Category Archives: Lost in translation

159. Names

Once upon a time, before microwave meals, “reality” TV, and iPhones, we used to identify each other with our noses. Much like dogs, we knew who the other guy was by having a good sniff. Of course when the population began to increase, it became harder and harder to differentiate one odour from another. One day, a man known as “Smells-like-athletes-foot” stood up and said that he would henceforth be known as Steve. And so the name was born.

Soon enough monikers became all the rage. Before too long there were magic books full of characters, all with different names. It was probably the single greatest invention in the entire history of the human race. No longer did our forebears have to refer to each other with grunts or with mad adjectives, no, now they had a one-stop calling card.

The most common name in the world today is Mohammed. But this is exaggerated since there are several permutations; Muhammed, Muhammad, Mohamed, Muhamad, and so on. This is mainly down to Anglicisation, since the name is the same in Arabic. But it can cause confusion, however.

The typical Arabic male name is one of only about 15-20 possibilities in the UAE; Mohammed, Khaled, Saif, Saeed, Khalifa, Zayed, Ali, Ahmed, Saud, Mubarak, Hamdan, Hamad…you know. Further, there are only a few different family names, too. This can make things very tricky.

In my normal day job, I have to deal with lots of customers. It is common for groups of young men to turn up, and in such a case I need to work out who is who. “Mohammed Al Baloushi” I say. As it turns out, in a group of seven of then, four will have the same name. We then have to pick though the ID cards to try and unravel the mystery; it can be a nightmare.

But here’s the thing; it doesn’t bother me at all. I think that only having a small selection of traditional names is brilliant. It maintains identity, tradition; something that a lot of Westerners have forgotten. As an added bonus, it also cuts out a large chunk of bullying material. No, really. Think back to school, 75% of all bullying is having your name rhymed with something derogatory; Fartin’ Martin, for example. If you tried that with the Arabic names you’d end up insulting at least two or three other family members, or even yourself. This would render the exercise pointless.

Where we come from though, names evolve with time. They are treated as fashion accessories. For example, nothing dictates a new wave of name popularity quite like a royal birth. In the 1940’s, Charles was very popular amongst Brits, so too was Anne in the 1950’s. When William was born in 1982, so to was one out of every five boys for the following year.

She smelled like the cafeteria, so I named her "Burger, hold the gherkins, fries, ketchup, but no mayo. Maybe a little mayo". Isn't she adorable?

She smelled like the cafeteria, so I named her “Burger, hold the gherkins, fries, ketchup, but no mayo. Maybe a little mayo”. Isn’t she adorable?

The problem is that we are all so mad when it comes to names. The Beckham family didn’t help; Brooklyn? Romeo? Cruz? Harper? Then what about Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow; Apple?! Michael Jackson called his son Prince Michael II, aka Blanket. Are they all barking mad? Does having lots of money give you the right to name your spawn after what you see in a Bed, Bath, & Beyond catalogue?

We absorb the celebrity world like a sponge and all of a sudden we find ourselves living in a world where for name inspiration we simply look through the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, or the ethnic food section in the supermarket.

Before you know it you’re spooling through the voters register in the town hall and you’re drowning in a world of Ear Bud’s, Venus’s, Pepto-Bismol’s, and Rogan Josh’s. This pandemic has hit breaking point in recent years. It is all so hateful.

I yearn for a world where we can have freedom and where we are left alone, but I want a world where names make sense, and where I don’t have to vomit every time I do a friend search on Facebook. The UAE has it under control. A list of a dozen or so traditional Arabic names gives the country credibility. Ok, it makes calling a register a living nightmare, as I’m sure it would at passport control, or in a police station. But at least they will never be bullied because of their name.

North West?! For God’s sake, Kim. It would have been kinder to have named her after something you smelled in the hospital.

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146. Language

Beef-witted zaftys'

Beef-witted zaftys’

I am deeply fond of the English language. Out of all the languages in the world it is the one I speak, like, the most bestest. The English language has endured for millennia and one principle reason why is that it has evolved with its users. As man has grown and developed, his discourse has shadowed every move.

I studied English language at college and it really is fascinating. Even the most TOWIE of modern society can indentify differences between the 1950’s and today. During the war, when a Dambuster successfully busted a dam with one of his bombs, he would shout “wizard!” in exultation. Today, the same man would shout “f*****g ‘av it!” The dynamic of our language has changed, and that is one reason it is still globally dominant, and why French is not. French is a closed shop and as such in 200 years time may not be spoken at all, like Latin. English grows with each generation.

I like to use archaic words in speech because I find them amusing. A friend and I recently had an entire conversation using a selection of words that have not been used since the Victorian era; lunting, groak, resistentialism, queerplunger. What fabulous words. Then there are contemporary words that I don’t approve of, especially when their context has been misappropriated; bear safe, as in bear safe. Fat, as in it is good or it is bad depending on your levels of telepathy and blood-cannabis ratio. Allow, as in yes, I approve or sorry, I do not agree. I can’t make head nor hide of it.

Then, of course, there are those who use the wrong words at the wrong time. Nothing gets under my skin more than someone who says that something is “well good” when really it should be “very good” or “really good.” Then there are those who don’t understand the meaning of “them” and say “put them ones in that bag” as the word “those” is sent marching with its bindle. “That” and “which” are frequently swapped around and then there is the incessant and un-necessary overuse of the word “like” at seemingly random intervals. “D’ya know what I mean?” no, moron, I really don’t.

I do not approve of poor syntax and I fight it wherever I find it, normally by throwing knives and sachets of polonium. My case is that if you go ahead and speak to someone from the Indian sub-continent by saying “Hiya, when you finished, put them things in that bag you got. Sweet, cheers m’ dears” then they will adopt similar prose before too long. This will cause a great deal of confusion, especially if I speak to them afterwards and invite them for a spot of lunting.

Herein lies the problem, as English is an ever-evolving animal, it makes it well tough for those wishing to learn it. The problem is no more noticeable than here in the UAE. As we come from all over the world, there are many different English dialects circulating and those whose mother tongue is not English must be scratching their heads and wondering who’s in charge.

Things like spelling, punctuation and grammar no longer seem to matter. There are errors all over the place. No, really, how can that be? There are enough English speaking residents in the UAE to assist with the governance of the language. I’m sure there are Arabic errors, too, but every day when I drive past the “English Spaking School” I feel as if I should crash my car into the sign on purpose to protect the masses. People will see it and think that’s it ok, no more so than the children. And that is not fair.

Of course, miscommunication happens everywhere, it is only natural, but somehow it feels as if the UAE suffers more than most. And it can’t all be pinned on racial classification or stereotype, either. No, if I ring my female staff’s landlord then I know straight away that I am going to have to tone it all down. If I called him and spoke properly, as I would to you, then he would most likely catch fire. “Good morning, Mr. Farook. Now, the family of rats that have moved in with the girls are starting to use an awful lot of hot water. The problems I have with this are two-fold; firstly, the disease in which they bring with them is causing my staff to die. Secondly, words cannot express how unhygienic this is, I mean do they have to share the same bathroom?” He would have exploded by the time I had said his name.

What I have to say instead is “Hello, Mr. Farook. Is Mr. Marty, yes, Marty? Ok, there is rats inside this one. You will make gone?” He will understand and execute. So in order to achieve my goal I have to sell out and modify my English to suit his level. Oh it’s not his fault, I could learn Urdu or whatever the hell he speaks, but there’s no time.

But I can’t speak to the CEO of Mubadala like that; I’d be dropped into the shark tank. I would again have to modify my speech to suit the person to whom I am speaking with. It’s a nightmare. You are therefore forced to judge everyone you meet within a nanosecond and resultantly speak to them in a pre-determined style, whether that is like a pigeon or the Queen.

Nothing can halt this phenomena, it is just another stage in the evolution of the English language. And, if I’m honest, I am quite willing to embrace it. I would far rather speak in pigeon English than speak like a pigeon brained TOWIE cast member. Totes? What the hell is that? But, let it be known that despite my willing embrace, I am far happier being a spermologer who’s tyromancy is as Englishable as the snoutfair that I am.

If English isn’t allowed to grow the result would be catastrophic; it’d go the way of Latin, or worse still, French.

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136. Generalisation

UAE Uncut has failed. Today is the 25th February and marks not one, but two anniversaries. The first commemorates my being here for five years. The second, and far more important anniversary, marks the first birthday of this esteemed corner of cyber space. Yep, UAE Uncut is one year old today and over the last twelve months I have come before you and moaned, kicked and screamed 135 times about the most frivolous of subjects. That works out to one inane rant every three days.

So what have I learned in this time? Nothing, apart from what a Meta tag is, and I’m still a bit shady on that. What have I given you over the last year? A laugh from time to time, but where is the advice that I promised? Where is the help that I pledged? Going back through my earlier missives there were shreds of useful information lightly sprinkled around mad anecdotes and OCD infringements, but that petered out long ago. So the opening statement is accurate, then: UAE Uncut is a failure. Or is it?

A new opinion dictates that people don’t need help or advice, especially from some two-bob writer with a personality complex. For such things they ask those around them; friends, colleagues, strangers on facebook and so on. No blog can help with this. What people really need is a laugh. They need to let off some steam about all the trials and tribulations that come with living abroad. All the nuances that are different from home, all the idiocy, all the crap. If you cannot laugh off the bullshit, what can you do?

Of course, sometimes the requisite need for a laugh can be called into question. Sometimes you meet someone who makes you angry. Sometimes you may be made to feel pretty bad about yourself. Sometimes you can end up hating an entire country just because of one stupid, narrow-minded ignoramus.

The UAE is a cosmopolitan blah blah blah multicultural cliché etc so on and so forth place. There is no country across the world, apart from Israel, that is not represented here. I scoff at those who want to go off travelling the world to “meet new people” and to “understand other cultures.” Yes it all sounds jolly exciting, but why bother? Why waste the money and the time? Just come to the UAE and you will meet the very people you seek all under one roof and be done with it. We have all the continental foods like sushi and steaks; we have British pubs and even an Alp. We have it all. That’s the UAE, it is like instant coffee, just add water.

Forget raw fish and pretend skiing, when travelling you want to meet people. Meeting new people can be refreshing and painstaking in equal measures. If you still have your heart set on going travelling, then at least use the UAE constructively. Talk to those from foreign lands and soon enough you will work out who you do and do not like. Before too long you will have struck certain countries from your expedia list.

Allow me to introduce my new Head of Diplomatic Relations...Mr. Mart...

Allow me to introduce my new Head of Diplomatic Relations…Mr. Mart…

This week I made a decision that I would never, ever go to work or live in a certain country that resides somewhere in the northern hemisphere. I won’t reveal this nations identity because my readership levels are dwindling and I need the hits from their public. It was a bold pronouncement, even perhaps a knee-jerk overreaction, but what pushed me into making it?

I do not particularly enjoy confrontation. I like to get along with people, to please people and to have an easy life. I carry buckets of anxiety around with me already so I don’t go looking for any more. I do not like arguments but boy, when pushed, can I argue. This week I had the pleasure of engaging in one such debate with someone from the aforementioned undisclosed, “civilised” country. Never have I experienced such irrational behaviour in all my life. No, really. I have seen a lot and done even more but this was something else. My comments in the immediate aftermath of the confrontation were crass, and I doubt that Ban Ki Moon will be on the phone offering me a role as his diplomatic adviser any time soon. I retracted my sentiments but retained that I would never be going there.

My opponent, in their late thirties or early forties could not be reasoned with, at all. It was like talking to a stubborn child who was throwing the mother of all tantrums. What the argument was about is irrelevant, but during the discourse I was accused of being “British”, apparently the most heinous of crimes. I was also informed that I was an “idiot” and that my parents had done a poor job. Oh how I couldn’t wait to share the good news with my fiancé that she is marrying a muttonhead.

The problem is that when you are dealing with a grown up who possesses a child’s mindset you are sucked into the game all too easily. You end up having to resort to hair pulling and name calling and before too long you’re off to tell the teacher. The experience put me in not so much a bad mood, but a totally bemused one. I mean, sticks and stone may break my bones and all that, but thank God I will never be that portly. Nor will I ever be that thick. I can’t be; I have an IQ of 138, according to that Facebook game.

I calmed an hour or so later and during my traditional Saturday night pub visit came to the conclusion that I would opt never to live or work in the country from which this person heralded. I couldn’t deal with that on a regular basis. And that is a shame, because it is a beautiful country and I have several friends who hail from there. In fact, all of them are all so pleasant and friendly that I find myself saddened that I have let one person jade my perception of an entire nation. I am going to need convincing otherwise.

I guess that is the moral of the story, you will meet a lot of people from a lot of countries in the UAE and inevitably some of them will be real nasty pieces of work. So don’t tar everyone with the same brush. If you meet an a*hole then you have met an a*hole, it doesn’t mean they paint a true picture. Don’t generalise.

Hey look at that, a bit of advice. There is hope for UAE Uncut after all.

Oh and finally, to my new friend…you smell.

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130. Prison Swap

I like Star Trek. There, I said it and I am not ashamed. Ask me who I think was better; Kirk or Picard and I say Kirk, obviously. Why? He was a renegade in his own right and sometimes bent the rules for the greater good and would never give it a second thought. Picard would always need time to mull over any potential regulation violation, and then call a meeting between a Klingon, an Android, a mad telepathic woman with no military experience and a man with a beard. Kirk did not give a damn; he would jump in without looking and always emerge unscathed, apart from at the end of Generations, when he died.

Stardate; 1302.14. We have stumbled across a strange planet, unlike any other. Their attempts at unity always seem to end in financial ruin...

Stardate; 1302.14. We have stumbled across a strange planet, unlike any other. Their attempts at unity always seem to end in financial ruin…

One of the key themes of the Star Trek franchise was the so called Prime Directive; an instruction that foreign worlds were not to be tampered with in any way. So when the USS Enterprise found a new planet, the crew checked to see what the life down there was doing. If they were cave dwelling Neanderthals who only ate moss yet coincidentally also spoke English then the Enterprise crew were not allowed to give them weapons, food, books or whatever else could potentially contaminate their natural evolution. Kirk, in his brash way, screwed up on multiple occasions. He tried to help rectify the problems on the Gangster planet and failed, he tried to fix the issues on the Nazi planet, and failed, and he brokered a massive arms deal so that a load of blonde-haired cavemen could kill all the brown-haired cavemen. Then there was the famous episode, Wolf in the fold, where he and Mr. Spock repeatedly tried to undermine the Egyptian-based hedonist world’s judicial system. They were right in the end, but that’s not the point.

Kirk violated the Prime Directive on so many occasions that it was not even noted as being unusual. He had to, if he had just orbited a planet and not interacted then each episode would have only been five minutes long. The one time Picard did it we ended up with a God-awful motion picture called Insurrection. Still, whichever crew of the USS Enterprise were exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life forms, they all had to play ball with the planets own law. The same is true on a sub-planetary scale; take Earth for example, the most famous life-bearing planet of them all.

Unlike every planet ever encountered in Star Trek when the planet is a united country with one law for the whole world, Earth is broken down into 197 different countries. More if you include land disputes… Anyway, each one of these countries has its own rule book on how things should be run. In some cases this is based upon religious texts, in others a business model and then there are those ruled by a madman in a volcano lair. There are general trends; things like murder and grand larceny are generally illegal in most, if not all countries. But there are many hundreds, if not thousands of country-specific laws that are confined within their own borders.

Unless you have been living in a cave this week you may have heard that a prisoner swap deal has been brokered between the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. British citizens who are being detained here will be allowed to serve the rest of their sentence back home in Blighty. Conversely, those Emiratis who are doing porridge on Her Majesty’s pleasure will be allowed to serve the time back here. The only clause is that the crime must be illegal in both countries. Writing a rubber cheque, for example, will put you on death row over here whereas in the UK Mr. Mervyn King, chief of the Bank of England, rubs his hands together with glee and says “thank you.”

One of my close friends from back home is a defence lawyer who I know has had to try and find every conceivable technicality to get a defendant off the hook. Being a professional he cannot divulge the details but we all know how hard it is. The British judicial system is a bit of a running joke. All the red tape, the technicalities, the EU influences and so on makes it jolly difficult to send people to our already overcrowded prisons. Unless someone is proven guilty of murder or tax evasion then usually they are given a suspended sentence, which translates into “promise you’ll be good next time.” If they are inside then rest assured the Playstation, the 54inch plasma TV, the roast pheasant dinner and the shares in Microsoft will make the time fly by.

The judicial system in the UAE is slightly different. If the judge thinks you have shifty eyes and look like the type of person to have done it then you are sent to a shared cell, the horrors of which I could not bear to imagine. According to an obviously dated set of meaningless statistics, there are around 200 Britons in correctional facilities across the UAE. Mainly they are in there for alcohol related offences, like being drunk in public, ess eee ex outside of wedlock in a public place or writing cheques with the same characteristics as an Olympic trampoline.

Here, if you are caught drunk and disorderly then it is three months inside followed by deportation. In the UK we would not fill our prisons with people for such “offences.” If you are caught drunk and disorderly wandering the streets of Clapham then yes, you could spend a night in the cells. But you will be out in the morning after receiving a slap on the wrist and the promise not to be naughty again. This is still technically a crime in the UK but the punishment will be, at most, a fine. So after England win the Six Nations, and you take your celebrations a bit too far, the UAE will give you a free flight home. At Heathrow Plod will charge you £50 and that’s it. Huh?

Looking at it from the other end, it is common in the UAE for Emiratis to be granted pardons and freed, depending on their crime. If Britain sentenced a man to five years for tax evasion and financial irregularities, then he would be freed here instantly. The whole thing is mind boggling. I mean it is good news for Britons who can serve the rest of their sentence with an X-Box in Wormwood Centre Parcs, but for the integrity of the law? How many dangerous precedents will this set? This is riddled with loopholes big enough to allow the USS Enterprise to fly through.

I do not have a problem with the attempt at unity. Strong, healthy ties between the UK and the UAE are valuable. It is quite nice that we want to be friends and that we can put the whole empire business behind us. But I just worry that every single time any countries join together it always ends in disaster. Like the Euro.

The whole thing feels like, on some level, that Kirk is to blame. Someone has interfered here, violated the Prime Directive and left the entire concept open to abuse. We would have been better off waiting the extra 100 years or so for Picard to arrive. He would not have been so hasty.

This bold initiative is indeed where no man has gone before…

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124. Customer Service

In life there are certain expectations that we have. We expect things to work, like when we buy a car. Once the dealer has handed you over the keys to your shiny new Kia Sportage you expect it to start, drive and stop. You would want an explanation if you turned the key and it exploded instead. We also expect the waiter to get our order right. If you have ordered a pint of Carlsberg, how furious would you be if your attendant brought you a pint of disgusting Fosters by mistake?

Then of course we expect people to behave in certain ways. If we have a complaint, we want to be heard, if we are at the checkout paying for our weekly groceries then we expect the cashier to take our money with a smile and if we get into a taxi we expect not to be killed. But, time and time again in the UAE we are faced with situations when customer service is treated in the same regard as Jimmy Savilles’ legacy.

It was commented on this week by a man with an important face that poor customer service is “costing the UAE millions of dirhams each year.” An interesting statement, which is backed up by his following sentence “but we can’t put a figure on it.” How do you measure bad customer service and how on Earth could it ever be turned into a set of statistics? Customer service is important, that is unquestionable. But I don’t see how the economy can be affected to such a level. If you went to a hotel and the concierge spat on your wife and then stole your suitcase, you would pin it down as a bad customer service experience. You would then go to another hotel and spend similar money on another room. No one cares about the individual business.

When I get home from work late every night, it is not unusual for me to be hungry. If there is nothing in the freezer then I will dig out the phone and turn to the local takeaway place. It is dreadful. The food, more often than not, is still wriggling in the bread, the mayonnaise has a most suspicious texture and if you listen carefully you can hear the jumbo shrimps barking. Then, of course, is the charming man on the phone. Never have you spoken to such a rude, useless and unprofessional imbecile. I am not making this up, and if you live in the Al Muwaiji part of Al Ain you will know the place I am talking about. He starts by answering the phone with “What?” Then he proceeds to be silent until one of us dies and not once have I ever been able to finish my request without him slamming the phone down on me. Remarkably, time and time again I still use this Hell hole for late night sustenance.

A Deluxe King room please.

A Deluxe King room please.

I have stayed in many hotels and also met some grumpy-bums there, too. There is one hotel in Abu Dhabi where upon checking in I was told that my attire was unacceptable and that Star Trek tee shirts are not considered proper for such establishments. Was I put out by this? Yes, I like Star Trek and wanted to show it to the world. But was I thinking how bad the hotel was? No, it is a 5-star, spared no expense, wonder haven and obviously does very well for itself. All I had done was accidentally offend someone who didn’t like Captain Kirk very much. I just accepted that the poor man was in a bad mood and it didn’t change my impression of the hotel.

In many cases, the service industry employees are forced to smile and be amazing all the time and in theory that isn’t too hard. But look at the reality, if someone is working in a crowded bar six nights a week with a live band that play to such deafening levels that your eardrums have been turned into a fine dust, and you live with three other workmates in the same room, and on top of that you are thousands of miles from your family then I guess you are going to have the occasional mood swing. I get that so I am sure never to judge an establishment by just one or two staff members. They are people too, and if they have just been yelled at by their boss for no reason, or they have been told that Captain Picard was better than Captain Kirk, then I will grant them some space.

If, however, after 18 months and the man in the local takeaway is still answering the phone with all the enthusiasm of a bored Nun and treating you with about as much respect as a 70’s BBC presenter, then perhaps you should find somewhere else to eat late at night.

And if nowhere else is open, go hungry and prove the man with the important face right.

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122. Contradiction

As you may recall, back in November I went to the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix at Yas Marina; an event that flows as smoothly as its full aforementioned name. Forget the fact that I am an oil-blooded petrol head who has not missed a single Formula 1 Grand Prix in 16 years, my blog focussed more on what the people watching on television would have seen.

If you can think back that far, I passed note that the way people dress and behave at the event leaves those watching at home scratching their heads and asking their wives “but I thought you weren’t allowed to do that over there.” It is understandable, then, that discussions about the UAE and its cultural practices invariably lead to much fist thumping and “I told you so” chatter at the typical British bar. What are the rules? Are you allowed to roam the streets naked or not?

Of course, any country which is centre stage for a world-wide televised event will make an effort to dress itself up and give the impression that it is something else. Take for example the London Olympics last year. My staff at work were watching the opening ceremony and soon bombarded me with questions about the grand old city. They were all in awe of the magnificent spectacle and for the first time had actually seen what London looked like.

Being the dream-smashing realist that I am, they were soon reduced to tears when I told them that London was nothing like what they saw on the box. No, fireworks don’t go off every night; it’s not all clean gutters and freshly painted road markings. There are places like Streatham, Crystal Palace and Hackney. London is as dirty and as grimey as any other city in the world. Stratford, I said, which is where the main Olympic complex was, was the seventh circle of Hell only eight years ago. Under-developed, laden with abandoned warehouses and full to overflowing with narcotics paraphernalia and dead gangsters.

Then there were the people. My men saw all the pretty girls wearing athletics costumes, all the strapping young men in shell-suits and the old athletic legends lighting torches and driving speedboats. When the camera’s zoomed in on the crowds in the grandstand, only the prettiest and most chisel-jawed would suffice. Where were all the obese people? Where were the toothless paupers? These people exist and are as much a part of Britain as the Queen. No, my staff were convinced that this is what London is all the time; beauty, glamour and fireworks.

"Yeah, like, I couldn't find Spot the dog. But like, when I turned it the other way he was, like totes there!"

“Yeah, like, I couldn’t find Spot the dog. But like, when I turned it the other way he was, like, totes there!”

So, those of you back home, I have a question: what do you think the UAE is like? Well, to answer the question I want you to type “The Only Way Is Essex Cast Members In Dubai” into Google and tell me what comes up. Done it? Right. The most recent case of false advertising was only last week. Some air-headed, inflatable Z-lister called Amy Childs was staying at a hotel in Dubai. The same one, it turns out, that I got engaged in. There she is poolside, drink in hand, with her fake-tanned, drawn-on-muscled Ken-doll non-husband of a man. As luck would have it, a professional photographer happened to be passing by so of course a quick photo-shoot was commissioned.

There was Miss. Childs, wearing two pieces of strategically placed string to cover her modesty whilst Ken kissed various parts of her on the sun-lounger. Then, in an effort to dupe us as to her intellect, Miss. Childs was snapped reading a book by the pool bar. The keen-eyed may have noticed that the book was actually upside down. But luckily she was still able to “Spot” the dog. So, in the national UK press we were provided with a full-page spread of an unmarried couple drinking, kissing and canoodling and demonstrating no respect for the local laws.

This happens a lot. Footballers, Reality TV people (I refuse to say “stars”), pop stars, Lewis Hamilton’s…it seems that Dubai is a place where the wealthy can come and strip off and do as they please. How nice it must be to be above the law.

Conversely, last month an Irish welder and a British recruitment officer were sentenced to three months in prison for allegedly having sex in the back of a Dubai taxi. The story has been “well” documented in the British media and indeed over here too. But there are serious flaws with the case. I’ve written about this before also, but a Police-approved medical expert confirmed that there was no sign of intercourse having taken place. Furthermore, the taxi driver was a charlatan and has changed his story thrice, and not once has it matched the details given by the arresting officer who attended the scene.

No, according to the defence, the taxi driver detoured in an effort to make more money. The Irish welder, smart to his antics, spoke up and told the driver that he wouldn’t be paying the extra money. Because the expats had however been consuming alcohol they were an easy target. His false testimony, together with the mismatched story from the officer has landed a potentially innocent couple in prison. They are charged with consuming alcohol, public indecency and sex outside of marriage. They are currently appealing and I hope, for their sake and the reputation of the UAE, that true justice is served.

This, then, a case of words against words with no video or photographic proof either way is in direct contrast to the tabloid-documented display of Miss. Amy Childs and her terracotta, pencil outlined Ken-doll. In The Daily Mail, the story of the arrested couple and the Childs “photo-shoot” appeared three pages apart, so really, what do you make of the UAE?

Some people won’t come here because they are afraid of having their collars felt for eating a Twix on the Metro, but others can’t wait to get on the next flight over because they think they’ll bump into Kim Kardashian getting frisky on the beach. That’s why people argue about what this place is really like, no one knows for sure, not even the people that live here.

So, in conclusion, the UAE is kind of what you make it. You can do whatever you like so long as you pretend to be wealthy, pretend to have no talent and hire a photographer to follow you around all week. You will, apart from a few brain-dead zealots looking for autographs because they’ve mistaken you for the guy who voices The Bachelor, be left alone. If, however, you want to be a normal person who earns a modest wage and can’t afford an entourage or 20 gallons of orange body paint then you should really watch your back and always be sure to carry extra money for the cheating taxi driver.

Surviving is purely a game of percentages…

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121. Waiters II

There are many, many things in this world that get on our nerves. Take a look at Not-So-Great Britain; VAT hit 20% a few years ago and fuel duty is so high that it would be more economical for each of us to go out and buy our own Concorde. Those of a smoking disposition are now forced out into the cold if they want to enjoy a smooth Marlboro, raising the question of whether the NHS is better prepared to deal with lung cancer or hyperthermia. People’s kitchens are full of different sized bins, each designed to deal with a different form of waste, God forbid should you drop a copy of the Guardian into the food scraps canister.

Of course, here in the UAE there are also many other things that get on our nerves. From the group of men who are working in my underground car park with their curious shouting habits to the fact that if I want to walk to a bar I need to allow a week. Land Cruisers, alcohol licenses, tourism fees, it’s these little nuisances that are indeed the backbone of life. It is easy to get wrapped up in all the big talking points that shape a country, but usually it’s the compilation of the small things that grate the most.

I am, by nature, a helpful person. I am conscientious to others and the job that they do. I insist on giving people as much information and help as I can in order to make their lives as easy as possible. If, for example, I have a leak in my kitchen, before calling the plumber and simply telling him I am knee-deep in dirty dish water I will investigate. Once I have all the details I will then call the plumber and tell him exactly what is needed. It suits both of us and the job can be done efficiently.

Should people not want my assistance in making their lives easier then that’s fine, but I must point out that I am smarter than they are and that they should think again. This brings me onto the point of today’s moaning; waiters. Again.

I have been accused by many people about ruining their lives by pointing out things that they hadn’t previously noticed, and as such now sends their OCD into overdrive. So, in keeping with tradition, here we go again. How annoying is it when waiters and waitresses insist on rearranging your table? I cannot stand it, it is one of my chief gripes and one that grates on me to such extremes that I worry that one day I will actually catch fire.

The routine normally goes thus: when you sit down at a table in a café, you are asked how many people are in your party. Normally there are two of us and we sit at a table which could accommodate four. The surplus crockery and cutlery are removed. Then, for no reason, the attendant will move the sugar bowl, napkins and condiments to one side of the table. Why? Now they’re just further away from me.

Naturally, coffees are ordered first and subsequently will arrive first. There are two cups, two saucers, two coffee pots, two jugs of cold milk, two plates of mini cakes and two teaspoons. It’s all too excessive, why can we simply not have a pot of coffee between us, and how much milk do you think we need? Anyway, the point is all this coffee paraphernalia takes up so much space that it means that when the food arrives there will be no space.

Being the helpful, conscientious person that I am, I strategically get the table in order. I know there are two plates coming, so all the coffee making equipment must be sidelined. I empty the coffee from one pot into another, as with the milk. The two plates that arrived with cakes on them are stacked atop each other. The empty coffee pot and empty milk vessel go on the two plates and space is again plentiful.

But no; my efforts, it always seems, are futile. The waiter turns up early with a basket of bread and a further two plates. They are put down and then aligned with the position of the moon. He leaves and returns instantly with some butter and jam and spends close to 30 minutes making sure that they are in the stupidest place possible. I want to reach over for the balsamic vinegar and oil but his arm is still in the way.

Hmm...eggs are a little off today.

Hmm…hollandaise sauce is a little off today.

After the personal space invasion is completed I attempt to eat the bread knowing that I surely have some time to make space for the main course. But I am usually thwarted as my eggs Benedict arrives within seconds. The surprise attack means that the table is not ready, with the small bread plate in my place occupying the landing strip for my hollandaise sauce.

The waiter then takes control of the situation as all I can do is sit there getting annoyed watching the faffing and incompetence unfold before my very eyes. Things are picked up and moved to the other side of the table for seemingly no reason. The bread plate remains in the middle and the poached eggs are put off to one side. “Sir, are you finished with this one?” says the man pointing to the empty coffee pot and milk vessel stacked on top of the two small plates. What do you think, honestly, mate?

Once he gets around to actually putting my breakfast in front of me, and then when he has finished rotating the plate so that the turkey bacon points north-north-west at bearing 72 mark IV degrees, my yolks have gone solid, my mushrooms have walked off and my hollandaise sauce has the viscosity of tar. The final straw is when I am instructed, seemingly against my will, to “Bon appetite” before I begin navigating my way around the perplexing smorgasbord.

Why do they all do this? Why does every waiter and waitress in all UAE café’s insist on rearranging everything for absolutely no reason at all? All it takes is a little thought. If two people want an Americano then they won’t mind sharing a pot. Put the tea cakes on the saucer and dispense with the surplus plate. One jug of milk will do, too. Bring the bread early so that it can be completely removed when the main event arrives. When you do deliver the main order just put it on the table. It really, really, doesn’t matter where the tomatoes are facing. Alternatively, ask your manager to buy bigger tables.

Generally the experience leaves me very annoyed, but I guess that if you want to avoid 20% VAT, high fuel duty, environmental Nazis and the Guardian, then it’s a small price to pay.

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120. Magazines

So, with Chairman Mao in at number 2, let's find out who tops our list of The 100 Greatest Tyrants...

So, with Chairman Mao in at number 2, let’s find out who tops our list of The 100 Greatest Tyrants…

Before I was old enough to legally get into pubs and nightclubs my weekend nights generally revolved around the television set. After The Simpsons, Father Ted, 999, Strange But True and of course, You’ve Been Framed, there would be the customary Channel 4 program presented by someone like Jimmy Carr with the not-so-mysterious prefix of The top 100… It could, and generally would, be an hour filler of non-stop, useless crap. The top 100 comedy shows, the top 100 comedy show stars, the top 100 comedy show moments, the top 100 comedy show bloopers, the top 100 comedy show credit reels, the top 100 comedy show kitchen sets and so on.

The question is; how valid was each list? Who decided that Only Fools and Horses could in some way be better than Dad’s Army? They’re both brilliant and I could never choose between the two, nor can I think of a situation where I would ever have to. If my future wife was kidnapped, I don’t think her captor would want to know who I thought was the better spiv; Del Boy or Private Walker. He’d make me do something else far more sinister.

The shows would have a collection of people who, according to the dictionary definition of the word, were “celebrities”, in the sense that they had appeared on TV by some means. They were people who only ever played minor support roles, game show panellists, ex-Big Brother contestants and so on. There was no one even remotely worthy of telling me who the best actor of all time could be.

Out of all the Middle Eastern countries, the UAE is the one that has caught Westernisation more so than anyone else. This inevitably means that the culture over here hasn’t just adopted McDonalds, Starbucks and high cholesterol; it too has adopted the pointless and meaningless methods of dictation of our interests and our insatiable need to list things by order of preference.

Now, you and I are smart people, we don’t concede to the likes of The Only Way Is Herpes, America’s Dumbest Criminals or any party political broadcast, we don’t need to be told. We already have a favourite film, a favourite car, a favourite eye-liner and a favourite dog, so why do certain mediums insist on providing us with meaningless lists on such a regular basis?

My fiancé is forever leaving trashy magazines lying around in an attempt, I think, to make me gay. However, since I do the bulk of my reading online I do like to take some reading material into the bathroom each morning…if you know what I mean. So, as I’m sitting there in the bathroom I spool through the latest copy of Ahlan! and – through all the images of scantily-clad women that I assumed were banned in UAE – there is always a list that, as far as I can tell, has absolutely no meaning or relevance whatsoever and has been as well thought out as the Euro.

Recently, in an unnamed publication, I read a list about the top 200 people in the world. Stop right there, “journalists”, how in the name of all that is holy can a list dictate the top 200 people in the world, and by what possible measure? Surely opinion would differ person to person and country to country. Osama Bin Laden was very popular in some quarters, but despised in others. Some people even voted for Tony Blair, so that proves straight away that we don’t all think alike.

Anyway, this list that I came across – complete with glossy pictures and witless captions – gave us some interesting results. Clearly, the writers wanted to make sure that they were covering every angle, so it kind of made no sense at all. Just scraping in at 200 was Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and moody bastard who invented Facebook and Oprah Winfrey came home 197th. Curiously, in 185th was Hans Solo. Nicholas Sarkozy was in 174th right behind Mr. UK himself; Alex Salmond. The Queen was 161st and my personal favourite, Ai-Jen Poo, was placed 157th.

The top 100 made for even more entertaining reading, Kim Jong-Un just making the cut. He won’t be pleased though because in at 97th place was Ayatollah Khameni (Barack Obama was 143rd). Somehow, Ellen DeGeneres was 48th with Hilary Clinton 34th, narrowly beating George Clooney. Usain Bolt came in 20th, no fancy dancing this time, mate, and staggeringly Alec Baldwin was 11th.

Then we came to the top 10, and in descending numerical order – and this is not made up – we had at 10th Vidya Balan, Bashar Assad, Aziz Ansari, Anonymous (yes, 7th actually says this), Jose Andres, Marc Andreessen, Ai Wei Wei, Sheldon Adelson, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil and at number one: Adele, the singer.

I am not making any of this up and I want you to tell me honestly, how many of the names in the top 10 do you actually recognise? Furthermore, how inappropriate do you think it is to have the current Syrian ruler appear at number nine? And I’m certain that Ai Wei Wei is a made up name. I have no problems with Adele; the plucky singer is very talented. But by what possible measure can she top a list of the world’s greatest people?

UAE magazines are generally good, so long as they have experienced professionals running them and writing for them. Some of the car magazines for example over here are just franchises of US and UK publications and as such are super reads. But the trashy, glossy, Kardashian-happy guff that forever lists the most inane of things is truly mind-blowing. All the glossy tabloid nonsense will only dumb down a generation, just like reality TV has done. There is nothing real about it.

History will look back at this time and laugh at us. And sadly, I won’t be around to explain that we’re not all idiots. You can see it now in the year 2413, can’t you, The Top 100 stupid things about the 21st Century…

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98. First Aid

First aid is a basic fundamental practice that is taught world over to people of all ages.  It’s a great idea and potentially life saving.  There you are walking down the street when you see someone collapse.  You run over, clear their airways, put them in the recovery position and wait for the professionals to turn up and pronounce them dead.  It’s all jolly exciting and can provide a first rate pub conversation.

As a result of my job I have been first aid trained since 2001.  In that time I have always forgotten absolutely everything when I needed it.  In the tests I have done I boss it, “full marks Fullard” my examiners used to call me.  Then, as I walk along the street and stumble across a man lying on the ground I forget it all, call an ambulance and stand there poking him with a stick.

There is nothing worse than first aid tutelage.  I used to go on the 5 day courses and all they were was an extension of bedtime.  The hours of droning, the eerie decapitated torsos called “Annie” that just kept dying and the humiliation of having to shout a running commentary of everything you’re doing to a room full of strangers:  “OPENING THE DOOR.  ANNIE’S ON THE FLOOR.  CHECKING THE IMMEDIATE ENVIRONMENT FOR SOME REASON.  SHE’S DEAD, JIM.”  Urgh, it makes me quiver to this day.

The point is that we remember the basics when we need to.  You know that if you attend a man who has come off his motorbike that you do not remove the helmet since it might be holding his head together.  The same with suspected back injuries; don’t touch them in case it makes it worse.  If someone is having a heart attack then the best you can do is get them in the recovery position and pray for the nightmare to be over.  How to make a triangular bandage or pull a nine inch nail out somebody’s face however, I think, is best left to the professionals.  I know if I was the injured victim I would be very sceptical of the abilities of my have-a-go hero.  I would rather wait for a paramedic.

In the UAE life is different.  If you administer first aid to someone and say, they die, then you stand trial.  Even if you run over to a burning vehicle to rescue any survivors you are risking jail.  I am not making this up; even paramedics have been known to find themselves in a jam.  How scary is that?

“Right men, today we will be teaching the local transportation officials the basic practice, of first aid”. “Are you sure that’s wise, sir?”

Because of this fact I found myself most inquisitive this morning when I discovered that taxi drivers in Dubai are to be trained in the ancient art of first aid.  Call me Sergeant Wilson but, are you sure that’s wise, sir?  I agree that everyone should have basic first aid training, but in the real world where some people have trouble acknowledging simple things like speed limits and white line markings on the road, I’d think twice before allowing someone to give me mouth to mouth.  Particularly if he had a beard.

I know I’m going to upset the do-gooder-equality brigade here, so forgive me, but are you aware that taxi drivers (like everyone in the UAE) has to take a special test and have a special license to operate a manual transmission automobile?  Automatic transmission is the standard because it’s child’s play and easy to use.  Manual cars, with their clutches and their gear sticks, have been deemed too technical and tricky for every day use.  So, the same people who are not trusted to operate a clutch pedal and a gear stick are going to be trusted with heart monitoring equipment and other such apparatus intended to save a persons life.

Ok, fair enough.  Right.

I’m not alone when I state that the driving standards adopted by the vast majority of taxi drivers in the UAE are nothing short of abysmal.  There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling you get when you get into a taxi that doesn’t have seatbelts in the back, some mad music is playing, the driver has his shoes off, the smell makes your eyeballs bleed and he’s driving on the wrong side of the road, at 200 million kph.

I just don’t see the point.  The Dubai Corporation for Ambulance Services have given us a load of figures stating that so far in 2012 they have attended nearly 4000 heart related cases and over 500 kidney failure cases.  How can you expect a taxi driver, who thinks it’s ok to drive up Sheikh Zayed Road the wrong way whilst on the phone, to save someone whose kidney has just popped in the back of his taxi?  Judging by my past experiences, as you lay there at deaths door he’ll try to charge you for the mess.  The final humiliation.

What about the logistics of the whole thing?  How many different languages have you heard behind the wheel over here?  Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Malayan, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Tagalog… No ones first language is English, and when you start talking about Annie and all the fancy anagrams I doubt very much that you are going to have the audience’s full attention.

Of course it all comes back to the idea of that if you legitimately go to someone’s aid and they later die or are paralysed, you are accountable.  With that in mind do you think that a taxi driver who earns only AED 2000 a month is going to risk his income for his family to save you, a stranger?  I know that sounds horribly crass but it is a bleak truth.  The risk is greater for women, men would be very reluctant to help a woman for reasons I’m sure you all fully understand…

It’s a nice idea, giving all taxi drivers first aid training, but ultimately you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drive well.  Maybe it’s just a ploy, since the taxi driver is the person most likely to injure you in the first place, the extra bonus of receiving the kiss of life from some guy with a beard may just be the ticket.  It’s a nice gesture but ultimately as pointless as an ASBO.

The real solution?  Carry a cyanide capsule around with you.

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96. Immaculate conception

There are certain things that I need to see in order to believe.  I for one want to know what really happened to former British weapons expert David Kelly.  Given that the whole Iraq business was going on and that he seemed to know that Saddam Hussain had nothing more than a pea shooter in his arsenal, I find his “suicide” hard to swallow.  Likewise, I want to believe that little green men did actually crash at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and that it is a government cover up to protect the world from the truth.  But, until I see the proof that ET is out there I have to remain sceptical.

Of course, we all love a good conspiracy theory and these days you can get one with just about everything.  From the 9/11 atrocities being orchestrated by the CIA to mind control toxins in jet vapour.  In these situations the facts, or certain facts, are presented to us through the media.  We can pick and choose what we believe and what we treat as suspicious, and it’s from these occasionally conflicting reports that these conspiracy theories are born, usually by hippies living in caravans.

If someone, say, the accused, comes out and speaks the truth then that should tie the subject off neatly.  For example, if Tony Blair came out of his volcano lair and told us all that he gave the go-ahead for David Kelly to be assassinated then that would draw a line under the subject and the conspiracy theorists would move onto something else.  But no, there are some quarters who believe that they can pull the wool over our eyes and that we’ll buy everything we’re sold.

You can only imagine my surprise, then, when I opened the newspaper this week in a coffee shop to read about an immaculate conception.  This is only the second time in recorded history that this has happened, the first being the birth of a well known biblical figure.  Upon re-reading the headline thrice I spat my Americno out over the table and ran about screaming the lord’s name in a crazed panic.

The story states the facts, something that I am going to replicate here, so Thought Police; sod off, I am merely reporting the particulars.  A police medical doctor has confirmed that a young woman who is 29 weeks pregnant is in fact still a virgin.  This is most curious, is this possibly the second coming?  If so, it’s pretty big news.

The case goes further, not only is the young woman only 15 years old, but is also charged with indulging in a physical act with a 17 year old male, now the picture is becoming clearer.  To confirm the charges against her, the young woman has openly stated in a court of law that yes, she has shared full-on intimate relations with the boy and that she is guilty as charged.  The boy, in typical Y chromosome fashion denies such allegations.  But by the sounds of it he is lying.

Despite the open confession of the young woman, the medical professionals are still insisting that she is still a virgin.  Despite her bearing a foetus at 29 weeks logic and science have both been sidelined in favour of a contracted “professional’s” opinion.  Where are they from, Kansas?

Thankfully there was a slim ray of hope for humanity when a doctor who is completely unrelated to the case came out and said something along the lines of “bullshit.”

Yeah ok the kid’s like, totally mine.

When Commanding General Robert Ramey of the Eighth Air Force came out with some tin foil and a story about the Roswell wreckage being that of a weather balloon, his intention was to reassure the public.  How could the USAF concede that they weren’t in control of the skies and that in actual fact some clumsy Martians had crashed their spaceship in the desert?  No, he had a pretty tight story.  Whether you think it was a conspiracy theory or not, he had the nation’s best interests at heart.  This situation, however, beggars belief.

I’m not here to evaluate the moral or social ramifications of what the young courting couple were up to, that is none of my business.  But to the masses this fiasco pertaining to false medical reports is insulting.  The poor girl in question is expecting a child; the father – a 17 year old boy fresh out of childhood – doesn’t want to know and thanks to a preposterous medical examination she is soon to become a modern day Virgin Mary.  Give the poor girl a chance.  She has confessed the truth about what she got up to so can we not go from there and refrain from insulting our intelligence any further?

As for the 17 year old boy, he is soon to be the subject of a DNA paternity test.  If indeed his genetic matrix matches that of the unborn child then what will happen?  Will he contest the scientific facts and deny that he did it still?  Will he come up with a lie that suggests he may have done it but he can’t remember or something slightly more elaborate?  Will he man up and admit it and be a good dad?

We don’t know, but with the kind of medical reports being submitted in this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Roswell aliens are blamed.

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