Saturday, April 15, 2006

International and Personal

OK, this started out as a postscript to an earlier blog, but got too long, so I moved it here, but now – let’s face it, the woman wants to talk! So I’ll split it up and you just stop when you’ve had enough! I go back to work tomorrow so that will shut me up for a while.

We are shaped by experience as well as our own culture and family. As an educated but rather unsophisticated woman of limited political understanding (Just call me a bleeding heart liberal.) who hails from an idiosyncratic island and former colonial power off the coast of mainland Europe (The Continent - I love the absolute certainty of that phrase. Hello World, here we are!) living in the middle east, and particularly in Dubai, through a dozen years of globalisation, political, economic and military brinkmanship, alarming climatic change, increasing muslim and christian fundamentalism, and an increasingly deadly intercontinental, inter-religious, inter-cultural struggle for power, prestige, moral high ground - and survival - I have to say that my perspective has been shaped by all this - even if I don't understand it, and have no clue how we are to get out of this mess.

But I have also been shaped by exposure to the day-to-day life of people of umpteen different cultures. With what may be stereotypical English reserve, or a bad case of Roman Catholic female I'm-not-bothering-you-am-I? syndrome, I was at first overwhelmed and dogged by a sense of unworthiness at the warmth and hospitality of Arab and Iranian friends and neighbours who have almost dragged me over the threshold when I've popped round to say hi, who have brought out every sweet (My teeth! I have to develop some won't power or else stay home!), offered every kind of juice, tea and coffee, enquired after the health and well-being of every member of my family, and treated me as the most welcome and honoured friend. Wow. God bless them every one.

On the other hand, early tail-wagging eagerness to mix with neighbours and see my small son make friends first, and leave cultural analysis til he was older, was somewhat discouraged by the recognition that for many asians here I am a Brit - a non-acronym for spoilt-and-supercilious -(i.e. female)-educated-western-economic-interloper-from-former-colonial-power. It is not overt or particularly intentional, but given the racial inequities of the job market here, and the fact that for many people here the legacy of colonialism remains real, it's understandable. Plus there's the Jumeirah Jane syndrome which turns Mrs Ordinary from a small house in England into 'Madame', the bored lady of leisure, living in Jumeirah on her husband's employment package.

(Before Dubai embarked on its bigger-shinier-wackier-most exclusive development programme - who is it that they want to exclude, do you suppose? - Jumeirah was Dubai's elegant upmarket suburb - actually, its only suburb!)

Of course the JJ is a cliché and, as such, often masks culture shock, homesickness, and a feeling of purposelessness because school hours and holidays, combined with Jumeirah Jim's long hours and frequent business trips, mean that educated, sociable Mrs Ordinary can't work outside the home if she wants to look after her children, so what does she do when they're at school and JJ's at work, and how does she make friends? But she's white, has the 4x4 and the big villa, drinks latté and complains about the maid to her friends who are all manicured, pedicured and coiffed to the beautifully bronzed hilt, and I'm so jealous I could spit!!!!!!!!!!!!! Naturally, to all the under-paid, frequently over-qualified, Filipinas, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Indians providing the pedicures and serving the lattés on ten-hour shifts, being a Brit looks pretty good.

Anyway, the times they are a-changing, the buildings are going up almost as fast as the rents, and the salary+accommodation+school fees+annual flights home package will soon be history, so I guess that equality is coming because Mr and Mrs JJ can't afford to stay here much longer, so unless there's someone else out there looking for maids, pedicures and caffeine, there are going to be several agencies, salons and Starbucks franchises on the market, and several million m.sq. of valuable commercial and residential real estate available from Golden Goose Enterprises.

Enough already. As I say, JJ is a cliché, a stereotype; and stereotypes are so seductive in the short term, so dangerous in the long term.

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