Laws are Changing

For many Americans looking from the outside in, the UAE may have seemed repressed and unsupportive of women. I often hear this complaint from American women. Culturally the shift has been happening quietly in support of women. Honor killing crimes were not prosecuted and unless laws concerning women were blatantly broken, highly ignored. Now the laws are catching up with a culture that existed anyway and largely supported women. This could have interesting implications on the society.

It may make the service women who try to attach themselves to lonely working men struggle harder for support. These men are either here without their families or single (in a culture with very few women of their economic strata). Culturally it is customary to support the service women who become live ins with a monthly subsistence payment. It is how service women offset low wages that do not compare to skilled or western women. It was essentially a black market for lonely men.

These women work ridiculously hard to make these men attached to them to keep the money flowing. Now they are no longer considered underground or illegal because cohabitation laws have changed. If these women are no longer technically illegal it becomes similar to what laws have done for marijuana in Washington State, or prostitution in Nevada. Black markets exist when there are legality issues or a lack of supply. The supply is not lacking in this service worker/desperate woman market and now the live ins are no longer illegal (provided the man isn’t married).

All in all, I once again applaud the government as they adapt the laws for personal freedoms and to protect women! It removes exploitation and sets the stage for real reform with human rights by exposing many behaviors that have been underground anyway. Customary support is no longer illegal for the live ins and if caught the risk of deportation or a fine has been removed. Laws now have a chance to make some difference and protect these desperate women, by acknowledging that the cohabitation is so prevalent.

Time will tell what happens with this market, but it is important to note that since the culture is changing for many personal freedoms; it only makes sense that the laws will also adapt.

May I help you, Madam?

When you come from a small rural farm community it can be very limiting in a world view. It takes some getting used to being called Madame or Mam by someone ready to serve you in any way they can. Yet these service workers are highly dependent upon your employment.

In this case to maintain this villa with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a separate maid’s quarters that also includes another bathroom; we are employing many service workers. We have a walled off courtyard with exotic trees and a water feature (some from our little town would call a wading pool). The windows are floor to ceiling and the buildings are much taller than normal with vaulted ceilings everywhere.

With all of this, we are employing a maid, a gardener, window washers, and a water feature worker (technically a pool boy). Many send money back to their families who are still living in the poor countries of their origin. Some have sad stories that make you realize; this is a much better life for them than we could possibly even understand.

My small rural village can be heard saying, “must be nice to have your lifestyle,” but it is an overly simplistic view on their part. These workers are highly dependent upon our employment, with that the workers can have visas, health care, and a place to live. Often the living arrangements are in the city where the workers are bused in from dorm like facilities where they share living space with many other workers. They seem thankful for the accommodations.

From an employer’s perspective it is difficult to manage the language barrier at times. I often feel like I am communicating with Emelia Bedelia and must be careful in the directions I give. I also feel like its hard to let others do work that I have done in the past and am very capable of doing myself. Also, having a service worker around your home regularly takes some getting used to. What an American may not realize, is that these service workers are highly dependent upon our employment and it is simplistic to make judgements about utilizing them. Maybe it would help to think of Downton Abbey if the show is familiar.

I have heard tales of cruel employers and often it is difficult to navigate for the workers to kind employers; but most of the American Expats have an appreciation for human dignity. Unfortunately, there are the desperate women service workers who try to exploit lonely working men who have their families in the states. But I think these relationships are highly transactional and the service women looking for a better life, hide when they must. It is no longer illegal for a woman (even a service worker) to live with a man that she is not married to. Cohabitation is quite common and many stay under the radar as it is difficult to discern if the service worker is a maid or a live in hoping for a better life.

All and all, the UAE has the best conceivable laws for service workers. Many want to come work here in the UAE. I also have witnessed the government trying to improve how they handle this type of necessary labor. Our country could glean many lessons in addressing the labor that so many of our own citizens do not want to do. Service workers are protected from exploitation by the stringent border control that operates to account for them, as well as insure legal employment.

This is a vastly different culture than most American’s are used to. Like anything, it takes an adjustment to appreciate the culture and find a place in it that feels comfortable. Learning new ways to navigate a life in a different country can offer a kind of larger understanding of people in the world around us. I highly recommend becoming an Expat!

Have it Delivered

The UAE has a huge service industry, everything can be delivered here. Couriers and delivery people are found everywhere often on small motorcycles with a little box attached to the back. Even large items involving a truck can be purchased and delivered in only a few hours. If the store doesn’t offer delivery there are couriers waiting to serve you with amazing response time.

It is not unusual to make a purchase at Ikea for example and then be rushing home, so the delivery doesn’t arrive at your door before you do. A large order is no exception. Many deliveries are free or so affordable that it makes little sense to carry your own items from the store. installation of almost anything is readily available, as well. If a store doesn’t offer the service (which is highly unlikely) then a private company will be attending your needs promptly.

Food delivery of prepared meals through Talabat, directly through restaurants, or even groceries is part of daily living here. Lu Lu’s Webstore seems to be the favorite for groceries by most expats, but that can change on a dime as competition is alive and well here for most things. It’s important to stay networked on social media to keep up with the change and companies that are doing things better than one you have gotten used to using.

Often, ordering food from restaurants can be less expensive than trying to make a meal for your family. Having lived in the land of Costco, we found ourselves speculating where the bulk suppliers were. We were wondering not only for our own use but to explain how restaurants were able to provide such an affordable menu. The sad news fellow American expats, Costco has not made its way to the UAE yet.

Amazon has recently acquired Souq (which can also be added as an app on your phone). I have ordered things and they have been delivered from Dubai in only a few hours for a nominal fee. Amazon is working hard to transform this company to be the staple here like it is for families in the States. I am pleased with their progress. You can use your Amazon account here in conjunction with Borderlinx. All delivery options seem almost too reasonable and make expat life much easier.

It can be difficult to let go of American thinking that it’s better to do and acquire needed items yourself. However, this economy thrives with delivery options and in this case, it is definitely better to adapt and save yourself time as well as money.

As always, thank you for joining us on our adventure as we expat in Abu Dhabi!
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They Pride Themselves on Service

In a lyric from Disney’s Aladdin you might recall Robin Williams as the genie singing, “We pride ourselves on service.” As trite as that may sound, that is exactly what kept running through my head as people tried to help me do everything! I had to get used to people calling me Madame everywhere I went. There is a huge population of service here.

Many people have hired help in the form of maids, nannies, and drivers. The service industry comprises mostly of Filipinos. They are very polite and seem to enjoy working in Abu Dhabi. This took a lot of getting used to for me. We do hire help in the states such as housekeepers and lawn care quite frequently. However here, the help is imbedded in the family. Every home has separate quarters for the help with at least a maid’s room and adjoining bathroom.

Restrooms in malls and restaurants have attendants running in the minute you leave the stall to clean up after your visit. Some stand by to offer you towels or anything you might need. I often felt like I need to apologize and assure them I did not soil their very clean restrooms. I could accept that a fancy restaurant would want that type of service, but a mall has heavy traffic, so it takes some getting used to.

Women advertise on Facebook when they are leaving the country to place their nannies or maids with other families. The ads usually are glowing testimonials of how they could never have managed life without their maids.  If the family stays in the middle East these maids often move with them. Many wear uniforms like scrubs as they move about the community with people’s children.

You can’t really be a “No Helpian” if you come to the UAE. These people depend on us expats to make a living. I just do my best to tip well. Unfortunately, tipping is a bit of a Western habit as well. However, I will save that for another post.

If you are going to expat in the UAE, you might as well get used to the idea that there is a whole service industry set up to make your life easier at very little cost. Hopefully, you can find ways to adapt to this as expats will not change the economy here. You can be generous with your tips and what you choose to pay your help.

Once again, thank you for joining us on our adventure as we expat in Abu Dhabi!

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