Five Lifestyle Shifts, Cultural Variations and Comical Quirks in the UAE

I’ve only been in Sharjah, UAE for two weeks but am quickly growing accustomed to major lifestyle shifts, cultural variations and comical quirks. Here’s five aspects of life I’ve adjusted to already in the UAE.

Venturing Outside Only At Night – The heat here is phantasmagorically intense. Venturing outside during the day is an exercise in misery, and I almost always only torture myself for bursts of less than three minutes. Although some people do walk about freely during the daytime, the masses come forth to sit in parks, hang around outside and exercise only after the the sun finally ceases its sizzle. The Sharjah Corniche, which leads to the beaches of the Arabian Gulf, is very near where I live and popular exercise turf for many locals and expats. At night. Here, at hours post 7:00 p.m. you’ll find walkers, joggers and, cutely, many people doing 1970s-style callisthenics. As it is currently Autumn, temperatures should have already plummented, but they’re still pumped up into the mid 30’s Celsius (90-plus degrees Fahrenheit). Perhaps when the weather does become more seasonable, I’ll be able to emerge from my apartment before 7:00 p.m.

Cats Frolicking on the Beach – I have never in my life seen cats on sand. Here though, they frolic freely on the beach near my apartment at night. Short-haired cats are they, lithe and energetic. One night I fed one such kitty bits of meat and bread. The cat, full of disdain (as cats can be), ate the meat and left the bread lying on the sand. Tummy full, he then plopped down on the sand, curled up and closed his eyes. I think I will call these Sand Cats from now on.


Commerce Via Honking – When locals here arrive via automobile at an establishment particularly small in size, such as a tiny convenience store or very casual restaurant, they don’t park the car, get out and go inside. Instead, they pull up outside the door and honk. And honk and honk and honk and honk. Finally someone comes outside and walks up to the car window, listens to what they want, happily goes back inside and returns with their order. Money exchanges hands and everyone is on their way. This means of commerce is an extremely convenient and effective way to buy a cup of tea, a pack of gum, or even an entire meal, and when I’m in the passenger seat I think it’s cool. However, when I’m slumbering at night and am rocked awake by honking horns with the same degree of persistence as those which pull up in front of these small shops, the cool factor turns into disrupted sleep and a wish that there was a cutoff time for buying items via car horn.

Real Arabic Numerals – Last weekend while at the Islamic Museum in Sharjah, I taught myself how to read Arabic numerals. Although the numbers I’ve been acquainted with my entire life are called Arabic numerals, the numbering system used here, in the Arab world, is derived from Indian numerals and actually very different from what we know in the Western world. In the UAE, road signs, paper money and other writings of import are written in what I’ll call both Mid Eastern Arabic and Western Arabic numbers. Coins seem to be the final frontier, with numbers stamped on them only in Mid Eastern Arabic. Learning this numbering system a week ago opened a whole new world in coin counting to me.

Ubiquitous Mosque Sounds – If you’re going to visit or live in an Arab country, you must immediately become accustomed to listening to prayers emitting from mosque loudspeakers several times every day. These will usually awake you well before dawn and, if you need to go to bed very, very early because you were startled awake by loudspeakers at 4:45, they’ll shake you back awake at night too. On Friday, the Muslim holy day, perhaps 15 to 30 minutes of prayer is broadcast through the streets midday in addition to the regularly scheduled prayers throughout the rest of the week. I actually like this rather haunting sound. If ever I need to be reminded I am in a Muslim country, all I must do is wait a couple of hours and a mosque will remind me.