about it, but the credit crunch has affected the children here because lots of their friends have left. Dubai will pick itself up eventually. Bad things happen to everyone, everywhere, but you can’t let them bring you down.’

Carole Ann Benbrik, 64

‘My husband is a geophysicist and we’ve lived all over the world. We’ve been here for four years now; we retired here. When we first came here the traffic was horrible, but it seems to have improved now. The main thing I like is the sunshine. I haven’t seen winter for more than 30 years and long may it continue!

I’ve known Dubai since the late ’70s – my husband’s family is here, so we have always been coming and going. Dubai is a very vibrant and lively place; it’s good for young people. We decided to live in Arabian Ranches because of its homely atmosphere – as I get older, I like to do things closer to home. But I do go home to Scotland in summer for 10 weeks, and attend a dance school there to brush up on my dancing. I’ve been doing that every year for the past 40 years.

‘The Madinat Jumeirah staged a Scottish ballet recently, which I went to watch, and I’m a member of a social club called the Ranches Ladies – we celebrate each other’s cultures. We even had a Scottish cultural evening in which one lady did some Highland dancing.

‘It’s not really necessary to learn Arabic here, although I try to introduce the Ranches Ladies to the local culture. We went to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and we’ve been to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for breakfast a few times. I think it’s important for foreigners to learn about the local culture, to learn religious tolerance.’

Jacqueline Muir, 35

‘When my cousin and I finished teacher training college, we applied for teaching jobs in Dubai. Because of the lack of teaching jobs in Glasgow it was the perfect time for us to go. We decided we’d come here for a year to see how we felt. That was in August 1995 and I’m still here, 14 years later. I’ve made many good friends – this picture shows me, on the left, out celebrating with my friend Susan Toth, an American teacher who I’ve known for 10 years.

‘I like the standard of living here. There’s always something to keep you occupied, whether it be skiing or shopping. Exploring doesn’t have to be expensive, and travelling to another emirate for the weekend to stay in a beautiful hotel is really easy to organise.

‘Because I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve seen how Dubai has changed and become more commercial. A lot of places I enjoyed, such as some of the public beaches and Dubai Country Club, where I learned to play football, have now disappeared to make way for new buildings, which is a little frustrating and sad.

‘I earn a good salary each month and enjoy my job so I can definitely see myself staying for a few more years, although missing family celebrations such as birthdays and weddings makes me homesick, because I can’t fly home for them during term-time. I also miss the history that Scotland has to offer, with the castles and country parks, and its greenery.

The Rupee Room, an Indian restaurant, and the Fish and Chips Room, both in the Marina, are owned by a couple from Ayrshire in Scotland. Apart from these, there are no other Scottish-themed places in Dubai that I’m aware of. But I would probably avoid a tacky, tartan-clad restaurant anyway!

Country profile

When the Romans invaded Britain in the 1st century AD, they had to build a wall (parts of which still stand on the Scottish border) to keep out the fierce tribes in the north that they were unable to control. They called the land north of the wall Caledonia and the people Picts, meaning ‘painted’, because they painted their bodies. In the 9th century, the king of the Celtic immigrants from Ireland (called Scots) added the Pictish kingdom to his own and the country became known as Scotland. The epic battles for independence and conflicts that plagued the country have been portrayed in several books and movies; and although it’s bloody, Scots are extremely proud of their history and struggle for an independent nation.
Parinaaz Navdar


Caledonian Society:

Fish and Chips Room: Dubai Marina (04 427 0443)

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding: Near British Consulate (04 353 6666)

The Rupee Room: Dubai Marina (04 390 5755)

Toffee Princess: (050 350 1804)

Upcoming events

St Andrew’s Ball, November 19
This year’s ball, at the Grand Hyatt Dubai, features a drinks reception, gala dinner and ceilidh band A Whisky Kiss. Email

Hogmanay, December 31

Burns’ Night, January 25

Chieftain’s Ball, May 2010
Held in May to welcome the new chieftain for the Caledonian Society.

The al fresco theme park will be opening its gates with a new show

The critically acclaimed Shakespeare play will be performed in January

The beachside dining spot is celebrating international coffee day at its brand-new branch

Feeling the pinch? Fear not. We've got 16 weekend feasts for under Dhs300 for you

Black Coffee and Themba will hit the decks on Friday September 28

You’ll get a complimentary vegetarian dim sum basket on October 1


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