A WISE MAN – HENRY DAVID THOREAU, TO BE PRECISE – once said, “How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.” And I completely agree. I really do. But in this case, I’m going to let vanity win and say that, although I can’t legitimately claim that I’ve lived the most high-octane of all lives thus far, it’s still had its moments, many of which have been within the past three years – starting from the second I decided to overstuff my bags and up sticks to the desert.
So… in honour of my Dubai anniversary, I have decided to share my well-worn sandpit wisdom in the form of a handy list of stuff I wish I’d been told before I got here. Indulge me.
1. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep. The ease, the vacuum, the sweet, sunny, frictionless existence… it’s all pretty seductive, but no one wants to live life on cruise control forever. Push yourself. Laziness kills.
2. A boat party is always a good idea. Barasti is never one. Get the ﬁsh tacos in Maine and the black cod in Zuma. The mac ’n’ cheese in The Black Lion can mend sore head and heart alike. Flats in the mall, heels under your desk. SPF.
3. Beware of life lived – and viewed – through a lens. The fatuous black hole that is social media should be handled with forceps, a raised eyebrow and a hefty pinch of salt. That ‘inﬂuencer’ with no discernible talent? Obsess over her less. She has her demons, just like everyone else.
4. Talk to your cab driver. Smile. Tip. And even when he merrily takes you on an unplanned, scenic tour of the Marina Mall car park – be patient.
5. Surprise your parents with an impromptu trip home at least once. Bonus if you can do it within the ﬁrst six months when your mum is still hyperemotional and prone to crying.
6. There is nothing that will make the stark, operating-theatre walls of a rented Marina ﬂat feel like home faster than putting up some art. DESCO for printing, Creative Minds for frames. And when you invariably become a cliché – usually about a year in – Clare Napper’s bitingly satirical UAE posters, like the one above, will look down at you and say, “Make sure you don’t forget how to take your own bins out, Joan Collins.” And you’ll be grateful for the reminder.
7. All those hours spent wondering if the ex who broke your heart back home has stalked your Insta is time you’ll never get back. Use it instead. Read. Make Pad Thai. And when he calls at 4am, crying that he screwed it up, be kind. When he calls again months later, engaged, be ﬁrm.
8. Tread carefully among the egos. Play the game but don’t become it. Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see. Save. Get insurance.
9. Remember that homesickness passes, that FOMO is a fallacy and that 100k followers and a Chanel 2.55 does not a style icon make, no matter what they tell you.
10. Tips & Toes for a good, rigorous mani. You will need this information as you’re about to be thrust into an unrelenting love/hate relationship with weekly spa upkeep. Sorry.
11. That boy you meet four months in who’s quieter, far more intense and considerably less manscaped than the others? Give him your number. Two years later you’ll realise he’s the love of your life.
12. Explore. When you’re forced to repeatedly defend your choice to Dubai naysayers back home, you’ll need a host of beyond-the-mall tidbits in your armoury. Get your elevator pitch and clapbacks down to a ﬁne art. Accept that there are some people whose minds you will never change. Make peace with it. You’re here for you, not for them.
13. If you weren’t happy back home, you won’t be happy just by moving. Emigrating is an adventure, not an escape.
14. That crazy ﬁrst year spent saying yes to everything – even reality TV show pilots of questionable moral standing – will wreck your body and bank balance beyond repair. Nothing will ever be worth it more.
15. Girls can break your heart faster than any man can. The ride-or-dies, though? They’ll always be family.