Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toilet tips may have been (slightly) be lost in translation

Putting aside the totally awesome memo title and "ENJOY IT!!!!" postscript and moving back to #2, why would I, why should I clean the seat for "people who enjoy sprinkling in the process of tinkling"?

Shouldn't "people who enjoy sprinkling in the process of tinkling" actually be cleaning the seat for me?

Two services available in Dubai Mall I am quite sure are not offered back in Canada

Does this appeal to the person who was already planning to have their car windows tinted, but just has not been able to find the time? Or perhaps the impulse tinter? As in, "tinted windows? What a cool idea! It's so sunny here. And they can do it in the time it will take for me to have The Nail Spa Heaven Facial and pop into Waitrose!"

Do you just leave your phone and shop? Or cool your heels and wait for it to charge? Would people let their earpieces dangle idly, or remove them and then put them back on when their phone was functional again? What the heck do people do while waiting for their phones to charge? All anyone does around here when they have a free second is check their phone for messages.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why hotels are a total ripoff OR this letter probably cost more to send than the water

I stayed in Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood for three nights during my recent trip to Canada. I've only been back for a few days, so imagine my surprise to get this at work today. A bill for a bottle of Fuji water they didn't notice I drank until after I left.

Thanks $9.20 Canadian dollars, my friends.

To service charge or not service charge

It's confounded me since arriving and been an ongoing source of debate among friends: why do restaurants and bars in Abu Dhabi charge upwards of a 10% "service charge" on bills? Is it a gratuity? Do the staff ever see one fil of it? Do you tip on top of it? If so, how much, 15 to 20% as you would in other restaurants? (I've been out with cheap people who like to use it as an excuse not to leave any tip at all, something that has always irked me a little as a former long-time server)

Ask around and it seems that a lot of the staff in the bars, pubs and restaurants around Abu Dhabi do not get a share of this so-called service charge, not that they'd complain about it. Service staff in Abu Dhabi seem to me, while lovely, an intimidated and deferential lot, and I do not blame them. Labour laws here do not, after all, provide much backing should "issues" arise and not only does your management control your pay, but often your housing and always your right to residence, making it almost impossible to whinge when things are unfair. Of course, this applies to most of the population here, and if we don't like it, we can always go back home.

Then last week on WAM, the state news agency, the Ministry of the Economy came out and said the service charges were actually illegal under a law passed in 2006 that banned unfair price increases. Yesterday, they clarified the issue, saying the charges were permitted in places governed by various tourist authorities. That is, the expensive ones in hotels. (For those outside the UAE, hotel eateries are the only ones that serve alcohol. Any place else is dry as a bone)

So the way it works is that the fast food restaurants and ethnic joints and TGIFs cannot implement a charge, even though eating there reaps bills that are a fraction of what they would be at, say Prego in the Rotana, or Bordeaux in the Shangri-la?

The truth is, if I'm going to be charged more than 10% on a bill in a hotel, I'd sure like to know that the staff are getting extra pay – even though I am still going to tip them well, to make sure – rather than a five-star hotel being allowed to levy whatever they feel like on food and beverage to pump up margins.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snap caption: One of the downsides of makeshift animal transport

Taken on the highway to Muscat, Oman.

Any body else think the hamster's abandoned the wheel of the UAE's internet machine?

For the last two days some sites are barely working (say, Gmail) while others are failing to load at all (The Globe and Mail, Facebook).

And when some sites do finally load, they look sort of 1999-ish, you know what I mean?

Etisalat, what say you?

Or maybe it's just me.

A great perspective on Friday's near disaster on a plane bound for Detroit, and not just because it uses the term "underwear bomb"

From the folks over at Feministing (don't be put off by the name, boyz): Race Does Not Determine Criminality.

My love of this reasoned piece also has nothing to do with hearing the news that Canadians can no longer take hand luggage on flights to the US.

But seriously, not even a purse? What the?

Seeking a roommate and yes, nationality is an issue

More of my continued obsession with the way people advertise their "bed spaces" in Abu Dhabi.

Monday, December 28, 2009

She will not be wearing "a woolen sweater and comfortable pair of jeans", I'm sure

Just read claims over at Oh No They Didn't (which seems to be based on a Daily Mirror story published on Sunday) that Rihanna has been told to cover up for her New Year's Eve gig at Emirates Palace.

"And, as she's said to be making $500,000 for her performance, she's likely to do exactly what she's told," reports the blog, "which means the white slashed latex body suit she wore at the American Music Awards [not to mention her collection of eye-popping bras] will be mothballed."

First of all, as it is a one-night gig, Rihanna's "collection of eye-popping bras" hardly has to be "mothballed" (does anything these days?) unless she's planning on moving to the Middle East permanently. Even then, like many of the ladies here, including those who cover to varying degrees, the number of shops selling sexy, lacy lingerie indicate she could continue to wear them, albeit privately. Also, in late December, while Abu Dhabi is not "sweltering", it's hardly cold enough for a pop star to be comfortable performing a lively show wearing wool, as the authors suggest.

More importantly, as the lone photo I lazily took of the video screen during Beyonce's fantastic concert on Yas Island at the F1 last month reveals, when it comes to live performances by pop superstars, "eye-popping bras" seem not that much of a deal-breaker, or even an issue at all, here in Abu Dhabi.

The longer I live here, the more I get tired of these types of stories sprouting from the West. Although, and this is a nod to the value of perspective, when I used to live in Canada I found them interesting and entirely believable. One can almost expect an "(insert sexy celeb here) told to cover up or tone it down" piece in the run up to a major concert or appearance in the UAE (and Malaysia, and Yemen and Saudi - actually, scratch those last two).

Of course Rihanna could come out on stage in some sort of overly conservative adopted ethnic garb Friday night, a la Paris Hilton in Dubai, and then both she and I can seem ridiculous.

TUESDAY UPDATE: Gulf News is reporting Rihanna has not been asked to change her wardrobe for Thursday night's show.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New year's resolutions, etc

In addition to hitting the gym and yoga studio more often, spending less money at the office Gloria Jean's franchise, eating more vegetables and drinking less beer (I am seriously boring myself here, but I did just return from what felt like a 10 day-long Canadian feast) I plan to be a better blogger.

This little spot on the webs and the increasing number of people from different backgrounds and parts of the world who have been faithfully dropping by for the last 18 months or so has been one of the most satisfying parts of coming to Abu Dhabi. I got a little off track in the last quarter of 2009, launched, I believe, by a severe bout of jet lag - more on that later - that was perpetuated by a more demanding position at work, a happy new relationship, and, to be honest, a bout of ennui and a slight existential crisis about the UAE expat experience in general (also more on that later).

Never mind, I plan to rectify that as of now, as I have returned full of vim and vigour, determined to make the rest of my time here – however long that may be – count.

To start I will cheat a little and point you to the Ever the Nomad blog, kept by the cool travel writer Anja Mutic, who earlier this month asked me to write a guest post on life in Abu Dhabi.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fourteen hours too many or, and I can't believe I am saying this, I prefer the overnight flight

Living overseas creates a whole host of conundrums - how long will I be here? where will I send my money? where to go on vacation? hmmm, electricity, how to get it? - but living this far overseas makes one thing all that more difficult: getting home. And the longer I live here, the more trips I make, the less impressed I am.

I flew to Toronto and back for a two-week vacation last summer and it was not so bad. Night flight, helped along by my super-flyer combo: get too little sleep the night before, wear stretchy pants and do some tiring exercise day of, nip into the Piano Bar at Abu Dhabi International Airport (by the way, have you seen the Piano Bar? It has about four seats and no piano) and down a double Jack Daniels, followed by two Gravol. Read a magazine article, don neck pillow, eye mask and ear plugs, and Bob's yer uncle.

Yes, fine, but now Etihad flies out of Terminal 3 and anyway, the Abu Dhabi-Toronto jaunt has been moved to the day. In addition to three continually screaming toddlers placed strategically in aisles around me (who when they weren't screaming sadly, were screaming happily, which I have decided in the case of repeated Old McDonald Had a Farm refrains, is worse) I failed to come up with a foolproof flight plan that would ease my adjustment to the night ahead upon landing.

So on the fly I simply bought a Tim Horton's coffee in the airport, which I promptly spilled by jet-laggedly placing it in a place that was not a cup holder in my friend's jeep – sorry Amber, thanks for coming out to Pearson at rush hour to collect me – and narrowly missed splashing her new Uggs. Back at the hotel, getting ready to go out in the early evening I resisted the urge to ask if we could just go straight to bed. I made it through a delicious steak meal and a bottle of wine in the Keg Mansion on Jarvis Street – which is haunted, don't you know – and headed upstairs to the lounge before finally admitting at 11pm (when my eyelids felt like theatre curtains) we needed to leave the before I was (erroneously) kicked out for drunkeness.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A little too excited about the Belgian Beer Bar

...then again, I'm not the only one.

The pub-to-be has 421 fans on its Facebook page and it isn't even open yet. (That happens next Wednesday, December 16, at the Intercontinental Hotel) The way Abu Dhabi is, I would not be surprised if every last one of those fans turned up on opening night next week for mussels and chips and some seriously potent yet delicious Belgian brew.

Part of the attraction is that this promises to be a normal pub, not some grotty weathered version circa 1978 with sticky floors, the smell of stale smoke in the air and a smattering of leering, wizened expats around the taps. (Not that there's anything wrong with that).

I whiled away quite a few hours at the Dubai version of the Belgian Beer Bar a couple of weeks ago and can't wait.

This is what Abu Dhabi is like people. We get very excited when new venues open.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Not the most earth-shattering headline anywhere else

But here, well, I snapped to attention. From the Gulf News:

"Chance of light rain as temperature falls"

The weather has been gorgeous by the way. Sunny and beautiful during the day. At night it's just getting to the point where in Ottawa I would think about putting on a sweater. That's why I laughed the other evening when I left work: in the lobby I saw a man wearing a sweatshirt and gloves; outside a man had donned a leather jacket.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Radio traffic updates are ALMOST the same in the UAE as at home

Listening to Lady Gaga on Radio One the other morning, aside from the crisp British accents – which so surround me they sound almost normal now – I could almost pretend I was driving along Bronson listening to Hot 89.9 in the nation's capital. And then this, from the announcer urging people to report traffic tie-ups:

"Even if it's a camel jam in Ajman, we want to know about it".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Happy 38th UAE; hate to tell you, but 40 is right around the corner

Oh Google:

And let's hope not too many of you did this:

Police are handing out Dh200 (almost 60 bucks Canadian) fines.

How to be a happy expat

Because a cloud wall makes you want to take a selfie.  After 10 years living in the UAE, some of that time happy, some miserable and ...