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Friday, June 6, 2014

Licensed and Dangerous



I recently got my UAE residence visa!

And I just got my drinks license...

And I also just got my driver’s license…  

It’s like turning 18 again! I’m licensed and dangerous, people!

So for starters, my residence visa means I can stay here with the hubs. YAY! The uncomfortable part of the visa is that my official occupation is ‘HOUSEWIFE.’

For those of you who know me (and my lack of domestic goddess skills), STOP LAUGHING.

For those who don’t know me well, or at all, I find things like the residence visa, drinks and driving license to be some small karmic joke. Because when it comes to driving (for women) and alcohol (for everyone) while it’s allowed, there is a bit of process to be able to do both here in the UAE. You see, in order to do either, you need to be licensed. 

Okay, fair enough. Pretty much the same as home, right? Well, here it goes just a bit further for women.  Because in the UAE, you also need to get permission (which they call a ‘no objection’ letter) from your husband to drive (if married, or here on your spouse’s visa). And in order to get your drinking license, you go under your husband's license.

Does this bother me?

Shrug. 

Am I going to make a big deal out of it?

(Seriously?) Okay, in truth, I’m a bit of an Alpha-Gal. I married after 40, and have always been g*d-d*amn independent and all that. Really, my marrying was like the Taming of the Shrew. So yeah, having to get the okay from my spouse stings a little.

Maneuvering through the licensing and the husband permission slips, I find I have to keep myself in check a bit and be polite on the feminist front. I realized that I a lot of times here I have to take into account the world views that I’m surrounded by. To me or you (reading this someplace in the West), this licensing stuff may seem restrictive and wrong. But from where I am now in the Middle East, next to a country where the women MUST wear abayas and cover their heads in public and NOBODY can drink alcohol and the women not only can't drive cars, but they can't even drive a motorized golf cart if they are out on the links. So in truth, I think I've got it pretty good. In fact, when I compare things here to the place next door, I consider myself lucky to be in a place that’s so progressive. 

And yes, there are many women on the road. And yes, plenty of Emirati and other women from other Arab nations drive. And talk about girl power, Range Rovers seem to be the Emirati female vehicle of choice, when not being chauffeured in a Maybach, that is.   

But I digress…

When it comes to driving, I’ve been enjoying cab rides all around town (at dirt cheap prices!). In that way, it feels a lot like NYC in that even if you have a car, most of the time it's just easier to take a cab. The only time I really want to use the car is when I'm golfing because the cabbies don't really know their way to the golf courses, and for a while, neither did I.

This has made for rather interesting encounters with local cabbies. Somehow, I managed to get a lot of new cabbies when I arrived, the ones who were on their second day on the job. Together we’d manage the roads, me pulling up my google map on my phone and co-piloting -- not always getting the directions right. In fact, one morning instead of ending up on the driving range for a golf lesson, my cabbie and I ended up taking a driving tour of the horse stables adjacent to the golf course at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club. Driving around large flower planters meant to keep the cars from going too fast wasn’t how either of us expected that morning, but it was fun teaming up, getting through it together and finally getting to the place I needed to go.

John was great when it came to getting my driving license. He managed most of the paper work and he brought me to the DMV. I suspect this is because I'm not known to be a morning person (we showed up at 7:30 a.m. when the place opened). Showing up unfed and uncaffeinated meant I was primed for a public meltdown. So John kept me calm, coached me through, and we were in and out in fifteen minutes.

It’s definitely handy to have driving privileges, but the driving here is definitely on par in terms of ‘craziness’ as New York City. No, there aren’t as many traffic jams or pot holes, but the driving style is different. You've got drivers from the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Africa and other places in the Middle East all trying to get places in a hurry. You never know what side of the road the driver would prefer to be on, or if the driver’s other car is a Lamborghini… or a goat… so you have got to be always anticipating the other guy. Always. 

When it comes to drinking… Up until now I’ve enjoyed just giving the hubs a list of goodies I’d like from the discreet little liquor shops in the neighborhood. These shops are the ones with no windows and obscure names like 'African and Eastern' (which I originally thought sold artwork and furniture from Africa) or 'Gray Mackenzie & Partners' (which I first thought was a men's clothing store, night club or law firm).  

I figured that getting the drinks license wouldn't be too much of a big deal. All puffed up from having my resident’s visa and driving license, I jumped on the 'Special License' web site and began filling it out. In no place did it say that I needed to have my husband apply for it on my behalf, providing his 'no objection,' but when I got to the part about my occupation and income the quiet realization came over me that this wouldn't be an independent endeavor, but one which the hubs would have to do for me and provide permission for...

And yeah, I kind of growled at this... But an alcohol license is sort of a must have if you like to imbibe without the worry of the authorities. They ask for it at the shops and you never know when the bar you're in gets raided (kidding, this isn't the Lower East Side. Bars DON'T get raided, at least not the ones I've been to… yet.) Also, if you’re a visitor, you can drink in the hotels and other designated ‘tourist’ spots.

So, yeah! I’ve reached a few major UAE milestones. 

My residence visa… my driving license AND my alcohol license. 

Drinks are on me, peeps!  

That is, if the hubs has 'no objection.' ;-)

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