Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shop till you Drop

“If I had a million dollars, I’d buy you furniture for your house (Maybe a nice chesterfield or an ottoman)” – The Barenaked Ladies

Another part of the benefits package offered by my employer is that they provide a furnishing allowance. The housing they provide is not furnished, and although they paid the airfare for our move over to the UAE, they do not pay to ship anything as part of the move. Instead, they provide an allowance so that you can obtain furnishings, household items, and get setup in your home.

The whole process is an interesting experience. The amount they provide seems like a decent sum of money, but then you realize that starting from scratch in a foreign country requires quite a bit. The housing is unfurnished…. That means no furniture, but also no appliances (stove, fridge, washer, etc), no curtains, no rugs, … we didn’t even have toilet seats!

It sounds fun. You are given an empty house and then $$$ to fill it up. But, it isn’t quite that easy.

  • You are unfamiliar with all the stores and regular prices
  • You are constantly trying to calculate exchange rates in your head. (1 dollar = 3.67290571 dirhams)
  • You have no car and taxis aren’t cheap or easy
  • You are already living in your home… and without anything.
  • You have a spouse that shares the decisions with you, but also 3 kids under 3 years old that get tired/bored/grumpy after 30 seconds in any store that doesn’t sell toys.
  • It is the middle of Ramadan, so stores are open at strange hours and by law you are not allowed to eat/drink anything in public all day long.
  • Did I mention 3 kids that still are suffering from jet-lag and keep you awake all night so that you are tired all day and the prospect of shopping is…. Well, who wants to shop when they are exhausted?
  • Pretty much all shopping transactions are done in cash, and the cash just seems like play money.

As I said, it is an interesting experience. But, it can also be educational and fun. Dubai is a shopper’s paradise! I’m not kidding. They have a store for ANYTHING here. Actually they probably have a dozen stores for anything here. The Malls are HUGE! It is nice because it is so hot you don’t want to have to be outside too long and the malls are like a whole city inside. One mall near our house has two amusement parks inside the mall. The stores range in price from super expensive (rolex, Armani, Chanel, etc) to affordable superstores. They do not have any Wal-Marts or Costco stores, but there are other “Hyper-Markets” that try to include everything at affordable prices. There are a few differences though:

  • You have to make a “deposit” to use a shopping trolley (cart… or wagon in Hawaii). You have to put some coins in a little slot on the cart to unlock it from all the other ones… when you return it, you get the coins back.
  • On the shopping trolleys (carts), all 4 wheels can turn. You would think this would make them easier to navigate, but no. A simple turn while moving forward seems like you are trying to navigate a huge object in the zero-gravity of space.
  • In some stores you must check in any large bags you may be carrying and then pick them up from the customer service counter when you are done…. Or you can take them to a desk at the front of the store where they seal the bags so that you will not accidentally steal anything by slipping something in.
  • There are security guards everywhere. Even a small store might have 3 or 4 guards.
  • All produce needs to be weighed and tagged/priced at the produce counter before you can take it to the checkout counter to pay for it.
  • Some of the purchase procedures seem inefficient. To buy a small electronics item, I had to talk to a salesperson in the electronics section, who then entered the sales information into a computer. Then, that person escorted me to a specific sales counter where another person rung up the sale and I paid. I then had a receipt with 4 copies… that had to be stamped and signed by both salespeople. Then I had to take one of the copies to the “collection point” to pick up the item and finally to a security guard to remove the security tag before I could leave the store. This wasn’t for anything expensive or fancy, just something in the U.S. you would throw in your cart with all of your other shopping.

OK, that is probably more information than any of our blog readers wanted. In another post we may have to share some details of our adventurous attempt to go shopping at the Dragon Mart, or the fun times we have had with delivery guys when there are no addresses and they do not speak English. Stayed Tuned…


  1. Oh my goodness....your experience sounds sooooooo familiar. These were almost the exact same words I wrote to my family after we move to Singapore. Singapore must have gotten some of their "shopping/store" customs from Dubai. We also were given a furniture allowance and had to go through the same experiences that you are. What fun! I remember trying to get out a shopping cart (with 4 kids on my hip) and I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't unlock. Someone came up to me and handed me a coin and said, "You look like you are new and could use some help." :-) Good luck with all of your new adventures. Have fun! If we ever end up back in Singapore (which may be a possibility...Aaron is talking to a company right now about this possibility) then we'll have to see if we can fly over to visit you guys. Once your in that part of the world, then most countries seem like only a rock throw away. :-)

  2. Well Holy Cow you guys! That is some amazing experiences already for you. Just reading about your "Journey in the wilderness", to get there, I found myself clenching my teeth. Poor little girly falling down right before you get on the plane. We have two little ones pretty close in age and it is craziness! So I feel part of what you do on a day to day basis. Yvonne, I know we could probably share similar little kid stories! Good luck to you all there, it is nice to peak into your lives a little bit on your blog. I have one too if you get a chance to check it out at: Keep up the good work, your children are darling!

  3. Thanks for letting us in on your trip/move to the middle east. Will your mom and dad get to come see you before they come home? Hope so. Hang in there and thanks goodnes for the church. And all the good people who make it possible to survive. By the way it has been in the high 20's the last couple of nights and the 60's during the day. Wonderful Idaho weather. with love, Milt and LuAnn Webster

  4. I just read all your posts-- this is so interesting. I'm glad you get to be the guinea pig.
    Tell us about your job whenever you start. Should be an adventure, too.
    Loved your description of the weather and shopping. Poor spouse and kids. I'll just be grateful for my tiny apartment and good weather, thanks.

  5. Down under they have the same shopping carts - I call them spinners like the suitcases, when you get all four wheels, they're called spinners. Impossible to negotiate *especially* if the parking lot is on any kind of slope. What kind of idiot thought these were a good idea.

    Anyway - got Yvonne's spam oops I meant mass email glad to know about the blog so we can keep tabs on ya'll. Our blog is sadly behind, but there's still some good stuff to read about.

  6. I like reading all the details. Keep it up. Although your adventure seems a bit crazy, I'm also a bit jealous.