An expat from the UK who has been here more that 25 years talks about coming to Dubai, living in Dubai and what has changed, “there was no McDonald’s for a very long time”
How long have you lived in Dubai?
I have been in Dubai for more than 26 years now.
While we respect your privacy for this interview and will either change your name or not use one at all, just a couple of quick demographics to get out of the way…
OK. I am 60+, without getting into details. We have 4 children – all grown and flown. None of or kids live in Dubai, it’s just my wife and I.
And where are you from, meaning where is your family from?
I am from the UK. England. From the Midlands. Grew up near Manchester. Believe it or not, no one other than me in my family, extended family, or my neighbors had ever travelled out of England before me. I mean, maybe on holiday, but not moving.
How did you decide to come to Dubai?
It happened quite by a number of events – the company I worked for in Manchester opened up a new division, which had a collaboration with a new entity in Dubai that was involved in garment exports – and they needed someone with some knowledge of export, of shipping, of importing from source countries. It all connected, and they offered me a position. It was a decent wage, tax free, more than twice that I was making in the UK. It was just my wife and I and our oldest boy at the time, and we moved. Honestly, at that time, anyone from the UK was in a good position as far as wages and benefits go in Dubai. So, I was part of that lucky gang.
What were your first impressions of Dubai?
Dubai was at the time a growing city. It had just about started to be on track to where it is now. We lived in Jumeirah, which at the time was pretty remote from the main parts – the centre of Dubai. Where we lived , seemed like a village compared to Manchester. We lived in a large villa provided by the company, but there wasn’t much around. The city, meaning, Deira or Al Maktoum street, Al Ghurair area, the Clock Tower area, were different and seemed to have the beginnings of a city on its way. It was still very Middle Eastern – very much trying to be something different and modern. There was something about Deira that was so charming.
And you liked your job, working in Dubai?
Yes I did. About 90% of the people at work were from either India or Pakistan. We did not have a single UAE national working there. The staff were very friendly, very open, and very happy to be in Dubai. They seemed grateful for the opportunity. And that attitude made a big difference. Also as one of the very few ‘white people’ or ‘goras’ as we were called, we did get looked at differently at that time. Like being on some pedestal. That made me a bit uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it. It’s not in a bad way, just that one must be careful not to abuse that. And I never did, and got respected for it.
I liked my job. I was dealing with both importers and export channels, managing inventory, and also was responsible to open up a factory later on in Jebel Ali. That was a challenge but very gratifying.
So how did you end up with such a long stint in Dubai?
My job was going really well. We had a couple of new managers come over from the UK, and a couple of them from Europe who were experts in retail, and our business grew. We had both a local presence in retail and were exporters of garments – which was big. I was happy at what I did, had a good work-life balance, had my golf, and the family life was very nice. We were a classic UK expat family in Dubai, if you want to call it that.
Our second, third and fourth kids were born in Dubai, actually our second was born in a hospital in Sharjah. That’s still on her passport – place of birth Sharjah! I ended up here because my company did well, the business flourished, and my family felt pretty settled here. The schools in Dubai for the kids were really good – very good staff, very good standards – all my kids ended up in top universities in the UK. My wife had a very good job as well. It just added up. We managed to save a decent amount and were content with the lifestyle. Over the years, we saw Dubai be on its way to be the city it is today, and we have seen the growth spurts. Like watching our kids grow.
How was your social life in Dubai over all these years?
Our social life was vibrant and fun. It was weekends – in the beginning in Dubai our weekends were Thursday half days off and Fridays. Later on, way later, they changed it to Fridays and Saturdays. I played a bit of golf, and as a family we would socialize with people at work – the Brits, the Europeans, the Indians – every one. We would go to Pancho Villas a lot. And the Aviation Club. We also had a very decent social life just mingling with friends, having a lunch or diner, going out together. And going to the events that were the main attractions every year – like the Air Show, the Golf tournament etc.
What are your plans now?
Over the last couple of years, we seem undecided. We aren’t exactly sure whether we should stay on here in Dubai or move back to the UK. This is because I think that we have been able to save enough to retire rather comfortably and live out the rest of our days back where we were from.
We have been back to Manchester very regularly because that is home and we still have family and friends there and somehow right now it feels very different from the home that we used to know and it seems like Dubai is more home in Manchester is – as it is now. But that’s no reason not to consider going back so we are in two minds.
Our four children all live in Europe, three are in the UK, and one works in the Netherlands. This means that we are far from family and it is a reason that we should really go back. The other thing is that most of the friends that we know or we new, rather, along the way, have either moved back to their own countries, or have emigrated somewhere else. Some of our best friends have moved back to India, moved to Canada, or now have settled back in the UK. We’re like the last ones standing. And it feels like our innings here is coming to an end.
Any parting words?
Yes, actually. I was hoping you were going to ask me about the changes that I have seen in Dubai and how it has grown and how it is now a very different place from where did used to be and how it used to be. The smelly taxis are gone we now have fantastic metered AC taxis, and we also have Uber. The streets are different, that a new bridges and crossings every day, cameras everywhere – which is good I think, there are areas in Dubai which were just sand when I came here. When I first came here there was no Jumeirah Beach Hotel. There was no Metro and there was no tall tower at all. There was no Dubai Mall, in fact there were no malls at all. Yes, there were a few shopping centres here and there and the Ghurair Centre. was a smart destination. Actually, there was no McDonald’s for a very long time. Deira was the centre of town, it was the focus area, along with and there was no Garhoud bridge. I could go on and on but there are a lot of distant memories which are now beginning to fade into the bright lights of the Marina.