The other day I was reflecting on my time in the UAE. I think I went in like many other female/solo travelers with a lot of fear. Goodness was I wrong. The UAE is surprising (in a wonderful way) and here is why:
It's clean. I didn’t expect it to be dirty but I also didn’t expect it to be so dang clean. This city sparkles!
There is relatively low crime. I never felt unsafe and as a I began to research why that I was I found out that Dubai (which is where I was) has really low crime.
Not intimidating. I thought being in such a different culture would be intimidating but it wasn’t, the city is super accessible and easy to navigate.
People are nice. I assumed that entering a Muslim country I would probably just be ignored since I didn’t adhere to any Muslim cultural norms (though I tried to be respectful by not wearing revealing clothing) but I was surprised that I wasn’t just tolerated but people went out of their way to be kind to me.
It's fancy. I knew oil money was a thing but I didn’t realize how much of a thing it was until I went…shoot dang!
Hi-teck and modern but still traditional. The UAE manages to balance being open to Westerners, being technologically advanced, and still holding onto tradition. It’s a tricky balance but they seem to have found the sweet spot for it.
Women's cars are nice. I had ridden in women’s cars in Malaysia and was excited to see them in the UAE. The women’s cars are nice, they are generally less crowded and give women the privacy to do things (like breastfeed) discreetly. It’s a wonderful addition to the train system in my opinion.
People are very happy to be living there. I don’t think I would be happy to live in the middle of the Middle Eastern desert but the people living in Dubai (even the foreigners) are super stoked to be there. They are proud of their country and enjoy getting to show it off.
It's huge. The UAE looks so small on the map that I assumed Dubai would also be small. I was wrong. The city is sprawling and massive. There is so much to explore it’s hard to take it all in!
There are so many different cultures. I assumed that Dubai would be mostly Muslim since the UAE is a Muslim country but it is actually crazy diverse. While the only true citizens are those born there they still allow for residents from all over the world and encourage the money and businesses that outsiders bring in. This welcoming spirit creates a crazy amount of diversity and acceptance in this tiny little country.
People are crazy rich. While on a tour I was told that there are two types of people in the UAE, those who drive BMWs and Mercedes and those who drive Bentleys and Jaguars…aka the rich and the super-rich. And weirdly as I looked around at the citizens of the UAE I really saw that to be true.
Women are valued. I’m not proud of this cultural stereo-type that I held…I assumed women were treated as lesser. But after some time in the UAE I realized how wrong that assumption was: women in the UAE are greatly valued which is why they are given their own trains, nicer seats in places and shorter lines. While the roles of men and women look different in the UAE than they do in many Western places it’s not because women are seen as lesser, it’s because women are seen as unique and greatly valued.
Wearing traditional outfits (like the hijab) is not seen as oppressive. As a Westerner I assumed that wearing the traditional outfits was oppressive but after asking a couple women I had befriended I learned that the women enjoy the freedom that the outfits bring. They enjoy getting to wear them (while this isn’t universal across every woman from the UAE, the converse isn’t universal either).
If you’re interested in reading another post from my time in the UAE you can check out this post about my time in the Burj Khalifa at Dubai’s highest high tea!
Have you been to the UAE? Were there other things you were surprised by? Let me know in the comments section!