116. Welcoming

As many of you know, I am a grumpy old man with an overwhelming disdain for pretty much everything.  I seem to hate whatever is popular just to be different, whether it is whatever Kardashian happens to be pregnant/married/other fairly uninteresting drama, iPads, X Factor, the list is endless.  I have never been one for New Years Eve either, I just don’t get it.  I really don’t see the need for jumping up and down screaming and being sick on your friends head for what is only a change of date.  Add to that the expense of going anywhere with no one else in it or paying to go into a fireworks display that you could see for free when standing in a nearby road and we have a mystery.

In fact I cared so little about it this year that I booked a flight that landed back in Dubai at 23:45 on NYE so I spent midnight standing in a long, smelly line at customs.  I just spent the week in Dublin with my fiancé and her family and I am pleased to report that beneath this Times New Roman facade of whinging and scorn that I am actually a happy, optimistic guy.  In only 7 days I did more walking than I had done since I last visited Dubai Mall; I saw waterfalls, woodland, dogs and my fiancé slip down a hill.  I drank Guinness that tasted correct, not like the mud that comes out of the UAE taps.  I got to wear a jacket that hid my various bulges with a cunning semblance.  I sat by a fire, read, ate, watched Downton Abbey and generally made merry.  It was a fantastic week.

You see, the Irish aren’t too different from the English, we both self deprecate, we both like a drink, we can’t be bothered to go to war, we both have governments making mind-boggling policies and so on, and that’s why I felt at home.  Despite being of Irish heritage, I was still a foreigner and yet was made to feel extraordinarily welcome.  This was none so apparent than when I arrived at Dublin Airport.

My connection from Amsterdam was with Aer Lingus, whose reputation isn’t heralded as world leading, but they cannot be knocked for friendly staff.  From check in onwards I was smiled at, communicated with and offered lots of goodies at knock down prices.  The air stewardesses were also pleasant and the pilot refused to crash the plane.  At the airport I was asked if I needed a hand carrying my jacket or my bag.  There are only a dozen or so desks at passport control and they were all filled, the man who looked at my passport gave me a smile and said “Welcome to Ireland and have a Merry Christmas my young man!” with a genuine sense of meaning.  My suitcase was the first onto the carousel and I was out of there after 12 hours of travelling.  Never have I felt so welcome at an Airport.

Then the week came and went and before I knew it I was back at the airport ready for the return flight to the UAE.  Apart from the man 2 seats across from me who insisted on chewing gum at such a volume I thought would crack the windows, I arrived back in Dubai after a decent flight.  And what a different experience it was.

SHOW ME YOUR F****** PASSPORT!  SHOW ME YOUR F****** PASSPORT!

SHOW ME YOUR F****** PASSPORT! SHOW ME YOUR F****** PASSPORT!

After stepping off the plane I was greeted by an Indian man who thought the best way of being polite was to hock up a nice ball of phlegm at a level of noise that eclipsed the chewing gum man.  I was then walking when a mother, with a pram, stopped just before the flat escalator thing for no reason causing several of us to crash into her and her young infant.  She didn’t seem to care.  There were 6-7 wailing, and I mean wailing, children who were receiving no attention at all from their confused and useless parents and there was also a curious aroma of excrement.

Finally I entered the customs hall, passport control if you will, and noticed straight away that it would take some calculating…45 passport checking desks, 6 passport checkers and 4000 tired air passengers.  As luck would have it, a Filipino man signaled to me to head down one aisle that would see me to the front, I obliged and a queue promptly formed behind me.  By this time all the 6 customs desk men had full queues, and still there were 1000’s of people waiting.  There was, however, one flaw.  The desk at the front of my queue was vacant.  I had been sold a lemon; I was at the front of a queue that was queuing for nothing.

After 10 minutes my patience began to wear thin, so I decided it best to leave and go and join the back of another line.  I can’t tell you how bad it was because some people would be on the forums dragging my name through the mud quicker than a Guardian reader at a British National Party conference.  It was horrific, but at least it would move.

And move it did; at about the same speed as the American continent moves away from Africa each millennium.  Our passport checker was a man whose build suggested that he liked eating both lard and babies and whose last exercise was when he went to the toilet; in 1997.  How hard can it be to flick the visa page under the barcode scanner, stamp it, make sure the picture matches the face and say “welcome.” Really, every single person before me was treated like filth – they were from “lesser” countries according to the man – and then there was me.  I wasn’t even provided with eye contact, to say nothing about a simple one-word greeting.

Once it was confirmed that I wasn’t a Taliban commando my hand luggage was x-rayed for bombs.  I then went to collect my suitcase that still, even after having queued up at passport control for 45 minutes, hadn’t arrived; no ones had.  After another 15 minutes I was bagged up so made for the exit.  After walking through the “nothing to declare” gate I was again ordered to have my possessions x-rayed for bombs and firearms.  Thankfully in the 15 minutes since I last had it done no contraband had materialised.  I found a taxi driver who was reluctant to drive me home and that was it, 2013 had begun.

Ireland enjoyed a boom in the latter half of the 20th Century and its people were able to enjoy themselves.  But along with the rest of Europe it’s going through a rocky patch at the moment.  Everyone is leaving to work abroad, there aren’t many jobs and the cost of living gets higher each day.  Yet still through all this they smile, they welcome you, they are grateful for your visit.  They’ll buy you a drink or 10 and to hell with the hangover.  The UAE has much to learn.  If you treat people like everyone in the airport last night then don’t expect them to come back when you need them and their tourism money.

It all went to prove that I am not a grumpy old man consumed by hate, but that my grievances are indeed valid.  This year is the year of The Gathering in Ireland, a call for people to visit the emerald isle for a holiday and boost its income.  For your vacation this year may I suggest Dublin, not Dubai?  Take your holiday dollars to a country that would welcome them and I promise that you will have a superb time, meet some great people and be treated well.

The experience of returning to the emirates had, for the first time in 10 years, made me wish that I was at a New Years Eve party instead…and that is really saying something…

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