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Skyscrapers and Souks*

You've given up your two-hour daily commute along the highway to move to the UAE.

The Emirati culture involves long hours and hard work, but at weekends the sun shines, and you get a chance to relax. How should you soak up the culture, and what can you learn in this land of surprises and contradictions, liberal and yet traditional all at once?

A cultural melting pot but do they mix?

There are clubs and organisations for all types of interest and hobby (book clubs, running clubs, and cooking clubs) and many focus on one gender or nationality, so you can choose to socialise with your peers. But there is a chance to gain insight into cultures and the views of people you would never usually encounter by spending time with your colleagues from work. You’ll meet every nationality from Syrians, Indians and Koreans, to Lebanese, Bengalis and Nigerians, as well as those from all over Europe and the Americas..  

Sadly, you will not often encounter Emiratis, mainly as expats so outnumber them. But if you have the privilege of being invited to an Emirati’s home you will find out how warm, generous and hospitable they are.

If you love shopping malls, (everything in Dubai happens in a mall), fast cars, and luxury goods, then you will love the Emirates. Its materialistic exuberance is one of the biggest culture shocks expats face. But it’s not all designer handbags, Hummers and $3 billion diamond-hotels; scratch the surface, and you will find emerging arts and alternative scenes. There are new galleries and theatres, small alternative music venues and jamming sessions for musicians. An antidote to the rampant consumerism is the growing spiritual movement, which includes yoga, meditation, dancing and full moon gatherings with drumming in the desert.   

It’s not just the intense heat of up to 50°C in summer, but the UAE’s proximity to the sea means that relative humidity levels can reach 90 percent — nothing can prepare you for how that feels. If you're sensible, you will follow the locals’ lead and escape the city as often as you can during the summer to the country’s cooler mountain regions.  Beaches may experience rip currents at any time which can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. Only swim where permitted and look out for red flag warnings. If you still can’t face the heat, hire a canoe and paddle to the nearest mangrove. The mangroves around Abu Dhabi Island can be up to 5°C cooler.

With every new culture comes a warning. Expats often overlook that your rights under laws back home will not apply here which can have serious consequences.

It is a land of opportunity to all foreigners coming here for work, be they a U.S. IT manager, a Bangladeshi taxi driver, or an Asian labourer sending wages home. If you have issues with inequality, how long you spend living in the Emirates may depend on how long you choose to ignore them. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty exist here side-by-side.

Contact our team of expert advisers and discuss what cover you might need to live in the Emirates.

*Souk – an Arab market or marketplace; a bazaar.

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