Living in Abu Dhabi: The Good, The Bad, The Same, and The Beautiful

One of my very best friends moved to another country a month ago. I try to picture her in a new place surrounded by unfamiliar things and new people. When I think of her, I try to picture certain aspects of her life. I imagine what her living space looks like, and I wonder how she gets around her new city. I think about whether dining out resembles anything like restaurant experiences in the U.S. I wish I could hear what she hears and see what she sees when she steps out of her front door, and I’d like to know if she feels that things are all that different from the American life that she left behind.

Living in Abu Dhabi, I want to answer those questions for my future self as I look back to remember our time here and for my friends and family, most of who will never see the spot I called home for two years. It’s easy to write about our trips and weekend events, but really, daily life here (or anywhere, I would imagine) is a string of pretty ordinary moments. 

The Good: A sketch of home.

Our apartment is beautiful and luxurious, something we would have never selected on our own budget. Housing is included in Josh’s compensation package, so we spend lots of time being thankful for our home. The floors are marble, the modern cabinets are white and glossy, and windows stretch from floor to ceiling in the living area and bedroom. Our balcony, twenty floors above ground, is a nightmare to keep clean due to all the dust and sand carried in by the wind. (Every once and a while someone asks if they can jump off of it. Luckily, no one died, but I did have a mild panic attack; I’ll write all about that story soon.)

Despite these luxuries, we own no dishwasher or clothes dryer, so drying racks sit as semi-permanent fixtures. We do own a dehumidifier lovingly named R2 (short for R2-D2) who keeps us comfortable in the humid gulf weather. Our apartment isn’t equipped with a heater, only an air conditioner, since January temperatures don’t dip below 60 degrees. I brought over a few small pictures of my mom, my dad, my brother, and a picture from my wedding day which are displayed on our shelves. The apartment is furnished comfortably but a bit sparsely for my taste–we didn’t want to acquire too much stuff during our two year stint. Lamps, rugs and curtains would give it that homey quality, but nonetheless I enjoy being in our home.

The Bad: Taxi Stress

I travel the city by taxi. Taxis are everywhere, and it never takes long to find one. When I first moved here, I was nervous to ride in taxis by myself since I wasn’t at all familiar with the city. One taxi driver, also brand new to the city, drove me around aimlessly for five minutes calling his colleagues for the route to my destination. Unsuccessful, he abandoned me on the sidewalk to wait for the next taxi. GPS is never used by the drivers, despite the fact that there is one installed in every car. On top of the hit-or-miss knowledge of the city, the drivers’ english vocabulary is often limited (which I’m sure creates stress for the driver too). I learned the hard way that “light” may mean nothing, whereas “signal” is the understood word that means the thing with the red, yellow, and green lights.

After 18 months living here, I’m now confident in my ability to direct a taxi where I want to go, but I wouldn’t say trips are stress-free. The driving skills and tactics usually lead me to believe that at any instant we will ram the car in front of us or side-swipe one as the driver ignores his blind spot. The solution? If it’s too bad, ask the driver to back off, or take the more common approach of staring at your feet and praying. I’m actually looking forward to “normal” driving in the U.S. (who would’ve thought)!

The Same: Shopping and Dining

Dining experiences are almost identical to those in the U.S. Many American restaurants found their way here–Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden, and Chili’s. As a young country, U.A.E.’s culinary identity isn’t strong, but similar to America, cuisines from all over the globe can be found. As you might expect, there is a wider variety of Lebanese, Egyptian, and other Middle Eastern foods available here. The typical greeting upon entering a restaurant is always “hi ma’amsir” that is, ma’am and sir squished into one word. There are bars displayed with mirrors, lights, and colored bottles of water since alcohol is only served in hotels. In restaurants and stores, I spot unique products and brands,  but it doesn’t feel like some oddly foreign place.

The Beautiful: Outside My Window

Living in Abu Dhabi: The Good, The Bad, The Same, and The Beautiful {}I look out my window, and I see the other towers that comprise our apartment complex–5 buildings in all. I see two very large flag poles with the UAE flags flying high. I see water, an inlet of the Arabian Gulf. I hear traffic from the nearby highway, I hear birds singing, and I hear the wind.

A few weeks ago I was walking with a friend along a stone pathway dotted with fountains and overshadowed with palm trees. The path followed along a pristine beach and took us from a five star hotel to the neighboring souq. Josh and I leave U.A.E this summer, and while I’m looking forward to our homecoming, little moments like that walk in the warm January weather will make me miss aspects of life in Abu Dhabi.


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