12 questions you’re tired of being asked when you are an expat in the Middle East

Published November 28th, 2013 - 02:08 GMT

Do you ride a camel to work and 11 other questions that might just exasperate any expatriate in the Middle East. These are those tired assumptions you are tired of rectifying when you are a foreigner living in the Arab world. From the stereotypical to the plain old fallacy -- those questions you might get bored of answering when you tell your friends and family that you are moving out to the Middle East. The questions and the record set straight, here's our galling gallery of life (or not) in the desert.

 
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vailed woman

On Clothing: Do you have to cover up in a ninja suit on the streets? Not entirely - Saudi Arabia and Iran are the most conservative spots in the region where the veil is enforced to varying degrees on foreigners. But in parts of the ME, you are more likely to see mini-skirts than abayas or headscarves - in Beirut or Dubai hot-pants get a look-in!

sign language

On Language: Do they speak English there? Yes, many folks speak English or French, depending who colonized them, and public schools require students to take English classes. Again it depends -- if you’re in Yemen or Syria you might find less English than Lebanon or Dubai where you’ll be hard-pressed to find any Arabic on a good day!

desert

On Weather: Are you hot all the time? While Gulf countries may be synonymous with 40+ degree temperatures, countries like Lebanon are known for the white, snowy peaks that attract thousands of ski-bunny tourists annually. And don’t let the sandy plains fool you: nights in the desert can leave you cold to your core.

couple holding hands

Can you openly date? PDA will not wash in the ME! You need to handle your relations in public with some decorum - everything goes on behind closed doors but it’s not cool to air dirty laundry in the street. You (by and large) won’t be stoned to death for hand-holding, but you might get in hot water for hotel room sharing out of wedlock.

camel dubai

Do you travel via camel? With so many cars, buses, and mopeds on the streets of many of the ME's major cities, traveling by camel (or donkey!) seems a little out of the question. Though many tourists and locals may flock to the desert on their vacay to ride the humped beasts, there are very few ships of the desert in the region’s urban centers.

explosives

Isn't there war everywhere? Aren’t they all terrorists? Well it’s a minefield -- but unless you are in Iraq or Syria, the most likely source of explosive devices is kids playing with fire-crackers or gunfire in celebration of weddings. Elsewhere, you’d hardly know there were wars across the border. As for the terrorist question - seriously?!

lebanon nightlife

Is there alcohol? The black market & underground scene keep the drinking culture rife -- particularly in the elite spots - most hotels are a safe bet for alcohol. Saudi and Kuwait are the only ‘dry’ kingdoms. It's not an ME party without jägerbombs and pitchers all around! And let’s not forget Arab men and their Arak (lion’s milk) tipple!

oppressed woman

Aren’t all women oppressed? Women leaders in the ME get forgotten with media focus on hijab-wearing and baby-rearing. Arab women are spearheading initiatives in politics and business -- beyond the belly-dancing clubs. While the age of marriage is getting later here, there remains a prevalence of misogyny, not alien to other Machismo-cultures.

falafel and hummous

Do they live on falafel & hummus? ME cuisine - aka falafel and hummus - is so readily accessible that many folks do end up with a bout of “falafel fatigue” after visiting one too many street-food vendors. However, there are plenty of hearty Bedouin ‘delicacies’ to get your hands dirty with - try Mansaf & Musakhan - if you’re full of foul!

arabs holding hands

Are the men all gay? While male hand-holding is something you’ll get an eye-full of from the peninsula to conservative spots of the Levant, it does not always indicate their orientation. There is a pretty-hidden gay community in the ME that is struggling to come out to a tolerant society (take Kuwait with their gay-probes at airport immigration!)

vailed girl

Are all the women virgins? Women have needs in the Middle East too, and Arab chicks can be cheeky at paying lip-service to the rules, with men happy to find loop-holes to the strict traditional expectations placed on pre-marital relations.) Hint: The Hymenoplasty is widely popular in good old conservative Arabia!

four wives

Are all of your male friends married with four wives? They wish! Only a small percentage of men enjoy a horde of hareem; mainly because they can’t afford to keep four wives, and secondly (let’s not get into third and fourthly) because they’re one-woman kind of guys! Polygamy is more popular in the Gulf than it is in the Levant.

vailed woman
sign language
desert
couple holding hands
camel dubai
explosives
lebanon nightlife
oppressed woman
falafel and hummous
arabs holding hands
vailed girl
four wives
vailed woman
On Clothing: Do you have to cover up in a ninja suit on the streets? Not entirely - Saudi Arabia and Iran are the most conservative spots in the region where the veil is enforced to varying degrees on foreigners. But in parts of the ME, you are more likely to see mini-skirts than abayas or headscarves - in Beirut or Dubai hot-pants get a look-in!
sign language
On Language: Do they speak English there? Yes, many folks speak English or French, depending who colonized them, and public schools require students to take English classes. Again it depends -- if you’re in Yemen or Syria you might find less English than Lebanon or Dubai where you’ll be hard-pressed to find any Arabic on a good day!
desert
On Weather: Are you hot all the time? While Gulf countries may be synonymous with 40+ degree temperatures, countries like Lebanon are known for the white, snowy peaks that attract thousands of ski-bunny tourists annually. And don’t let the sandy plains fool you: nights in the desert can leave you cold to your core.
couple holding hands
Can you openly date? PDA will not wash in the ME! You need to handle your relations in public with some decorum - everything goes on behind closed doors but it’s not cool to air dirty laundry in the street. You (by and large) won’t be stoned to death for hand-holding, but you might get in hot water for hotel room sharing out of wedlock.
camel dubai
Do you travel via camel? With so many cars, buses, and mopeds on the streets of many of the ME's major cities, traveling by camel (or donkey!) seems a little out of the question. Though many tourists and locals may flock to the desert on their vacay to ride the humped beasts, there are very few ships of the desert in the region’s urban centers.
explosives
Isn't there war everywhere? Aren’t they all terrorists? Well it’s a minefield -- but unless you are in Iraq or Syria, the most likely source of explosive devices is kids playing with fire-crackers or gunfire in celebration of weddings. Elsewhere, you’d hardly know there were wars across the border. As for the terrorist question - seriously?!
lebanon nightlife
Is there alcohol? The black market & underground scene keep the drinking culture rife -- particularly in the elite spots - most hotels are a safe bet for alcohol. Saudi and Kuwait are the only ‘dry’ kingdoms. It's not an ME party without jägerbombs and pitchers all around! And let’s not forget Arab men and their Arak (lion’s milk) tipple!
oppressed woman
Aren’t all women oppressed? Women leaders in the ME get forgotten with media focus on hijab-wearing and baby-rearing. Arab women are spearheading initiatives in politics and business -- beyond the belly-dancing clubs. While the age of marriage is getting later here, there remains a prevalence of misogyny, not alien to other Machismo-cultures.
falafel and hummous
Do they live on falafel & hummus? ME cuisine - aka falafel and hummus - is so readily accessible that many folks do end up with a bout of “falafel fatigue” after visiting one too many street-food vendors. However, there are plenty of hearty Bedouin ‘delicacies’ to get your hands dirty with - try Mansaf & Musakhan - if you’re full of foul!
arabs holding hands
Are the men all gay? While male hand-holding is something you’ll get an eye-full of from the peninsula to conservative spots of the Levant, it does not always indicate their orientation. There is a pretty-hidden gay community in the ME that is struggling to come out to a tolerant society (take Kuwait with their gay-probes at airport immigration!)
vailed girl
Are all the women virgins? Women have needs in the Middle East too, and Arab chicks can be cheeky at paying lip-service to the rules, with men happy to find loop-holes to the strict traditional expectations placed on pre-marital relations.) Hint: The Hymenoplasty is widely popular in good old conservative Arabia!
four wives
Are all of your male friends married with four wives? They wish! Only a small percentage of men enjoy a horde of hareem; mainly because they can’t afford to keep four wives, and secondly (let’s not get into third and fourthly) because they’re one-woman kind of guys! Polygamy is more popular in the Gulf than it is in the Levant.