It was four years ago today, October 18, 2009, that we began work at The National, in Abu Dhabi. I did not mention Day 1, in the blog entry that day, but it shows us going to the mall and trying to get a sense of the UAE.
Seems like yesterday … and a lifetime ago.
Ten observations, four years in:
1. What a gift it has been to have jobs in print journalism at a time when the profession is melting down, still, in the U.S. At least once a week we read of another cut in staff, and how dreary must that be, sitting in an increasingly empty room and wondering when your time is up? So far, we haven’t spent one day here thinking we could soon be part of cost-cutting measures.
2. The UAE is rolling in dough. I was aware of the basic fact of that, when I got here, but I didn’t grasp it on a molecular level. They pump lots and lots of oil, here in Abu Dhabi, and the royals share out a lot of their money with their subjects, who are not shy about spending it. The UAE may have the U.S. beat, when it comes to the notion of “consumer culture”.
3. Among expats, a number often bandied about is “five years”. After five years away from the States, you will feel a bit of dislocation, if/when you go back. That’s the theory. A person will have adjusted to another system, another idea of “normal” … and meantime back home things will have moved. Forward, backward … but different. We’re one year short of being aliens in our native land, at least as the theory holds.
4. When in the U.S., we don’t often reflect on how many of our games are not played much, outside the country. American insularity. Football is the biggest American game, and can entrance huge tracts of the population — but it is played by almost no one else in the world. Baseball is hardly any more popular, outside spheres (former or past) of American influence, and neither is hockey, with a few exceptions, almost entirely in Europe. Basketball is gaining some traction. Anyway, the famous quote by USC coach John McKay, ahead of a big game that “600 million Chinese don’t give a damn” … that’s more like “nearly the whole of the world doesn’t give a damn” about anything happening in American sports. (Another sports notion: U.S. sports franchises must be the best-run in the world. The idea that 50,000 people can assemble in a stadium, day after day, weekend after weekend, and it happens all over the country … seriously impressive, when viewed from a distance where even some famous clubs get small crowds.)
5. My faith in the republican form of democracy has been shaken. While monarchies can grate with their bowing and scraping, and one-party states often are a tyranny of that one party, governments of those types can make things happen. A decree, a party decision, and action follows. The U.S. seems to function despite its government, not because of it. Pretty sure the Founding Fathers did not have in mind what has gone on these past 10-20 years.
6. Taxes … what a drag. In the UAE, the only taxes levied are on alcohol, hotels and, indirectly, on registering a car. But no income tax. No state taxes. No sales or estate taxes. In California, a middle-class person pretty much hands over one-third of their money to the government. Here, if you don’t drink and/or drive, or stay in local hotels, you may not pay any taxes. Ever. A person can get used to that.
7. Seems obvious, but having a place to live with a view and modern amenities … can make a big difference in your state of mind. We were in a mailbox for the first year … a decaying, windowless place with a non-functioning oven for the next two years … and now are on the eighth floor of a new tower with a view of the water. Wow. Much nicer.
8. After four years in a place, the notion of “home” becomes a little hazy. At this point, taking a trip to Long Beach would constitute going “home” … but returning here would, too. We still have more stuff in SoCal, but most of it has been in storage since Obama’s first year, and we fear what state it might be in, all this time later.
9. We continue to be impressed by how well a United Nations of humanity lives in this country. Population is about 8 million, and only 1 million are citizens. Almost no crime; almost no overt hostility among a rainbow of humanity. We have been exposed, particularly, to the subcontinent, which many Americans rarely think about. (I rarely did.) India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka … just don’t come up much in American history or life. Over here, Pakistan’s problems, India’s economic and human bulk, Sri Lanka’s beaches … are important.
10. Life here introduces an American to a far more overt class system than is known in the U.S., where the notion of “you are no better than me” is deeply ingrained, even in cases when it shouldn’t be — such as when dealing with the legal system. Here, large tracts of the population accept the idea that they have a station in life, and seem pretty much content with whatever that station is. Still have not really gotten used to that.