Sunday, 1 April 2012
Research can be a dangerous thing.
Being a hypochondriac, I should know better; I choose not to use the internet to research symptoms of illnesses because if I do, I convince myself that I am terminally ill, even though I only have a mild headache (read about my past exploits here).
I should apply the same rules to travel research.
If you read my last post you will already know that I had a jaunt to Abu Dhabi recently, with a day trip to Dubai to scale the world’s tallest building (read about it here) but the lead up to the trip was a nightmare – because of research I had done on the internet.
Mrs PM suggested the trip because her friend who lives there was about to turn 40.
My first reaction was positive; not only had I never travelled to the United Arab Emirates, I had never travelled to the Middle East at all. For an explorer like myself it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
So I said “Yes” with no hesitation.
And then I made a mistake. I did some research.
And Captain Paranoia was sitting on my shoulder as I surfed the world wide web, laughing his tiny little socks off.
As he read the words on the computer screen, he must have thought all of his birthdays had come at once. My initial euphoria evaporated as the words sank in. It was like an enormous bubble had burst. My enthusiasm vanished.
Captain Paranoia was merciless.
Here’s what I read:
Possession of illegal drugs can result in a minimum four year jail sentence. Some over the counter drugs are illegal in the UAE.
Captain Paranoia suggested that if the customs officers found paracetamol in my luggage I would be jailed.
Videos, books and CD’s may be censored in the UAE.
Captain Paranoia suggested that my mp3 player was full of songs so offensive that I would be arrested on sight.
While you can drink in the UAE, you may find that a taxi driver will take you directly to the police station if you are drunk, where you will be thrown in jail.
Captain Paranoia suggested that I might be arrested even if I have a small glass of beer.
It is illegal to live together in the UAE if you are unmarried. It is illegal to have sex outside marriage and even for an unmarried couple to be in a car together. People have been arrested and thrown in jail for this.
Captain Paranoia pointed out that Mrs PM and I are not married and that a hit squad of Emerati police would break down our door while we were asleep, drag us off to jail and then I would have my genitalia hacked off with a rusty sword.
You can be arrested for kissing in public or even holding hands.
Mrs PM is affectionate and often puts her arm around me or pecks me on the cheek in public. Captain Paranoia suggested that I would last approximately three minutes in public before the police dragged me off to jail for acts of gross indecency.
For days, Captain Paranoia persecuted me. I had nightmares about being interrogated in an Emerati police cell for being offensive, drunk or merely being in a relationship outside wedlock. I sheepishly approached Mrs PM and told her that I had changed my mind about going.
“You must be joking,” she said. “I’ve been to places like this before and if you behave yourself and are discrete there is nothing to worry about.”
In the end, she contacted Abbi, her friend in Abu Dhabi, and listed all of my concerns. I wasn’t party to the exchange of emails and missives that occurred but Mrs PM told me in no uncertain terms that while there were stricter rules in place in the UAE, as long as you conducted yourself well, respected the local culture and didn’t do anything stupid like get smashed and urinate against the wall of a mosque, you would be absolutely fine.
And, of course, she was absolutely right.
Just before our trip, we had a meal with a friend who had divorced but then subsequently had suffered the loss of her ex-husband. She kindly offered her old wedding ring to Mrs PM so that we could pretend to be married – just to put my mind at rest.
I felt quite bad about this, but our friend just laughed and said that it was really no bother.
So we travelled to Abu Dhabi.
Captain Paranoia was with me all the time. On the flight he said “If you drink on the flight, you will be arrested at the airport.”
Of course, we weren’t arrested at all. In fact, we sailed through immigration and customs with barely a passing glimpse from the authorities.
Furthermore, when we arrived at the airport, Abbi was waiting for us and gave me a massive hug and a kiss on the cheek.
If anybody was offended, they didn’t show it.
When we arrived at Abbi’s house, Abbi and her husband Adam actually thought we had got married when Mrs PM showed the ring off – and it led to a very embarrassing discussion about getting married and me making an honest woman of Mrs PM.
Of course, Abu Dhabi and Dubai were fabulous. I loved it. I will tell you more detail about that soon.
We had no issues whatsoever.
The key was to respect the local customs and that’s exactly what we did. The Emerati we met were friendly and, although the local culture is more conservative than what we are used to in Europe, it didn’t seem anywhere near as oppressive as Captain Paranoia and the selected items I had read on the internet had led me to believe.
That said, Mrs PM and I didn’t hug and kiss each other in public, we had a few beers but were not drunk enough to offend, we respected the local Islamic culture and dressed accordingly – and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
And yes, I will go back again.
The moral of this tale is to be aware of the local laws and customs of a country you visit and don’t be offensive.
You would have thought that I would have learned that by now anyway, having travelled to lots of countries in the world, including places like China and Russia.
I definitely must not take everything I read on the internet literally.
And even more importantly, I must stop listening to Captain Paranoia.