Things you may have heard about Dubai

Let's take a moment to debunk (or bunk?) some common beliefs about Dubai, held by people who don't live/haven't been here. Note: I don't actually live in Dubai. I live in Sharjah, the next Emirate over. Also, my views will necessarily be colored by the segments of society with which I interact.

Everyone is fabulously wealthy. Everyone. Not true. The Pakistani guys who work 12-hour days at construction jobs to build things like, oh I don't know, the tallest building in the world, are definitely not rich.

But you meant white collar workers, didn't you? In that case, well, still not true. There are people just barely making it here the same way they are elsewhere in the world.

Oh, you meant Emiratis? Still not true. Emiratis from Abu Dhabi are generally very well off. The same is true of Emiratis from Dubai, to a lesser extent. Once you get into Sharjah and the Northern Emirates (Ras al-Khaimah, Omm al-Qawain, Fujairah, and Ajman), though, all bets are off. Despite the very real government-operated support structures in place for locals (housing and salary subsidies, etc.), there is still such a thing as a poor Emirati.

(One factor that might contribute to the idea that everyone here is making it big is the fact that as an expat, you can't be here (legally) unless you are working, or the dependent of someone who is working. And so if you are poor, you are at least working poor, and your job probably provides a rent stipend, etc.)

Dubai is so fake!!! OK, I kind of hate this one. I guess it depends on what you mean by fake. Are there lots of fancy, sometimes whimsically designed buildings? Yes. But they are real structures with real things inside of them and real people live and work there. We have the biggest mall in the world with the biggest indoor aquarium in the world and it's all right next to the tallest building in the world...and those are all real things, and real people are shopping in them and admiring the real sharks and stingrays in them and actually living/working/going to the observation deck in them. Not sure what's fake there.

See also: Dubai is so inauthentic. This one bothers me even more. I do not think that word means what you think it means. Is Dubai unlike other places in the Middle East/Arab World that you might consider to be more "traditionally" Middle Eastern? Absolutely. But it's authentic in its own right. It's true that you will hear Urdu and English as much as you hear Arabic, and that the population is only 15%ish Emirati, but that's...Dubai. It is what it is. Not somewhere else.

The men over there (here) have multiple wives. This one is true, sometimes. I've had a few students who have come from families with more than one mom. I also had a student write a homework assignment about the decision-making process as it applied to his choice to take one wife or two. Thus, one of the oddities of my kids' experience here is that they sometimes make friends with a kid who has two moms...AND a dad.

Dubai has become an empty shell of itself after the economic collapse. This is where I get a little fuzzy because I am not a financial specialist, nor do I hang out with any. However, things don't seem to be as dark as I sometimes hear they are from outside news sources. I know some of the fancy buildings I mentioned above are having trouble finishing construction or finding tenants. But the Dubai Mall, for example, is thriving, which I think was not expected to happen.

There are hardly any Mormons in the UAE. Last year, an old friend found out she was moving to Dubai and she wrote us that she was so excited to be in our ward (geographically based congregation). We had to tell her, um, there are two wards in Abu Dhabi, a ward and a branch in Dubai, a branch in Al Ain, and a ward in Sharjah. So if you live much past Festival City in Dubai, you won't be in our ward. It is a big surprise to a lot of Mormons when they move here and find thriving, diverse congregations, rather than isolated pockets of Americans holding church in their living rooms.

There are lots of fancy cars here. Based purely on my own experience driving around in different countries, this one is absolutely comparatively true. I've never seen so many Maseratis in one parking lot in all my life. And that parking lot is the local grocery store. And the Maseratis are driven by 19-year-old Emirati or Saudi boys. Yeah. Replace "Maserati" with any other super fancy luxury car and you get an idea of what it can be like around here sometimes.

Dubai is very safe. Yes, it is. That said, bad stuff does happen here. It's hard to get at actual statistics, but the only sourced data I've seen for the murder rate is 3 per 100,000 people in 1999 (it was 0.78 per 100,000 people in 1998). So I'm not likely to be murdered or raped and my kids are not likely to be kidnapped, but low-level sexual harassment can be commonplace. If I belonged to a certain segment of society, I would be more at risk for crimes to my person as well as being forced into things like the drug trade or prostitution or just being an exploited, under- or non-paid guest worker.

Let's finish up what seems to be a first installment of a few installments on this topic with one last myth (?) about Dubai:

People leave their cars running in the parking lot in summer to keep the AC going. This was one of the weirdest things I heard about the UAE before moving here. And you know what? It does happen. Every once in a while in the student parking lots at AUS, there are cars sitting in the parking lot, driver/passengerless, with the engine running. So there you go.

What have you heard about Dubai?

Thesis proposal: defended

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