You know you are creating an expat brat when…Part 2

I’m starting to think we may have permanently ruined our child. I’ve mentioned this before, but feel it’s prudent mention it again. He does not live a normal life, despite our best intentions. Honestly, we try to keep it real, but it’s kind of difficult when your life involves jetting across two continents at a time (and back) for the summer holidays. My son isn’t five yet and already has two separate air miles accounts with more points racked up than most people get in a lifetime. He’s living in a gold plated sandpit for three quarters of the year in near-permanent sunshine, where ‘nature’ is limited to sand, camels, scorpions, palm trees and bougainvillea flowers blowing across the fake grass.  Then we blast him through time and space to various destinations for the remainder of his year, travelling with as many upgrades as our own air miles can muster in order to make our travel experience just that little bit easier. The kid barely knows what economy class looks like and certainly has no idea that flights can sometimes last as little as two hours to get you from A to B. But it’s not all bad. He’s had some pretty cool experiences that mean expat life can and should be celebrated. Ask him about time zones and he can tell you which of his relatives is eating breakfast while he’s tucking into dinner. He hasn’t been on a pony, but he’s ridden a camel across the Liwa desert. He hasn’t been to a football match but he’s nipped to the Dubai 7s for the afternoon. And the ferris wheel in London was cool, but not as high as the Burj Khalifa.

But living a normal life? Keeping it real? WTF is normal about any of this?  NOTHING.

So I admit defeat. My son is an expat brat. Here are seven more signs for the summer vacationing expat parents out there, that you’ve probably been smoking something if you think your little darlings are growing up ‘normal’:

1. Arriving in at any airport, the first words they utter are: ‘Mummy, where’s the driver?’

2. When other kids ask where they come from, they mutter ‘America, England AND Dubai’ in a sort of reluctant mid-atlantic accent which leaves the other child in question a bit flummoxed and their accompanying parent rolling their eyes, as though you’ve deliberately trained them to show off about it, as oppose to encouraging them to embrace their international heritage.

3.You go to lunch with old friends at their house, and turn up in jeans and jumpers. You walk in to find their kids dressed in swimmers and galavanting in 4 inches of freezing cold paddling pool. Instead of begging to join in, your child takes one look at the grass and dirt infested ice water and scarpers inside to play in the warm.

4. When you mention, six weeks into the summer trip, that they need a haircut (again), they say: ‘But Mummy, I had a haircut two places ago.’

5. Long sleeves are such a novelty your child insists on wearing jumpers all the time, even when the temperature hits a reasonably warm 24 degrees. You acknowledge, however, that they may actually still be cold in the shade, and don’t bother to argue about taking it off.

6. They collect stones off of people’s driveways, presenting them to you as ‘special gifts’. Twigs, seaweed and flower petals hold similar fascination as unique aspects of nature they don’t see at home which are expected to be kept and transported back without being detained at customs. In fact, everything is exciting. This is because the average 5 year old expat has spent approximately 80% of his or her life living away from the things the rest of us take/took for granted. This includes letter boxes, policemen on the beat, rain, cbeebies, flowers that smell, and trains.

7. They know the airport drill better than most grown adults: ‘Are we at Heathrow Mummy? After we’ve checked in, and gone through security, can we go to Giraffe for pancakes?’

And I say ‘Of course we can, my lovely little world traveller.’ And then I realise all over again, that although his normal is not my normal, and my normal is not very normal either, however not-normal it may be, we are just plum lucky to be doing what we do.


On the road…again…

It’s a funny thing, this expat life. We are 4 weeks into our world tour and have just under 3 weeks to go, now (mainly) staying put in the same beds, and although I’m happy to be here, and the sun is shining, and my little boy is content, I’m a teeny, tiny bit homesick. For Dubai. Ironic? Rather. Here, in no particular order, is why:

1. I miss routine. School, work, social: I miss it all, for a variety of reasons but mainly because routine gives purpose and order and a kind of contentedness to life you don’t seem to get from living out of a suitcase for 2 months

2. I miss my quiet time. The bit where I come home from drop off, put the kettle on, and go upstairs to write for two glorious, uninterrupted hours. Or sit watching TV with a glass of wine when I’m home alone and the boy is in bed. It is a serious situation. I’ve even taken to doing the ironing just so I can get half an hour of time to tune out.

3. I miss my friends. I haven’t spoken to an actual peer, i.e. a person who shares my day to day existence for a month  except via the odd Facebook comment. It’s tough, not talking to the people you usually share the minutiae of life with. They are either sighing with relief or miss me too. (It’s debatable which).

4. I miss my bed. My glorious, comfortable bed. My bed in my bedroom, with my bathroom, and my wardrobe with all my stuff in it, with floors that don’t creak and walls that block out anything quieter than a fighter jet and air conditioning and occasionally containing a husband.

5. I miss exercise. Not that I ever do a lot of it, but I miss the idea that I could just pop to the gym whenever I wanted. I seem to lurch from one mealtime to the next while we’re away, so much so that I’m starting to feel absolutely sick of food. And as a result of relying on eating to fill my days, the relatively svelte bikini body I’d accidentally acquired due to stress appears to be disappearing amongst lunchtimes out, afternoon ice cream and mid morning muffins at the coffee shop as a substitute for any other kind of ‘routine’.

6. I miss pedicures. This is admittedly not going to win me any sympathy, but I would really, really like to get the dead skin filed off my feet and for someone to make my toes pretty again and give my feet a nice rub. If they could see about doing my hands and thread my eyebrows as well, that would be brilliant.

7. I miss my son. He’s here, with me, but he’s not the same little boy we have at home. He’s spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, disgruntled, and fed up with the lack of normality in his life. We expect so much of him with all this travelling and it’s really not very fair. I feel so horribly guilty for putting him through this upheaval every year. It’s the worst bit about living away.

8. I miss my kitchen. I want to flick through a recipe book, to shop and cook and serve a meal without getting halfway through and wondering if there is a can opener, or not being able to work the grill. I want to not eat lunch if I don’t feel like it, or eat 4 chocolate digestives with a cup of tea because they’re mine and I can if I want to.

9. I miss privacy. I’m surrounded at all times. I love everyone, they are my family; but I miss having precious hours of my day to sit and muse in silence in front of my computer, or to wander the shopping mall deep in my own thoughts, or sit in a car by myself singing, or not to have to put a bra on as soon as I get up in the morning for fear of running into a male relative on the stairs.

10. I miss myself. I’m on the road. I have no time to write, no chance of getting on stage and worst of all, I left my hairdryer in Dubai. I love seeing everyone, but I don’t feel truly like ‘me’ while I’m away from my home. Ironically this is exactly how I will feel all over again when I leave the UK and return to Dubai in three weeks.

And let’s be honest: I’ve got all year to enjoy my life in Dubai, but only a few weeks to make the most of this one. As a result, I’m enjoying every second of being home, before I go back there. I hope you are all having a great summer too.

Ruby x

Celebrating the expat brat

Annabel Kantarina, writer and fellow expat, wrote a post this week about the demise of the Expat Brat. Whilst I’m not inclined to believe it’s the last we’ve seen of the spoilt rich kid abroad, I do think it’s probably not as relevant a ‘label’ as it once might have been. Not meaning to start a war here, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of kids who live in their home countries who are spoilt rotten, plenty who have no manners and can’t seem to behave themselves if their life depended on it, and plenty who are lazy and let everyone around them do everything for them. I know, because they come here on holiday. So I agree that it’s grossly unfair to tar all our third culture kids with the same brush, and hats off to Bellakay for championing their cause.

As coincidence would have it, I’d actually been thinking this week, about how totally cool it must be to grow up in Dubai. We’ve just got back from a few days in the desert, and my son hasn’t stopped talking about how much he loved it. And he really did have a blast, discovering new things about his environment and himself and filling every bodily crevice with sand in the process. Despite my continual misgivings that he is ‘missing out’ it occurred to me this week just how much he would have missed by growing up in Surrey instead. Our expat brats might miss the leaves falling, have no idea how to put gloves on, and have an unnerving tendency to ask ‘is it real?’ about every animal they come across, but they have another host of experiences notched up that most ‘stay at home’ children can only ever read about in books. So here are my reasons to celebrate being an ‘expat brat’ in Dubai:

– You get to run up around the dunes or dance in the waves every weekend and picnic on the sand in either place while you watch the sun go down.

– You can eat your lunch and watch the fountains go off next to the tallest building in the world.

– You can have your lunch inside the tallest building in the world.

– You’ve been up the top of the tallest building in the world. Twice. Aged four.

– The sun always shines. Yes, it might get hot (gross understatement) but everyday, for months, you know you can make plans for the park/pool/play date and pretty much rely on the weather being perfect.

– When it does rain, it’s magical: a day off school in case a lethal puddle engulfs the 4×4, and as exciting as snow. And snow – well snow is just THE BEST THING EVER because it is only ever accompanied by grandparents and presents, or it means you’re about to hit the toboggan run in Ski Dubai.

– By aged five you can pack your own suitcase for a six week holiday taking into account travelling to three countries with three different weather patterns, and you are able to negotiate airport security and long haul flights with expertise and finesse usually reserved for fifty year old travelling salesmen.

– Being different is your norm.You have friends from 15 different countries speaking 15 different languages and you will grow up never knowing what it’s like to only know people who come from the same place as you, or who all dress the same as you, or who all look and sound the same as you.

– You have no idea what a sheep looks like in real life but you’ve ridden a camel.

– You’ve been to Sri Lanka, Jordan, Thailand and Oman and seen temples, beaches and ways of life you would normally have to wait until a gap year to experience. Plus you stayed in a nice hotel instead of a dingy hostel (you’re welcome) and the only thing in your backpack was a set of felt tip pens and a Leap pad.

– You accept change as easily as ice cream, and adapt to it faster than a cockroach in a nuclear holocaust.

And finally

– You think all this is normal, which means on trips home when you’re collecting conkers or climbing trees or staying at Nanna’s house it’s special and exciting but at the same time, feels like slipping on an old familiar pair of shoes.

The best of both worlds, our kids live a special life that we can barely imagine having as a child, one that is certainly privileged, but doesn’t have to mean spoilt. And for the most part, I think we all do our best to make sure it’s as kept as down to earth as it can possibly be, when, let’s face it, it’s pretty surreal to us parents a lot of the time. But, in 2014, if this is what it means to be one: all hail the expat brat.





Mother and son and the power of love

Thursday: I’m sitting on a plane somewhere high above Europe and missing my son so much it hardly seems possible. When I left this afternoon, when I turned my back and climbed into the taxi, my distress was immeasurable. And even though I am trying hard to relax and enjoy this short weekend of ‘freedom’ after three years of being with him constantly,  I am struggling not to think about him all the time. As we edge further apart I feel the binds that tie us together stretching and pulling, thinner and thinner, but never breaking. And I realise the true eternity of motherhood. That he will always belong to me, that I will never stop wanting him by my side, that I will never tire of his voice, his giggles, his love. That even when he is grown and towers above me, I will always want him near. Leaving him even for just a few days, to travel so far away from him, is breaking my heart. I know now that this weekend I will sit for far too long wondering what he is doing and how he is feeling without me and he will in turn, as children do, barely notice I have gone before I am back again. But my goodness I miss him. My body aches for my little boy cuddles and my heart is leaping about madly with the thought of missing him this much for another three days. I feel perversely happy, that my feelings are so uncontrollable and that he holds such power over me. It reminds me that I am a mother, that he is my son, and that unconditional love, that most incredible of human emotions, is sitting right here with me, even when he is not.

See you on Monday my beautiful boy. X

Back to Black

Several things have recently alerted me to the fact that Dubai may be on the ‘up’ again:

1. I cannot, for love nor money, get a taxi to pick me up from my house after 7pm on the weekend

2. No-one has my dress size or my shoe size in anything expensive

3. I am getting endless phone calls and sms messages from estate agents wishing to buy or rent my house, BUT

4. I don’t seem to be getting as much spam about 75% off sales in Harvey Nicks

5. The DIFC (Dubai’s financial district) is packed full of busy looking suits again

6. The hotels are all fully booked

7. The restaurants are fully booked

8. Everyone is getting just a little bit more rude

9. Everything is getting just a little more expensive

10. Plans for an underwater hotel have just been announced

Yes, you read right. An underwater hotel. It’s true, despite the best link I could find being from the Daily Mail. Ambition clearly is not something this city is short of, even if the pennies have been a little lacking in recent years. And in any case it would seem the announcement of this latest crackpot scheme may well be indicative of Dubai’s apparent recovery. The Dubai Shopping Festival had a record number of visitors this year who collectively spent over AED 10 billion, and according to the latest census there are now also over 2 million residents in Dubai – an all time high. Restaurants and hotels are opening apace, and property prices are on the rise again. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that Dubai is showing signs of recovery. After a few years of very difficult times, it is nice to see our house is now worth comfortably over 50% of what we paid for it for the first time since we moved in.

(No, it’s no good – it still hurst to talk about it. Moving on…)

Burj Al Arab and 360 degree club

The Burj al Arab: it all started here (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tourism is most definitely on the rise, with reports of visitor numbers climbing by 9% in the first quarter of 2012. Of course we have Arab Spring to thank for much of that. Whilst many other middle eastern countries are now off the table, Dubai and the UAE in general appear to be politically stable and the city has attracted many regional visitors that may traditionally have gone elsewhere. I should imagine the rotten weather Europe has had to endure so far this spring has also encouraged a larger number of tourists from the west, particularly now the ‘Dubai-bashers’ who took such great delight in reporting nothing but negative and exaggerated stories in the British press in the height of the crash have put a sock in it. Dubai has seemingly regained it’s position as the no.1 destination for shopping, eating, sunbathing and, well – just being rather glamourous, and the punters are flocking in.

And seriously, the city is really flourishing, in new ways as well as old. There are farmer’s markets selling organic locally grown produce, the industrial zone is home to a growing number of galleries, displaying both traditional and contemporary works – and (drumroll) there are large parts of the city that actually look like they are finished. The arts scene, neglected for so long, still has a long way to go – but the sheer number of artists, film makers, actors, musicians, photographers and writers that proliferate my Facebook, and the volume of projects that are being worked on, would suggest the city is getting ready to embrace culture in a new and very different way to anything that has gone before.

When it comes to dining, I can’t count the number of incredible restaurants and bars that have opened this past year or so, and certainly haven’t had time to eat in all of them – but it would also seem every chef and his celebrity dog now wants to get their slice of Dubai. The one exceptional departure has been that of Gordon Ramsey, who paved the way for Michelin-starred food in Dubai with his restaurant ‘Verre’, opening way back in 2001. Ramsey may have gone but he leaves behind a most important legacy: his chefs. In a bold move they’ve taken Ramsay’s old space and claimed it as their own. This is pretty unique in Dubai – ‘home grown’ talent running an independent fine dining restaurant. Most celeb chefs open up, stick their name on the door, and visit once a year. Table 9 is as sure sign as any that the Dubai dining scene is not only back on its feet, but finally starting to mature into something really exciting rather than just a money making machine.

So the city begins to grow a new soul. A very different one from that which was lost during the boom years. It’s true, Dubai’s old heart beats to a different drum and is, I fear, gone, along with so many of the residents that helped build it. The interim years of property booms and money madness were ugly ones. The place was charged with arrogance and selfishness and everything glittered, for sure, but it was not gold. Recent times have been quieter, people have tended to just get on with things, and during the recession it seems the city has reshaped itself and has really grown in some ways – emotionally if not literally. It’s only now things are starting to be on the ‘up’ that I have noticed the mood shift once more. There are signs that of that old personality that I did not like – tempers are a fraction shorter and good manners a littler harder to come by as the city fills up and gets busier, and the ‘Do you have any idea who I ams’ are more prevalent than before. I hope this time, though, that Dubai will try and keep it real. To say no to the shysters and refuse to accept rude and shallow behaviour as the norm. To be generous and accepting and to give back as well as take. Dubai is an amazing city that can continue to grow in all senses of the word. And this time around, as the good times roll, we need to enrich as well as get rich. Now, where’s that taxi?