UAE inspires loyalty in most Brit expats

Shalini Seth
Filed on June 18, 2005

DUBAI — They might like to celebrate the Queen’s birthday in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as they did in mid-April, but for most of the 100,000 British nationals, the UAE inspires strong loyalty.

Sun, schools, sand dunes and social life become the mainstay of expat life which began as far back as in 1892.

“I did go to the UK for a year after having spent four years here after 1997, but missed Dubai so much that I came back,” says Andrew Pitt, Business Development Manager, Landmark Properties, who compares the experience of going back from Dubai as “going from colour to black and white!”

The weather, ever hailed as the British contribution to the art of polite conversation, is interesting here. While the fierce heat in the summer may not be comfortable, expats from the region that sings “rain, rain, go away” most of the year are very happy with the extremely pleasant, warm, dry days, clear blue, cloudless skies. But not always.

Says Pitt, “It is very strange for a British expat to say this but I do miss the rain sometimes! And some greenery. That is what I noticed the most in my recent visits to Jersey and Kenya.”

The British made their presence felt in the UAE as early as in 1892 when they signed a number of agreements with the ruling Shaikhs in the region which led to the formation of the Trucial States. According to the British Council web site, the UAE is their largest export market in the Middle East for non-military goods. Vistors like HRH the Duke of York in February this year, HRH the Prince of Wales and the Lord Mayor of London also keep the relationship thriving.

Colourfulness, whether in culture, experience or in skin is what the expats love. “Before coming to Dubai, I have stayed in France, the UK and Czechoslovakia. I stayed in each of the places for two years before the craving for change took over. But Dubai changes around me constantly, so I am still here,” says Nick Leighton, MD Nettresults, who has spent nine summers in the city by now. “For the first one or two years, all my friends were British. Then I made a conscious choice. Now I don’t visit British groups. I want to maximise the experience here by meeting people from as many different nationalities as possible,” says Leighton.

Pitt echoes the thought. “My first farewell party had people from 13 nationalities without making any effort,” he remembers.

While the people are intriguing and most expats are happy with the choice of entertainment there are some misses as well. “I miss the television! Not all channels are available here,” says Anne Cadmore, a mediaperson who misses her dose of BBC documentaries and has called Dubai home for almost five years. There is some hope for her yet since Coronation Street is soon going to be aired on local channels.

Some say that living here is at least as high cost as it is in Central London. But most expats enjoy their four-wheel drives in a place where a litre of unleaded fuel costs approximately eight British pence. Whether it is off-roading, dune bashing, camping or sand skiing, the Brits try everything once. And it helps that a 20 minute drive can get you from “a buzzing city in the midst of nature.”

Many expats enjoy the outdoors and what nature there is. “Once in a while you need to get out and go camping in the desert, not watch TV, not buy clothes, not go to the malls and get away from the retail. Then you make a campfire, sleep under the stars and play silly parlor games with friends,” says Pitt.

As far as schools go, the Brits must be the luckiest expats of them all. There are many schools that follow the British curriculum and some even subscribe to the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED ) and are inspected and reviewed every year by OFSTED inspectors. For higher studies, both Dubai College and Jumeirah College follow the English school system and submit their exam results to the British ‘league tables,’ which are charts, generally published in newspapers, to show the current standing of the participanting teams or individuals in a sports league or competition.

Festivals are the most poignant reminders of home to most expats. The Brits respond differently to the kind of Christmas they do see. Some are happy that it is limited to a day or so. Some others appreciate the idiosyncratic quality of an artificial white Christmas that included sun-bathers by the pool. But Pitt, who says he is single and available, has evolved a test for Dubai as a home, “You know a person really belongs from what they say about visiting the UK. The difference is whether they say ‘I’m going home’ or simply ‘I’m going to the UK.’”

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