The very first taxi driver I met in Dubai (he picked me up from the airport) was full of warnings about my new life here. ‘Restaurants, parking fines, having fun – everything in Dubai is expensive,’ he lamented. As we travelled the length of Sheikh Zayed Road, everything came under his scrutiny, from dairy products to public transport – and other taxi drivers. He warned me in no uncertain terms that they’d rip me off without a second thought. Some, he explained, would pretend the meter didn’t work, while others would let the meter run as they took me round the houses. ‘Always,’ he advised, ‘ask them how much first.’
Having already had my fair share of taxi traumas during my travels in other parts of the world, I considered myself forewarned, fore-armed and ready for them. When I stepped into my second taxi in Dubai, I immediately asked how much. The driver simply looked at me, bewildered, and pointed at the meter.
Then came the curveball. Keeping the first driver’s advice in mind, for weeks I was constantly suspicious that drivers were taking me for a ride. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I always went home via a restaurant after work. When I finally did go straight home, I was incensed: my return journey took half the time (and was half the cost) of my morning commute. However, once the driver patiently explained Dubai’s (or, more precisely, JLT’s) fondness for one-way systems, my anger gave way to guilt.
I managed to confuse plenty more unsuspecting taxi drivers with my lack of Dubai street smarts. Take my attempts to find a phonetic approximation for the mall I was heading to (I may have asked to go to ‘e-ban-batata’). Then there was the issue of asking to be taken to ‘Jumeirah Beach Residence’. The taxi driver had no idea what I meant, so pulled over on the side of Sheikh Zayed Road (as you do) and phoneda friend. The conversation alternated between the words ‘JBR’ and ‘Jumeirah Beach Residence’, followed by knowing laughter.
I’ve now learned not to instruct drivers to turn left where they aren’t allowed to do so, and have become fond of their company. Each morning I’m indulged with philosophical insights into life in Dubai – it’s like being driven to work by yogis.
Two months in, several people have advised me to start driving myself. It’s a thought, but just think of the adventures and words of wisdom I’d miss out on. And I want to make full use of my new-found Dubai savvy, of course.
Penelope Walsh is our Eating Out Editor. We now know why she arrives at work so Zen each morning.