I don't drive in the UAE. Okay, I have my driving license, and I drive sometimes, but I do whatever I can to avoid it and when I have to I am terrified and nervous. At home if I hit someone probably the worst I could face would be a careless driving charge and eternal emotional ruin. Even if someone died in the accident, I am pretty sure unless I ran down a pedestrian or someone saw me swerve on purpose into the other lane or I was drunk (which would never happen) my life could go on.
Not so here. Here, where people drive like impatient maniacs, even if someone hits me, I believe I might owe a large amount in blood money and possible face an assortment of other punitive actions I can't even imagine. Like jail. Things are not straightforward, here, you might say. And putting myself in any situation that could end with me parting with my passport gives me heart palpitations.
Not to mention that when I do drive, I simply cannot fathom how someone could do it every day. Witness my experience picking up a rental car from one of the smaller outfits in my neighbourhood recently. You know the ones, where they only seem to have two cars, both very dusty? Where four people work but you have no idea what any of them are doing all day besides chainsmoking and texting on their their smartphones? Where you read the small print and find out that in case of accident, you will owe Dh2000 plus 20% of the cost of fixing the crappy old thing? Yes, a place like that. Anyway, as we circled the car before I left with it, I pointed out a variety of dents and scratches. At about the fourth one the proprietor raised his hand and said "We don't." And I knew he meant, "We don't count those." And of course they don't.
Because about 15 minutes later when I was at the gas station (the car was on empty – I wondered why he took pains to point out the closest Adnoc) I backed into somebody. Here's how it went down: Thursday night at Adnoc on Airport Road. Bananas. While one attendant was filling up my car, another tells me two tires are flat and offers to fill them all up. So he motions me over to the air pump thingy. As he is nicely filling up the tires on this sh**box I happened to have rented – did I mention the only lights that worked were the high beams? – the World's Biggest Traffic Jam® erupts entering, leaving and just in the general vicinity of the gas station. It has now become an angry parking lot and I have no hope of getting back onto the street before sunrise. So the nice man who has filled up my tires (I tipped) is now motioning me to leave through the back of the station, via the little bay where they do the oil changes, and I am trying to do a 75-point turn into it when, as he is motioning me to keep backing up, I hit the car I didn't know was behind me because the gas station attendant was telling me it was okay to go. (Yes, I should have looked) Anyway it was nothing more than a scratch and it's a testament to how often that happens here and, of course, the proprietor of the car rental place's previous laissez-faire attitute towards small-scale damage, that both of us just decided not to bother doing anything about it.
So I taxi it. I take taxis everywhere, all the time. This leads to its own frustrations, not least of which are being laughed regularly for the way I say "Tanker Mei", wondering why someone would floor it when I've told them we are getting close to where I need them to turn, or get in the far left lane when I've already indicated we will be turning right, way too many drivers who learned to drive with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, and a general reluctance to make change for anything larger than a Dh20 note.
But every time I drive and get stuck in a traffic jam where everyone is honking – pretty much every night in Abu Dhabi – all I can think is "how much would I rather be relaxing in the back of a taxi right now"?
So let's have it: taxi or car?