The UAE might come across as a strange choice for a spring break destination, but we chose it for several reasons. First, it’s a warm climate destination and after the winter we’ve had, none of us had any desire to go somewhere cold. Second, we thought it would be a good experience for the kids. We go annually to Asia and the last several spring breaks, we’ve covered the major European cities. So, we thought this would be an excellent opportunity to experience a very different culture. (And, did I mention it would be warm?)
You can find out more about what we saw and did in the UAE Travel Tome (and in the Travel section of the page).
Our impressions of the UAE were uniformly positive. The residents are extremely friendly and helpful. They are intent on making sure you are enjoying yourself and that your needs have been met. It’s also a family-based culture, so kids are welcomed just about anywhere. And the UAE is very much an open and tolerant culture, not uniformly true across the Gulf. The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, in addition to being a stunningly beautiful mosque, is an extremely welcoming mosque, where the staff eagerly answers any questions you may have about Islam or the mosque.
And there really isn’t anything you can’t get in the UAE as an expat. Even pork products are available at certain grocery chains in a separate section that is clearly labeled for non-Muslims. 🙂
There are a few drawbacks. While women wear the abaya (the head-to-toe covering) out of choice and not out of requirement, it is still a male-centric culture. An American expat we know—a divorced mother who is single parenting her two children—mentioned how difficult it is to get visas for her children because she is sponsoring them, not the father. There also is a clear division between the Emiratis and “the help.” The non-Emiratis—the Filipinos, Pakistanis, Malaysians, etc. who help make the country operate—are treated very much as second class citizens. We were clearly labeled Americans as we happily chatted with drivers, security guards, and any other friendly staff members. And there is the necessity of being the biggest, the largest, the tallest, the most over-the-top of everything. I understand the need to forge a national consciousness and national identity for a country that was formed in 1971. But it can be wearing, after a while, especially after chatting with a Filipino driver who hasn’t seen his two sons in over 2 years because he can’t afford to fly back to the Philippines to see them.
Overall, though, we had a fabulous trip, gained much in the way of new experiences, and had a wonderful time!