Top 25 things

My friend, Kate, sent me an article the other day called “35 Things You Appreciate about America after Living in Europe“, and it got me thinking about the things that I like and dislike about living in the UAE.

Now that I am back in the U.S. for the summer, it really has made me remember and appreciate the little things, and I am not talking about my family, friends, or cats – those are a given. After just one week of being back “home” after completing my first academic year in the UAE, I have compiled my top 25 things that I will never take for granted again about living in the U.S. (not necessarily in any specific order).

1. Modern appliances: oh the joy of having a washing machine that actually cleans. Not to mention not needing to hang my laundry, wash my dishes by hand, or use matches to light my stove because I actually have a dryer, dishwasher, and electric stove.

2. Costco & Target: So many affordable, quality options all under the same roof. Do I need this stuff? No, probably not but I love shopping for it anyways.

3. Restaurants: An abundance of choices all within 3 miles from my house. Whether it be Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Italian, American, seafood, fast food, or buffet, it is available. The only hard part is making a decision. Plus, at the restaurants, I can get free glasses of water. I don’t need to buy an overly expensive bottle of water. Oh and don’t even get me started on the availability of food carts because I am already hungry as it is.

4. Enforced traffic laws: The expectation is that people will wear seat belts, children will be in car seats, people won’t flash their lights at you to make you move over, honking is limited, speed limits are observed, tailgating is minimal, and people use their blinkers. Of course there is the occasional rule breaker, but that is the exception rather than the norm.

5. Non-smoking public areas: Sorry all you smokers, but it is refreshing to see you forced outside to satisfy your nicotine addiction.

6. Music: New music, old music, bad music, good music…. I have a choice because there are more than two stations available.

7. Health care: Criticize the health care system in the U.S. all you want, but I know the truth. You are not going to find the standard of care in most other countries like you can in the U.S.  Period. Full stop. End of argument.

8. Pork: Yes, thank you. I would love some real pepperoni on my pizza and bacon on my burger.

9. Eye contact: Portlanders are known for being friendly, and it makes me happy to know that I can make eye contact with a complete stranger here, and it probably won’t lead to being harassed. In fact, I can even get away with smiling at someone just because I am being nice, and it probably won’t lead to being stalked either.

10. Snacks: Gummy bears, sour rings, normal flavored chips, salsa, movie theater popcorn, and ranch oh how I have missed you.

11. Clothing: I can get quality clothing at reasonable prices in the styles and sizes I want. I can get wide-shoes! But best of all, I can wear whatever I want without worrying that it might cause a controversy.

12. Customer service: I know some people might disagree with me on this one, but take my word for it, we are lucky in the U.S. When Comcast tells me they are coming to my house between 8-10, they show up at 8. They cover their shoes before coming in my house. They don’t smell like they haven’t had a shower in a week. They explain what the problem is and fix it. When the salesman at Nordstroms helps me find the right makeup, he does it with patience and a smile. When the hairdresser does my hair, she listens to what I want, makes suggestions, and does a good job. Not to mention that most stores have amazing return policies, as in we are allowed to actually return or exchange things regardless of the reason. I learned the luxury of this the hard way hence the pair of too small shoes and a non-working headphone set sitting in my closet in the UAE.

13. Mail delivery: They say the U.S. Postal service is on their last legs, but I am pretty sure with all the online shopping I have done this week, I have single handedly saved them. The convenience of Amazon, the ease mail order prescriptions, the excitement of opening the mailbox – these are things no one should live without.

14. Diversity: Yes, the UAE is a hodgepodge of societies living together just like in the U.S., but in the UAE, I never would have had the awesome gay man, not just selling me makeup, but showing me how he applies his makeup. You also don’t see many creative souls sporting tattoos, people with hair color based on shades of the rainbow, or body piercings. It doesn’t have to be your thing, but I appreciate that in the U.S., we have the option to be individuals.

15. Bedding: Comfortable mattresses, high-thread count sheets, and fluffy pillows are the things dreams are made of.

16. Wi-Fi/Data plan: T-Mobile’s data plan is straightforward and affordable, but even if I didn’t have 24/7 access with my data plan, I am confident that I could find free Wi-Fi around town. Starbucks? McDonald’s? Yep.

17. Bars/Nightclubs: Remember that I live in Al Ain, not Dubai. You can only go to Trader Vic’s, Pacos, or the Horse & Jockey so many times before you start to feel a little bored.  It is great that in Portland we have more than 3 choices of places to unwind on the weekend.

18. Logical directions: Having addresses makes giving and getting directions so much easier than the alternative of directions like go three roundabouts, take the third exit in the roundabout with a tree that looks like a squirrel, come back down about 200 meters, take a right at the street with no name, and my house is behind the rock pile. Not to mention that using a GPS gets a whole lot easier with an address.

19. Netflix/On-Demand: Honestly, my daughter is amazing at finding pretty much anything I want to watch online even in the UAE, but the convenience of things like Netflix or On-Demand with Comcast is uncomparable.

20. Movie Theaters: Yes, as I have mentioned before, Al Ain has movie theaters. However, watching a movie in the States is a different experience. Movie theater popcorn? Check! No subtitles blocking the bottom part of screen? Check! Movie shown without standard Middle Eastern editing? Check! Audience actually watches the movie instead of talking, playing, fighting, or leaving early? Check!

21. Electrical outlets: Life was so much easier before I had to think about plug types, power voltage, and the possibility of short circuiting my house for choosing the wrong kind.

22. Food: Yes, I know I already mentioned restaurants and snacking, but food in general is something I have missed. Grocery shopping and cooking are so much easier when you can find brands you are familiar with.

23. Casinos & Video poker: I never claimed to be perfect, so don’t act too surprised when I tell you that I consider gambling to be a legitimate pastime when done in moderation. Something about the flickering lights just makes me want to throw my money away.

24. Outdoor activities: If I feel like walking to the store, it is perfectly normal. I won’t have every other car honking at me or people stopping to pick me up. I also don’t have to worry about the sand burning my feet or dying of heat exhaustion.   

25. Not being the foreigner: Being able to speak my native language with other people who also speak English as a native language is calming. After 10 months of every day bringing forth communication barriers and misunderstandings, it is nice to just be able to speak at a normal speed and not worry about my vocabulary choices, and yet still be understood. Not only the language, but also the knowledge that I can understand the culture, the laws, and the way to do things without needing to analyze everything… for the most part, I know what to expect.

In all fairness, as I was making this list, I already started thinking about things that I miss about being in the UAE. But I will save that list for after the summer because I just want to enjoy the U.S. while I still can.

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6 Responses to Top 25 things

  1. I really did expect peanut butter to get it’s own entry.

  2. willc88 says:

    Number 4!!! haha. I moved to Mexico, traffic laws seem to be completely out of the window here too!

  3. Pingback: Top 25 things UAE | Tori's Adventure

  4. Dolma says:

    I live in NYC and have nothing listed in #1 😛 How bad is it really getting around as a woman in Al Ain without a car? Driving is not an option for me and i am moving there next month, don’t know yet what area I will be living or working in, will need to rely on taxis, buses and my feet.

    • Tori says:

      Hi Dolma – Taxis are a fairly cheap and an easy way to get around town. You can usually wave down a taxi outside of stores or even along the street. You can order a taxi through a call center to your apartment (assuming you can explain where you live since we don’t have addresses). Al Ain isn’t that big, so even a ‘long’ taxi ride really isn’t that far away. Of course, depending on what part of town you live in versus where you work, I suppose this would add up. I have many coworkers that don’t own cars and choose to take taxis everywhere. They tend to keep the phone numbers of a handful of reliable taxi drivers that they just call directly when they need a taxi. Also often times companies place employees near each other in housing developments, so perhaps you can work out a carpool situation with colleagues.

      I have never used the local bus in Al Ain, so what I say now is simply based on what I have seen and heard and not from actual experience. The local buses are mostly used by male laborers. These are men that have worked all day in the hot sun with limited access to showers and deodorant. Take that for what it is worth 😉 I personally would not feel comfortable taking the local bus…. not that I would feel unsafe exactly…but it would not be a comfortable journey for sure! On the other hand, I have taken the bus between Dubai and Al Ain. It took about 2.5 hours. It was very cheap, and I didn’t feel terribly uncomfortable. So that is always an option for you if you want to get out of Al Ain for a weekend.

      As for walking or biking… I would just recommend being careful. There are not many sidewalks and the drivers around here have been known to make their own lanes. I tried walking to work when I first moved here, but I quickly realized it wasn’t going to work for me. For one, it is just too hot. Even in the cooler months, it is hot – especially if you have to carry any kind of bag or supplies for work. By the time I got to work (even at 7am) I was already sweaty and by the time I was off work at 3, it felt like I was going to melt into the pavement before I even got out of the university driveway. The second problem I encountered with walking was that drivers wouldn’t let me just have a peaceful walk. In the 10-15 minute walk to work, I would have at least 3-5 taxis trying to stop for me (this always seems to happen when I am not looking for a taxi!), a dozen people honking at me, and a few people stopping to ask if I needed a ride. I think that people just aren’t expecting to see a woman (especially a blonde) walking down the street, so it definitely gets looks.

      Bottom line: If you don’t have children, then yes, you can get around Al Ain without a car – no worries. If you have children, you still can do it, but it is going to be a bit more of a challenge, but certainly not impossible. Take a look under the category of “Road Rules” for even more insights on my adventures with transportation. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.


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