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.





Here comes the rain again

The first rain of the year in Dubai, everyone gets incredibly excited. The second time, they all complain about it bitterly. This time the rain is accompanied by cold (by cold I mean below 20C/68F) and so the winter woolies have been broken out, along with umbrellas and raincoats.

Of course in our house the winter woolies are all stacked in a neat pile waiting to be put in suitcases. This is most likely going to be my last post this side of the big man coming, because in three days we fly to the UK and are staying in a field somewhere between the end of the world and the Dark Ages, with no internet or wireless to be found for a clear three miles in any direction. I’m not sure how we are going to cope with this as a family, what with my husband’s blackberry being nicknamed ‘the other wife’ for a few years now, my iphone permanently welded to my hand and my son assuming control of the ipad to the point he knows how to work it better than we do. However, I’m sure we will find a way to manage. Frequent visits to my mother’s house is probably the key.

Anyway, back to the winter woolies. It’s that time of year, when I open up the cold weather wardrobe and assess what is there and discover that I’m staring at decade-old clothing from top shop that I used to wear to the office, intermingled with a few dodgy 50% off jumpers I’ve purchased in the January sales in Dubai over the years. It makes for a sorry collection of clothing but up until now I have refused to spend the money on buying myself stuff for what amounts to two weeks of wear per twelve months of life. I spend a ridiculous amount of money as it is buying new for my son every year, with the intention of selling it off to recoup some of the costs when we return and finding that of course, this being Dubai, no-one wants second hand clothes unless they are free. So the thought of buying for myself has always seemed even more extravagant when I have been able to get away with what I have for so many years.

But this year, I gazed at the pitiful collection and decided I needed to add to it. Trouble is, I have lost my sense of winter style. I have no idea what’s in fashion, or more to the point what isn’t – because most of the year there is no reason to pay attention. It’s hard to shop wooly jumpers and long sleeved dresses when it’s 80 in the shade. It’s hard to imagine how you will be cold enough to require a coat, or even to try one on when you are sweating buckets. My ‘nod’ to winter is getting my nails painted in a berry colour instead of their usual coral or red. Taking off flip flops to try on a pair of fleecy lined boots for size it’s just very difficult to imagine I will ever have cold enough feet to worry about fitting thick socks in them as well.

wallpapers wallpaper christmas sweater sexy nina

This? (Photo credit: 黎湯姆)

I have forgotten how to be cold. I can’t remember how I should cope with party shoes and pantyhose: if I have open toed shoes should I go bare legged and risk pneumonia, or should I get a new pair of shoes that are closed in so I can cover up? (I got new shoes, obviously). Do I wear a coat in the car or take it off so I don’t boil when the heating kicks in? Do pub and restaurants provide extra pashminas for you to pop on if you get chilly? (I suspect this is a Dubai thing). Is it skinny, straight, boot cut or flare this year? Are there any such things as pyjamas that keep you warm and don’t make you look like your Gran? Why are all jumpers hand wash dry flat when you wear them during the worst time of year to get things dry? Is is acceptable to wear jumpers more than once on this basis, as long as they don’t smell of bacon? When do you wear welly boots? Is it every time there is rain or just when it floods? I’m sure I didn’t own wellies for about a decade until we went to Hong Kong to visit my sister, so therefore, Glastonbury excepted, are wellies a middle aged thing rather than a fashion thing in England, and should I not be wearing them at all? How do you wear gloves and not get your rings caught up in them?

Ugly Sweater 2010

Or this? (Photo credit: Sappymoosetree)

There are other, less fashion oriented questions I now ask myself before we leave. Exactly how much moisturiser do I need to wear in order to stop my face and body drying up like some ancient reptile from the cold/wind/central heating? How environmentally unfriendly is having a bath if you run the shower for half an hour anyway because you don’t want to get out? Why has no-one invented a car that de-ices itself? Why do all pubs with working fireplaces feel cold? Is there any way to get my feet thawed out, ever? Why am I in the cold instead of in the sunshine?

But today, we have rain. Dubai has provided me with a sort of purgatory, a place of transition to sit and get comfortable with the concept of dark days, bad traffic and a chill in the air before we travel to the real, slightly more hardcore version on Thursday. So as much as everyone else may be moaning, I am embracing it.

Should I not get chance to write again, I’d like to wish everyone reading safe travels if you are travelling, and a very merry Christmas. I’ve increased my readership by a fairly wild amount this year and for that I am very grateful and not a tiny bit flattered, that my ramblings are still providing entertainment (and maybe a bit of education?). I have certainly enjoyed sharing them with you. I hope that 2013 will find you happy to keep reading and wish you all the very best for the new year. Over and out.

Rubyslippers x