Even from a clear three metres away, through a layer of glass and steel, I can hear the cabbie shouting at my friend. He’s frantically and pointlessly tugging at the door release of his taxi, like a caged laboratory monkey in one of those animal cruelty videos.
Somehow, among the huge list of instructions I’d emailed prior to his visit, designed to direct him from the airport to my apartment, I’d somehow neglected to mention that the doors on most UAE taxis only open on the right. Desperate for the scene to be over, I walk up to the right-hand door and oblige. He slides out and greets me with a hug, apparently oblivious to the effect that 12 hours’ travel has on a man’s aroma. ‘Thank God you faxed through that crudely drawn map – the guy had no idea where he was going.’
Not so long ago, this was me. As the new boy in town, I’d discovered the country’s little eccentricities one excruciatingly awkward moment at a time. In my first month in town I learned what a U-turn was after having been nearly vaporised by a black Hummer, caused a stir by taking a seat in the ladies’ section of the bus, and created a scene in Carrefour when the checkout lady tried to explain that I needed to go back to the produce counter to have my fruit weighed.
So here we are, less than 12 seconds into my friend’s Arabian adventure and already he’s found two reasons never to come back. Thankfully, things take a turn for the better, and having a visitor makes me realise how many of these quirks I’d started taking for granted.
‘So I can just eat as much sushi as I want?’ he’d asked me at brunch, the morning after the taxi debacle. ‘Well yeah, I suppose so. Go nuts.’ ‘And the lobster? I could just go up there now and put three lobsters
on my plate? And eat them?’ ‘Forgive me if I pretend not to know you when you do, but essentially, yes. That’s an option.’ ‘And this glass? They’ll just keep topping it up until I start proposing to the waitresses?’
I nod. His eyes light up.
Of course, the novelty of bottomless buffets wears off pretty quickly. But what about the dirt-cheap transport? Sunny morning strolls to work instead of the heartbreaking lottery of the London Underground? Walking home late at night without having to worry about a 13-year-old in a tracksuit relieving you of a kidney? The longer the week goes on, the more I realise life in the UAE is actually pretty sweet.
‘See you soon,’ I say, as I bundle him in a cab after a week of camels, mosques and shellfish. Waving merrily as his cab speeds to the airport, I realise, navigation allowing, I probably will.