1. How do you carry on American customs in Dubai? And you began to answer it with Halloween. I'd like to hear about the other holidays or customs.
2. I'd like to know if there are "public" things like libraries? And how hard is it to find books in English
Holidays first. Holidays are the time to be with people, and we, like most here, find solace in our fellow expat families and do our best. Everyone either travels on holidays or gets together with groups of friends and makes the best of it. It can feel lonely. It's an adjustment.
Christmas is, of course, the biggest one for us. Nicely, we had the company party this weekend:
The party is early, by design, because so many travel during the holidays here.
Santa, food and wine, gifts, too-loud music, staying at a lavish hotel, and basically a good time for all. Bethy assured Thomas before we went that this is the "REAL Santa, not just some guy dressed up in a costume, you know, like one of his helpers."
This is the same kid who doesn't believe in unicorns or ghosts. Go figure.
Santa has consistantly excellent taste in gifts for our kids which may help Bethy's belief-o-meter: Thomas got a Thomas the Tank Engine with a screwdriver to take it apart and put it back together again and has played with it nonstop. Bethy got a Pinky Pie My Little Pony...the large size one with barrettes and combs for styling. Santa is good.
Bethy and I both got to enjoy a little Henna painting, this time by a Pakistani woman. This henna was green and smelled funny, left a yellow-orangish stain beneath that deepened to a brown overnight. Bethy claimed it burned and washed it off as soon as she could. Not exactly typical USA Christmas party fare, but great here.
They also had salmon for us to eat...mmm...
I had my own personal Santa. Friends of ours back in the states from the company were transferred out her a few days ago with their family. Karen, the mom and wife in this scenario, remembered reading how much I love Boehms chocolates and brought me some.
Sometimes there are just not enough words to say "thank you".
I opened them, admired them, smelled them, put the lid back on...
and after a suitable waiting period (part of the afternoon) devoured them within 12 hours. Sheer gluttony, total bliss.
If you want Western holiday products you must expect to PAY for them. Even birthday wrapping is costly...to put it into perspective, I bought Mike two insulated lidded travel coffee cups the other day. I also bought a small paper gift bag. The two cups together or one bag cost exactly the same.
I actually brought tissue paper back out with me last trip.
A UK friend of mine was telling me how a show has taken off back there called Peppa Pig, and the kids there are crazy for it. The characters are gentle and cute and snort a lot. Her daughter developed a deep love for Peppa Pig, Peppa's brother George, and his toy Mr Dinosaur and of course, that's all she wanted for Christmas. Now, being a pig, Peppa is not terribly welcome in the UAE, where pork is haram. So those infidel parents had things shipped here, including the Peppa Pig Princess Palace.
The Dad says next year they will have one or the other spouse go back to London with an empty suitcase, shop, fill it with gifts, get a visit in with the family, and come back. It'll cost about the same.
We could, but don't, get a tree. The expense...well, let's just say unless the very costly imported trees go down in price like the pumpkins did, and then some, we are having a Christmas stick again this year.
I like my Christmas stick, which I found out in the desert and painted silver and sprinkled with suitably irridescent glitter. I thought it very creative, and suffered much abuse gladly for its sake.
I brought meaningful ornaments with us, and the kids made some. I found more at Starbucks, which is great, and then I have improvised and put other things like little camels on shiny strings, stuff like that.
Getting gifts home to relatives is tricky...I am doing mail order online though US companies this year, and as my sister and her husband are coming out over Christmas (about which I am very excited!) we plan to squeeze a few things in their luggage to haul back. Just for fun.
They may or may not mule a chocolate-per-day advent calendar across the border for our kids. We don't know if customs will let that through or not. Worst case scenario they take it away, but I don't think so. You never know.
Thanksgiving...well, this year we'll be in Singapore. Maybe we'll get a turkey...though duck sounds awfully good. I'll bet they can cook a mean duck in Singapore. Either way I have once again eluded cooking, hoorah! Calls home on holidays like that are important, and we are going to try hard on that front.
What else...Easter, well, I messed that one us last year, with differences in countries' and Christian sect calendars. This year we plan on hiding eggs and baskets, of course. They definitely will sell us (overpriced) chocolate bunnies, and the Cadbury eggs are UK made, so they are the true tasty ones, not the US recipe.
Is it just me, or is this blog posting harping on chocolate?
You can have an over-the-top romantic dinner any evening, so Valentine's Day is all taken care of. St Patrick's Day is our anniversary, and you go party with the Irish in Irish Village and pray to St Pat after for a taxi, good luck with that. We spent the 4th of July home in the USA this year, but had we been here we would have had a get-together with other expat friends.
Bethy's American "costume" for United Nations Day.
There are holidays like Mother's Day that in the UK are on different days than ours. The UAE tends to defer to the UK calendar. We defer to the US one. Labor Day and Columbus Day and MLK Day, well, they sneak past us most of the time. Bethy and I usually do something fun on Groundhog Day, since it's the single day between our two birthdays. There are other days like Guy Fawkes Day and Boxing Day, and then the Indian holidays, which seem to be endless. I don't know how they get any work done there with all the celebrations.
This year will be great with Bethy being in an American school---they do the crafts and celebrations "just like" back home, with the additional ones from other countries, to a point, and then even more days like UN day. There are students from over 70 nationalities so she gets to keep in touch with her cultural roots and meet kids from all over. A fantastic compromise for us.
For UN Day Bethy dressed up, as did all the little kids from the various countries, in an outfit we felt was representative. When you're from a place as diverse as the USA you have quite the task before you as to what is "representative". We went with a cowgirl hat, red and white gingham with blue denim collar, and stars painted on her cheeks.
Each of the 70 flags was carried across the stage by a child representing their country. Little guys in dishdashes, sweet tiny girls in kimonos, the cutest Austrian kid I have ever seen sporting his lederhosen, Dutch girls in their white hats and wooden shoes, a little guy from Mexico proudly wearing a soccer outfit and the Canadian, not to be outdone, with his maple leaf jersey and hockey stick. Israel, not being acknowledged by most Arab nations, was not represented. Some countries I had to find later on the map, like Eritrea and Malawi. Last came Old Glory, and darned if I didn't choke up over the stars and stripes.
Thomas and the flags
Holidays here are more and less special, a link to home, a reminder we aren't there, a time to appreciate where we are. A time to be family, when the definition of family is whatever it needs to be in the moment. And that's OK.