People move locations every day and experience culture shock, but coming from a small town in Alabama, moving to one of the most rapidly growing cities in the world came with both its joys and hardships. One of the ways my family and I coped with the newness of Middle Eastern city life was to find the humor in every "unique" situation. To this day, we enjoy sitting around and laughing together about all the wonderful mishaps and wrong turns we took during our transition period.
1. You thought you might crash and die your first time on Sheikh Zayed Bridge
Really, a fear factor is involved in most Abu Dhabi driving situations. You can make your own lane, stop signs are just suggestions, and you better not sit at a traffic light for more than 0.4 seconds or you'll get the honk of shame.
2. The person sitting beside you in class could be from Lebanon or Michigan, and sometimes, it's hard to tell
Because Abu Dhabi is such a vast melting pot of races and ethnicities, definitive cultural lines are often blurry which is a great thing until the 15 year-old boy with the dark skin, full beard, and SWEDISH accent throws you off mid-conversation.
3. You didn't know serious soccer was until someone nearly smacked you for not knowing who Omar Abdulrahman is
Jerseys, jerseys everywhere. I don't know the last thing about sports, but these people don't play when it comes to soccer, both recreationally and professionally. It's a passion you've got to admire.
4. Having a bidet in your bathroom really freaked you out for the first couple of weeks
If you don't know what I'm talking about, just Google it. You'll understand.
5. The sights and sounds of the city can be overwhelming at first
Huge buildings + bright lights + many different languages being spoken at the same time + crazy traffic = the occasional meltdown
6. Navigating your first concert there was like being in a loud, colorful sauna with 5,000 of your friends
So many cool people in one place! So......many.....people!
7. "Giving directions" really means "naming every landmark from point A to point B"
This is how directions are communicated to everyone, including taxi drivers, friends, strangers, and emergency services. This is partly because a lot of Western expats can't pronounce the street names anyway.
8. People back home told you to watch out for all the "weapons" you might encounter
With the way adults (who had never been to Abu Dhabi) talked to me about Abu Dhabi, I thought bazookas were going to be a much bigger problem than they were. Many people, but especially Americans, hear "Middle East" and get very anxious. But Abu Dhabi is actually one of the safest cities in the world! I could take a taxi alone at 1AM across town and not feel the least bit anxious about it!
9. You almost needed an intervention for your shawarma addiction
It didn't help that there was a shawarma place within walking distance of everywhere.
10. The Call to Prayer scared you half to death the first time you heard it over a loudspeaker in a public setting
"Is this the rapture? Is this a pop song? Should I follow all these people?"
11. When people hear you're moving to Abu Dhabi, they assume you're ridiculously wealthy
Most expats don't have the gold toilets, sports cars and huge parties that people imagine when they think of Abu Dhabi or Dubai. We do come in contact with those things though, and it's hard not to feel totally out of place when it happens. But, at the end of the day, what you have or what you don't isn't what's important; it's enjoying the culturally diverse experience.
12. 110 degrees is too hot to do anything
This is especially true if you have thick or curly hair. You're basically walking around with a wool blanket on your head, and it's not comfortable. This is when all those summer scarves you bought at the souk come in handy. While it may seem counterintuitive, multiple thin layers can actually help protect your skin from intense sun exposure which is important if you burn easily.
13. You quickly learn that "Inshallah" means "it probably won't happen, but if it does, it won't be any time soon.
"Inshallah" is an Arabic phrase meaning "God willing", but many people use it as a "maybe, maybe not" response to plans. Abu Dhabi runs on its own schedule, and all well-educated residents know that nothing almost nothing will happen on time.
14. You couldn't shake the feeling of being in a movie for at least the first few months
"How would Vin Diesel react in this situation?"
I hope this encourages anyone about to embark on a new journey. Don't worry, even if things don't go as planned, it will still enhance your world view and you can laugh about it later.