So, my therapist would be horrified that I’m starting a series called Things I Hate About Dubai (sorry Zimmy, I’ll call you). You know how it is, I’m supposed to focus on The Positive and try to get something good from every experience. But there are some things that I simply cannot be positive about. And you know what, perhaps it’s actually therapeutic to just vent about them. Better out than in, they say. I like to think that I’m not being negative, per se – I’m just reporting things the way they are (based on my own subjective experiences, observations and opinions, of course).
Yes, of course there are some things that I do like about living here. For instance, you can get pretty well anything home delivered. Feel like a burger at 2am? No problem. Craving cupcakes? Pour yourself a glass of milk while you wait. And you can even get your dry-cleaning picked up, cleaned and delivered back within the day. The convenience factor is high. So, that’s pretty good. Also, petrol’s quite cheap, so no complaints there. And, of course, the one thing that literally keeps me in Dubai is its close proximity to the rest of the world. The travel opportunities here are incredible and, as you may have noticed, we take full advantage of them (though it’s pretty sad when the thing you like the most about the place you live, is being able to leave).
Conversely though, there are some things that I hate. Not just things that bug me a little bit. It’s normal to get bugged by stuff, I get that. I’m talking about things that make my blood boil, or my head explode in disbelief. Things that, after having to endure them for nearly five years, really just make me kind of miserable.
So, let’s begin: Things I Hate About Dubai #1 – Smoking.
I’ve always had a problem with smoking, so it’s not a new thing. I have dreadful childhood memories of being in the family car after an evening spent at my cousin’s (guess what: smoky) house, Mum and Dad both puffing away at cigarettes and the windows rolled up despite my desperate pleas to open them just a little. But my parents’ conviction that the cold, outside air would give me a chill prevented them from doing so. I love my parents, but I still shake my head at their logic. What doesn’t make sense about this theory (of the origins of my aversion) is that both my sisters, who were also subjected to this, were not so much scarred by the experience as compelled to start smoking at early ages and are (despite several attempts to quit the habit) both still addicted.
So being a rabid non-smoker in a family of rabid smokers was not the most pleasant way to grow up. I became quite the Cigarette Nazi, constantly complaining about how disgusting the habit was, spouting off statistics about cancer and emphysema at every strike of a match or flick of a lighter. I would threaten my parents that when (WHEN, mind you) they were dying of lung cancer, I would not look after them (after all, why should I help them when they were knowingly doing it, despite all my hysterical warnings. Right?). I developed the kind of olfactory sensitivity reserved for perfumers and St. Bernards. But instead of sniffing out sandalwood topnotes and snowbunnies lost in the woods, I could smell cigarettes at a hundred paces. And instead of getting used to the smell of cigarette smoke, I became more intolerant and more repulsed by it. I drove my family so crazy that they eventually relented and agreed to stop smoking in the house (woop de doo). This was a huge personal victory for me, but only a tiny moot step towards getting them to quit.
So, you’re probably starting to get an idea of how much I really hate smoking. I have no qualms admitting that I am extremely, vehemently, steadfastly, unwaveringly and unapologetically against it. I remember dating a smoker for a couple of months when I was 19 and vowing afterwards that I would never, EVER again go out with someone who smoked. And I stick to my promises. Some people are not aware that when David and I met, he’d been a smoker for 20 years. I never told him to quit smoking for me (that’s just not my stripe). But I was very clear that I didn’t go out with smokers, no exceptions. Luckily for me, he decided I was worth giving up the habit for. Phew!
An interesting fact: I have never taken a single puff of a cigarette. Not directly anyway. I’ve probably second-hand smoked hundreds of packets – and the idea of that makes me feel rather sick. I mean, what other gross habit exists in which not only the person with the habit is involved, but everyone around them has to participate too? Not many. Can you imagine the uproar of disgust if people started freely picking their noses in public. And then made YOU eat it?? (And yes, to me, this analogy is on par with how gross passive smoking is.) I think it’s fantastic that so many cities around the world have taken steps to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces (and, in some cases, even in open public spaces – how progressive). No-one is suggesting that smoking be banned altogether (though you wouldn’t see me at the protest rally, if it was). It’s just really great to be able to go out, have a nice dinner and a drink, and socialise with friends without coming home smelling like I’ve spent the last few hours rolling around a stinky ashtray.
Alas, Dubai is not one of those forward thinking cities. Smoking is allowed in many restaurants and in nearly all the bars and clubs. We recently went out to dinner with David’s workmates and just about every single person at the table was smoking, almost constantly. Apart from being generally pretty awful, to me this is just weird. I like David’s workmates very much, but I am not used to going out with people who smoke. Not a single one of my friends in Melbourne is a smoker. And I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence, or if it was a sub-conscious act on my part to not make friends with smokers. I just know it has never been an issue. In Dubai, as a non-smoker, I am the pariah. I’m the annoying one who doesn’t want to go out because I don’t want to eat in a haze of fug. And, on the rare occasion that I do accept an invitation to go out, I’m the one who wants to leave early. I never meet friends for a nice glass of wine after work, because when I do, I am subjected to plumes of cigarette smoke: getting in my eyes, in my lungs, in my hair and in my clothes. The result is that I just don’t go out very much. I like to think that I used to be a fun, social person before I moved here. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not sure what percentage of blame I can attribute to the smoking laws for that. Is it 100%? 75%? I don’t know. But it’s a big part.
A recent concession from the local government in their ongoing “quest” to solve the second-hand smoke problem was to ban pregnant women and children under 18 from establishments that allowed indoor smoking. Good work Dubai government. There’s some forward thinking for you. So, I’m not holding my breath (literally or figuratively) for things to change around here. It’s one of the reasons I live for our holidays. I get to go out and socialise and have fun and drink and be merry and meet people in a smoke-free environment. And I really enjoy that – all the more so because it just doesn’t happen in the city I’ve chosen to live.
Maybe this “problem” of mine is not such a big deal to some people. And (not that I give a shit, but) maybe sometimes my militant anti-smoking philosophy makes me unpopular. Maybe you think I’m over-reacting. But maybe you haven’t had to watch a loved one die of lung cancer (and I’m not going for the sympathy angle here, I’m just going for the truth). My father dying of lung cancer was the single worst thing that has ever happened in my life. And while some might dispute the role of smoking in the risk of developing this disease, I think the two are almost undeniably linked. Remember back when I was a kid, threatening to not look after my parents “when” they got lung cancer? Can you imagine how I felt when years later, my prediction actually came true? On top of the grief and loss, the immense guilt I experienced only strengthened my resolve that smoking is a terrible, stupid thing to do that just doesn’t make any sense. (Oh, and if you’re offended by me calling you stupid for smoking, why don’t you try to convince me that it’s not. Also, just imagine how it must make my mother feel? Sorry Mum.)
So yeah, maybe the memory of Dad at my 32nd birthday, laboriously hawking up thick, black phlegm over his slice of cake, a month before he died, has something to do with how much against it I am. Maybe it’s the fear that the same thing will happen to the rest of my family and I’ll be the only one left (great, at least I’ll have the strength of my convictions to keep me company). Maybe, maybe, maybe. What I do know is that for as long as the smoking laws in this city remain unchanged, I’ll be staying home. What can I do? It’s just something that I hate about Dubai.