Aunt Alice in Arabia

Aunt Alice in Arabiaauntalicelogo

Gulf News, Dubai, UAE,  1990-1991
© by Alice Delaney Walker
#1 New in Town  –   Jan. 25, 1990

“Are you new in town?” people have been asking me. “No, I know where Safeway is, the bank, the hotels and a few friends. I even found a great place for cheeseburgers last week and of course I know where Kentucky Fried Chicken is! I’m not sure where to buy clothes that will last longer than one wash but my favorite tailor will be returning from Pakistan next month.”

“I haven’t seen you before?” they say puzzled. I’m polite and don’t respond in kind. I’m delighted they speak English and only throw in a few Arabic words into the conversation, like mafee (no, none, not), hallas (finished) insha’Alla (God-willing) and Yella! (Let’s go!)Palm Court Coffee ShopThis recent Abu Dhabi Hilton Hotel photo resembles the Hilton in Al Ain. I learned to enjoy being in 5-star hotels when teaching in the UAE, 1988-90. The university housed new teachers at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel for a week. The $10,000 furniture allowance made finding and furnishing new apartments enjoyable while we teachers ate free meals and got to know each other during our week at the Intercontinental.

“Where are you from?” starts a mutual geography lesson. I’m grateful cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Jakarta. I don’t mention the small towns in America because people quickly get the message I’m an American. I am often ashamed by their responses because I only recognize foreign capitals and must ask, “Where’s that?”

“Are you new to the Gulf?” I sigh relief and say, “Saudi Arabia.” People nod their heads. I’m one of them. If I had said, “Yes,” I would have received the amusing light in their eyes, the Cheshire smile and the “Wait ’til you’ve been here for a while,” enigmatic response.

“If you’ve been here for a year, why haven’t I met you?”

That’s easy, “Work.”

“What kind of work do you do?” Usually that is immediately followed by a guess that I’m from the local hospital. What other kind of work brings single Western women to the Gulf? Teaching.

“What brings you here, the money?” Ah, the money! I puzzle them more, “The experience.”

In college it was “What’s your major?” Back home it was, “Where do you live?” which actually meant “What part of town do you live in?” In high school it was, “What does your father do?”

In kindergarten it was, “Who are you?”

It’s nice when being new in town returns everyone to youth’s eager curiosity and joyful delight at meeting a person for the first time making both of us new!


Photos of the UAE, from 1950-1980

The Gulf News

Living in Dubai: Why don’t expats integrate with Emiratis? (March 26, 2016 – with many excellent links)

Al Ain Expats

What single women need to know living in the UAE

Aunt Alice Columns:


  1. New in Town
  2. Desert Enemies (Bugs)
  3. A Valentine Theory
  4. Tax Free Income
  5. Over Thirty
  6. My Niece’s Bizarre Behavior
  7. 75 Day Summer Holiday
  8. Happy Shamrock Day!
  9. Reverse Culture Shock
  10. Reverse Culture Shock –
    Part 2 – Plight of an Expat
  11. Women Drivers
  12. First Times – Student Wtg Ideas
  13. First Times – Part 2 – Mine
  14. An Eid (Religious) Holiday
  15. The Joy of Success
  16. I’m Leaving Town
  17. Where’s My Mail?
  18. Old Friends
  19. Buying Memories
  20. What Nationality Are You?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s