Are you being covered?
My husband and I were in the UK sitting in our car at a petrol station waiting for an attendant to come and serve us.
A young chap eventually knocked on the window and said: “What’s the matter? Can I help?”
“Yes, please, fill it up!”
“Sorry sir, you are obviously not from these parts. This is a serve-yourself station… like all the rest in England.” Oops!
A little later we were in the supermarket, again absent-mindedly waiting for somebody to pack the groceries. The check-out girl stared in wonderment as we suddenly realised we were holding up the queue.
A day later – and not out of forgetfulness, but ignorance – I asked the salesman to send around some furniture, which we had just bought for our house, the next day, giving him a time when I knew we would be at home. I was politely and firmly told the waiting time for furniture orders was approximately three months.
When household repair jobs are requested here, the ‘expert’ repairmen will arrive often the same day of the booking to fix the fault. In the UK, I have now waited three months for a minor leak in the conservatory to be repaired, despite three faxes requesting the company to remedy their constructural mistake.
As we tackled the washing up after a dinner party and switched on the washing machine, I turned round to my husband and said: “We could do with our maid right now – you know, we are spoilt in the Gulf?!”
My question is: are we spoilt?
I suppose, if we are honest, we might agree that driving a nice car with low-cost petrol is a perk, but we could also point out that working in the Gulf involves long hours, most of the year in air conditioning and the travel industry in particular tends to be very cut- throat and highly competitive.
We can, of course, tell our friends back home about the ski slope in the world’s largest shopping mall planned to open in a year or so… but as we do not ski any more and are quite happy with the existing supermarket on the corner, this is not really enhancing our life.
We can talk about the e-ticketing and the e-pass, which enable us to pass quickly through passport control but, as our neighbours back home travel about once a year, this merely sounds like boasting, so we keep away from that subject.
In fact, have you noticed how much of our conversation here in the Gulf revolves around travel? “Have you been in Mauritius yet? It’s only four hours away.” “When does the monsoon hit Cochin?” “Your chauffer-drive arrived late again, really?” “You’ll enjoy the new show at the Crown Towers in Melbourne, very Las Vegas style with glittering gowns and ostrich-feather headgear as well as a talented singer.” “We found a marvelous antiques market in Brisbane.”
I find such subjects are almost taboo in the UK, where conversation often revolves around Big Brother (never seen but read about), Tony Blair or David Beckham and travel talk is about speed cameras and the price of petrol. I am not knocking these subjects, merely highlighting the perils of chitchat, when you are an expert.
So, are we spoilt when we invest in new tuxedos for the big parties, hats for the horse-racing or tickets home for the maid?
Prior to satellite TV and the internet, I used to point out to my friends that we had to receive our daily newspapers 24 hours or more late, never followed the current UK news and lived in an isolated world, where neighbours’ visits often updated us on the happenings back home.
Today, when the UK prime minister coughs, we know about it instantly and even the sporting events are beamed live to us, especially English premier league matches – I have often caught my husband watching two games at the same time.
The difference in salaries between Europe and the Gulf is not so dramatic these days, as it used to be. I guess the ‘danger’ pay days are well behind us and the almost commuter-like frequency of flights makes living abroad not so different from your home country.
Our grown-up children grumble about not seeing enough of us. We live in three different countries – the UAE, England and Ireland – and they want us to spend more time with the five grandchildren. However, I guarantee we see all of them more often than we probably would sitting in our little Victorian house in the north coast of England.
The violence in many of the major European cities is a harsh deterrent against pulling up roots from the Gulf region, where you never worry about muggers or being attacked while you are quietly going about your own business.
So, the honest answer to the above question is: yes, in most ways, we are spoilt living in the Gulf!