Expat Brats: The Signs To Look Out For

My friend A was recently worrying whether her children were becoming expat brats. On a trip back to the UK, her sons were horrified when she got out to fill the car with petrol and insisted they wait for ‘the man’. Another friend – N – told me that when her daughter flew economy for the first time she had a tantrum because she’d never had to turn right before. N’s little girl didn’t even know there was a cabin behind business class.

It’s something we think about a lot here in the Middle East. The easy comforts of life in Dubai (housemaids, villas, swimming pools, four-wheel drives) mean children are at high risk of expat brat syndrome. If parents don’t nip it in the bud quick enough, the results can be quite dire.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 16.58.29Aside from breeding little monsters who refuse to tidy their rooms (the maid will do it), wash the car (the man at the mall will do it) or put groceries in a bag (yes, we don’t have to do that, either!), fast forward ten years or so and you end up with teenagers who are totally unprepared for real life.

The culture here means children lead sheltered lives. In the UAE, there’s little crime, begging is banned and unemployment is virtually non-existent. We don’t feel threatened walking down a street at night; teenagers aren’t even allowed to take part-time or holiday jobs; and they don’t know what a job centre is. Forget ‘signing on’, they’re more likely to sign in at the beach club.

Imagine, then, when said offspring flee the nest for university back in their home countries. Instead of maid service, tennis lessons and pool parties, they’re faced with grotty digs, rain, domestic chores, hard drugs and even harder students.

Here’s some more clues to look out for so you can take steps to alleviate expat brat syndrome long before the kids head off to college. Good luck!

–They flew before they could walk

–It’s not a nice day unless it’s tropical outside

–They base their opinion of an entire country on how fancy the hotel was

-They have to take at least one plane to get ‘home’ and bump into friends at international airports

-They’re members of at least two beach clubs

-They take off their shoes as soon as they get home

-Their best friends are from four different continents

-An invite arrives for a classmate’s party at the Atlantis hotel on the Palm, followed by a private desert safari

-They watch the Travel Channel or National Geographic specials and recognise the places

-They know what TCK* means and consider themselves to be one

-Their school closes (or threatens to close) for rain, prophets’ birthdays, national mourning and SARS

-Someone mentions the name of a team and they get the sport wrong

-They get Christmas and birthday money in three different currencies

-They blank when asked where they’re from

-A visa is a document stamped in their passport, not a credit card

-They don’t think British beaches are really beaches at all

*TCK=Third culture kid, the name given to a child who spends a significant part of his or her developmental years in a culture(s) different from his or her own.

First published: 11 May 2011

 

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The Thai foot massage with a happy outcome

I treated myself to a foot massage while in Thailand over the past few days. I chose a foot massage as it didn’t involve a locked back room, stripping all my clothes off and lying face down with my eyes, nose, mouth and cheeks squished into an oval while mainlining patchouli oil.

Not that there’s anything wrong with all that – I just didn’t feel like getting naked.

I’d hurried out of the glorious monsoon rain and was standing in the porch area reading the menu of treatments as a small group of sweet Thai ladies giggled and beckoned for me to come in, out of the wet. I could see the comfy lounge chairs on which the foot massages were carried out. The huge, cushioned foot rests seemed to stretch across at least an acre of floor, and – the deciding factor – all the other clients were fully dressed. They were blindfolded (this, I realised later, was the clue), but seemed happy enough.

I was also confident that my feet weren’t in an embarrassing state anymore. I’d visited the evening before for a foot scrub, during which one of the sweet, smiley Thai ladies had attacked the soles of my feet with a scalpel and hacked away all traces of hard skin to within an inch of my life (actually the glint of the sharp knife in the soft lighting was, in hindsight, perhaps clue one).

I sit down and am greeted by the same lady from the previous night. She’s still smiling. Heartened that my dreadful feet hadn’t scared her off (I tipped her well), I smile and relax as she removes my flip flops, washes my feet, and passes me a small rectangular towel to place over my eyes.

“Lie back,” she instructs, and I recline into a chair that could well have been made from the downy feathers of baby birds.

There’s a short wait, and I close my eyes behind the blindfold, anticipating the foot massage to follow. How blissful is this? All I can see is the dark orangey/red of my eyelids.

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The lying down, naked version of the ‘foot’ massage

Well, let’s just say, I got far more than I bargained for.

A pair of firm hands grab a shin and yank my leg upwards, almost ninety degrees. It’s somewhat surprising, but I realise she needs to rub oil in. Those hands, which I still think somehow belong to the sweet, smiley lady, then begin to iron my shinbone. They press and clutch and prod my leg, and I consider how incredibly strong she is. She was a tiny, waif-like thing –who knew those dainty hands could be so powerful? She’ll surely start on my feet soon so the pain will be shortlived. Right?

“You okay?” I hear. But I’m confused. Her voice is much deeper, gruffer, than I remembered. While processing the thought that she sounds more like a man, I reply, “Yes, thanks. That’s lovely …” S/he is at that moment crushing my feet, grinding the life out of them. I feel my breath leaving me.

Inside my head, I hear another voice, “You idiot – that was your chance to tell him/her to please be gentle. WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SOMETHING! THERE’S AN HOUR OF THIS TO GO!!”

I inhale deeply. I’m not a wimp (well, actually I am). I can take 60 minutes of this. The sound of rain and music – ambient, chime-like – fills my ears and I concentrate on trying to enjoy the bits where she/he isn’t pummelling me too much.

A minute later, I take a peek. A quick wiggle of my eyebrows causes a small gap to open at the bottom of the face towel and I can just see out. Through the narrow slit, I see that she isn’t a he, but as I suspected it’s not the smiley lady. She’s been swapped for an equally tiny, silver-haired grannie. Let’s call her Nana Masseuse. Her slick, grey hair is swept back into a bun and perched on her nose are round spectacles.

I watch in horror as Nana Masseuse’s beady eyes survey my toes with laser focus. Her mouth twists into a tight, red knot and she pulls my toes one by one out of their sockets with a clicking noise. Then she flicks each toe with her fingers. At least they’re still attached.

From here on, it gets a lot better, or maybe I actually relax and stop resisting her moves, even the ones I don’t expect. I start to sort of enjoy it in a sadistic pleasure-mixed-with-pain way.

But I don’t really get why it’s called a foot massage. Nana Masseuse ‘massages’ nearly every part of my body – my upper legs, my arms. She almost sits on my hips. Then she clambers onto the chair with me, clasps my legs with a vice-like grip and presses down with her whole weight while practically doing a handstand. I imagine the whites of her knuckles showing.

At one point, Nana Masseuse’s fingers dig into a space between the small bones of my feet and rummage around – but it feels okay. Actually it feels really good. She rams my ankles into submission and goes clap-clap-clap up and down my legbone with her hands pressed together as though in prayer (I’m still peeping – well, wouldn’t you?).

After what must surely be an hour, I hear her say over the tinkly music, “Sit” and I comply at once, thinking she’s finished. I stand too fast and dizzily thank her.

“No, NO,” says Nana Masseuse, her face stricken. She pats the footrest hard. “Sit.”

We’re not done. I sit down and she starts pounding my shoulders, finding all the accumulated crevices of tension and popping them like bubbles. There’s another round of artillery fire as her hands smack-smack-smack my neck and shoulders.  Then she lifts my arm, twisting it behind my back in a move I thought was impossible without breaking something. With my elbow pointing outwards behind me, Nana Masseuse applies pressure and does something amazing to my shoulder blade. Ahh, who knew that could feel so good? I actually look forward to the same contortion on the other side.

Finally, it really is over and while relieved to be done – to have survived intact – I feel like a million bucks. If ever you find yourself in Karon Beach, Phuket Island, I do recommend going to see Nana Masseuse for a ‘foot’ massage.

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The overseas school trip (aka: pricey package holiday)

I’m back! It’s been a while, mostly due to work taking over my life for a couple of months.

Having just surfaced from full-time officedom, I suddenly find we’re just a week away from Son1’s first overseas school trip. I realise this is a rite of passage all parents must go through – that moment when you release your little fledgling into the big wide world and hope he flies far and wide.

As the Chinese proverb goes, ‘There are two gifts we should give our children: roots and wings.’

But I have to say, as the day approaches, and Son1’s excitement builds, it does feel ever so slightly bittersweet to know we’re about to watch him soar for the first time.

I also feel rather grateful that the trip is to a place we know very well – the UK – and isn’t one of these ultra pricey school jollies I keep hearing about, like the excursion to New York’s Wall Street organised by the economics department at my friend’s son’s school. Or the visit to a Nasa installation in Turkey that the same friend’s daughter went on. Another friend just waved her son off to the jungles of Borneo.

When I was at school, we went on a coach to the seaside at Littlehampton and thought it was really exotic.

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Have fun Son1! I’m going to miss you

How things have changed over the past decades, as schools shift to what educationalists call “learning outside the classroom”, or, to use its natty text-speak acronym, LoTC.

But I digress. As luck would have it, Son1 and his friends will cross the world in safe hands as DH is flying the plane from Dubai to Gatwick. Okay, so this had nothing to do with luck at all. We knew which flight they were going on. DH requested to operate it, and got it.

Which led to this conversation yesterday:

DH: “You could come too, you know.”

Me: “I can’t!”

DH: “Why not?”

Me: “Can you imagine? Both his mum and dad on the flight, like I was stalking him on his first school trip.”

DH: “You wouldn’t actually be sitting with him. It would be fun!”

Me: “Well … yes. But. [thinking: I know mums who’ve followed their kid’s school bus in the car].

A pause while I scratch my chin.

Me: “If I came too, wouldn’t it be taking helicopter parenting to a whole new level?”

DH shrugs: “Think about it. We could go to Brighton.”

I mean, I really shouldn’t. Not on the same flight, on his first school trip. I just couldn’t.

Or could I?

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Just an everyday trip to the vet in Dubai

This morning’s activity was a trip to the vet with my beloved Bella for her annual vaccinations and check-up.

Nothing unusual in that (bear with me!). For people in other parts of Dubai, the vet we use – Nad al-Shiba Veterinary Hospital – might be considered too far to drive, but it’s a pleasant trip through some green areas with little traffic. You get the sense as you meander along a dusty road past scrubby desert that at any moment you’ll meet a herd of camels, chewing on the prickly vegetation with their large, leathery mouths. (Arabian camels aren’t known for having kissable lips.)

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Waiting for his owner

I promise you it’s worth the journey. Once you get there, the staff are so friendly, and you’ll often find falcons waiting in reception. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see an Emirati dressed in a traditional white kandora and artfully-wrapped headgear with his falcon perched proudly on his arm.

The falcon is the UAE’s national bird. Images of them are everywhere, on walls, in TV ads, on bank notes. The UAE even issues passports for falcons. Gulf airlines such as Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates allow the bird of prey – of which hawks are close relations – in the passenger cabin.

I digress. In the treatment room, our lovely vet examined Bella the dog and began speaking Greek to her to calm her down. “Είναι εντάξει,” he said, then turned to us. “Excuse me talking Greek, but it’s the tone that soothes her.” Bella quietened nicely.

“So what other animals do you treat,” DH asked a few minutes later as Bella bounded off the table after her jabs. I had a feeling he wasn’t going to say just cats and dogs – the vet’s location is close to an area populated with locals, among whom keeping exotic pets is a status symbol.

“All sorts,” said the vet with a smile. “A cheetah. Lions … tigers.”

Never a dull day for Dubai vets!

There’s always the chance you’ll get up close and personal yourself. “Last time we went there was a cheetah cub in reception – and I got to cuddle her,” said a pet-owner in a comment on Geordie Armani’s blog.

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Can’t resist a puppy photo – she just turned one!

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Tooth Fairy BUSTED!

“Don’t tell Mummy!” Son2 glanced at his brother and stifled a laugh as my curiosity grew. He brought his index finger to his mouth. “Shhh.”

“Don’t tell Mummy what?” I asked, deeply suspicious.

Hopeless at keeping a secret, Son2 then proceeded to tell me anyway: he’d lost a tooth. I peered into his mouth, and there was indeed a new gap, next to a huge front tooth that still looks oversized in comparison to his milk teeth.

tooth-fairy

The end of a chapter in our lives

“Tooth fairy tonight,” I said brightly.

“But mum,” said Son1, from the other side of the lounge, where he was playing on his computer. He pulled his headsets off to actually join in the conversation. “THE TOOTH FAIRY IS FAKE!”

I stalled for time, considering whether just to come clean. To be honest, it would have been a relief. My mind was already trying to figure out whether I had any small notes in the house, and I’m over remembering, exhausted, at 2 in the morning that I need to play tooth fairy. But if I admitted she wasn’t real, wouldn’t they then immediately clock that we’ve been lying about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus too? It was a slippery slope I didn’t feel quite ready to go down, so I replied, “Of course she’s real. Why weren’t you going to tell me about the tooth anyway?”

“Because the tooth fairy is daddy,” said Son1, pinning his gaze on DH on the other sofa. “That’s why we weren’t going to tell you – if the tooth was still under the pillow in the morning, then we’d know for sure we’re right. William’s tooth stayed under his pillow for three days before he finally told his parents and then he got money.”

“What makes you think it’s daddy?” I asked, my nose twitching with the effort of staying deadpan.

“Because,” said Son1 as though it was completely obvious, “the last time he forgot. When we came downstairs in the morning and said the tooth fairy hadn’t been, daddy quickly said ‘Here, hold this,’ and gave me his plate while he ran upstairs to put money under the pillow.”

“Ah, yes.” I gave a small cough. I remembered the incident well.

“And,” Son1 continued, rolling his eyes, “daddy left the tooth under the pillow.”

I think that’s us just about rumbled! Best-case scenario now is that the Santa myth is hanging by a single crimson thread.

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Move over Mary Poppins – meet the Granny Aupairs!

Worried about leaving your kids with the housemaid? An older nanny with wisdom and a sense of adventure could be just what you need

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Granny Bobby couldn’t imagine just staying at home after retiring

Bobby’s dream was always – should she be alone after retirement – to spend time abroad with a family as a ‘temporary Granny’. Thanks to an award-winning nanny agency that places women aged 45+ in households all over the world, her dream came true, and a family in Dubai has benefitted enormously from her life experience.

“I was always working between the age of 16 and 65 and couldn’t imagine just spending time at home with my various hobbies,” says Granny Bobby. “Some of my friends could not believe I would do this, others were really supportive. I kept my flat and my car, leaving them in the care of my best friend and neighbour so I could always return if it didn’t work out.”

Granny Bobby’s first placement was in Bangkok with a German/Filipino family, initially for six months which turned into three years. This was followed by six months with a German/French family in Paris with two small girls. “From the beginning of 2016, with a few breaks, I’ve been in Dubai with an expat German family, who have a six-year-old boy, Joel,” she says.

Joel had just started school, with quite a heavy workload already. “After he returns home in the afternoon, I cook for him, read and do homework, and then play outside or go to baseball. When his mother comes home we eat dinner together before Joel goes to bed. At the weekends, we go on trips to the zoo, the beach, or go shopping or travel.”

Granny Bobby says she finds it extremely rewarding that she can support the family, and has built a very friendly relationship with the mother. “Her husband works in Riyadh and is only home irregularly for the weekend, so the three of us spend quite a lot of time together.”

Older women are usually better than younger aupairs because they have more experience of life, says Michaela Hansen, founder of Hamburg’s Granny Aupair agency. “Families like to take them on because they are reliable, serious and know how to be strict.”

Aged between 45 and 75, the women registered with the agency have brought up families of their own and are now keen to travel or learn another language. Many are former teachers, child care workers, secretaries, flight attendants or nurses. The idea of an aupair is based on mutual help. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return.

Following a period with a German/Italian family of five in South Korea, Granny Anni travelled to Dubai last year. “The mother (German) is a single mother with an 18-month-old daughter. On arrival, I got to know the month of Ramadan and the heat (45 degrees!), as it was the start of summer,” she says.

“I am up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, and am also responsible for lunch while Mum is at work. I quickly realised that my presence was really needed which was a good experience for me. At the weekend, we do the food shopping for the week. I also went on a trip to Abu Dhabi, which I found to be a different world altogether.”

Granny Anni says she also has a “wonderful relationship with the Mama”. After her initial stay in 2016, she returned to Dubai in January and is currently finding the heat “not so suffering”.

Hansen points out that lots of mothers stay in contact with their Granny following the aupair stay. “Often she becomes a motherly friend and is a ‘replacement’ if their own family lives far away.”

Another benefit, she says, is that the Grannies often share their secret recipes. “How lovely is it to arrive home with the whole place smelling of freshly baked cake? Many of our Grannies are true masters of the stove.”

Granny Bobby believes her years as a Granny Aupair with small children or adolescent boys have changed her views enormously, above all with regard to dealing with young children. “I was often brought to my limit, as I had to learn to scale back my needs to respond to the needs and wishes of the youngsters, which was not always easy. But it’s worth it when the kids say they love you and want to be taken into your arms. I am getting so much back and will certainly be visiting other countries as a Granny Aupair.”

Find out more about Granny Aupair here.

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Hiring Home Help in Dubai: How to begin your search

INFO POST: Whether you’ve recently moved to the UAE, or simply grown tired of battling the housework on your own, finding the best cleaner in Dubai is easy once you determine what sort of home help fits in best with your lifestyle and budget

Should we or shouldn’t we hire a helper?” It’s an issue that desert dwellers soon encounter. For some, it’s a no-brainer. Both parents might be working and an extra pair of hands around the house is an essential cog in the wheel – the glue that keeps the family, with all its comings and goings, functioning.

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How long until she caves in and hires a maid?!

For others, it’s a complicated decision that often starts with resistance (‘I didn’t have help at home, why should I need it here?’), becomes a grey area where you’ve warmed to the idea (husband’s travelling, baby has colic, school run takes two hours, family are 8,000 miles away), then ends with a full-on, wide-scale search for the right fit for your family.

At first, finding the best cleaning service or maid agency in Dubai may not seem straightforward. There’s a myriad of different services and cleaning providers to choose from, foreign brands you may not recognise, not to mention the well-intentioned but often outdated advice from friends and work colleagues which can make the process appear more confusing than it has to be.

But once you break it down and figure out exactly what it is your family needs, finding the right fit for your lifestyle becomes much easier. For busy professionals and young families alike, a good starting point involves asking yourself:

Should I sponsor a maid or hire a cleaner?

Live-in maids who help with the housework and children are invariably from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia or India, and are a popular choice, despite the fact they’re unlikely to have any childcare qualifications. A housemaid will need to be sponsored by the head of your family (which means assuming responsibility for her), but if you hire someone whose personality you like, who knows when to take the initiative and when to step back, and is liked by your children, this arrangement can be wonderfully beneficial, for both you and her.

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During your search, you might meet the Pampered Housemaid. She’s worked on the Palm and expects travel on Emirates rather than a budget airline. When you respond to her ad, she’ll interview you, bringing the conversation to an abrupt end if you reveal you have more than two children

Gone are the days where expat families quietly hired cleaners on the black market for a few hours a week

Sweeping changes made to labour laws in the UAE, and newly enforced regulations in countries such as the Philippines, Nepal and India, have made the process of sponsoring a maid more expensive and complex than it once was. Hiring a live-in housemaid involves paperwork, financial payments and deposits, and health checks, which can all seem rather daunting, but have resulted in largely positive changes to the working conditions experienced by domestic staff in the GCC region. You can find out more about sponsoring a maid’s visa at ExpatWoman’s Maids, Nannies & Home Help Section.

Gone are the days where expat families quietly hired cleaners on the black market for a few hours a week. Alongside the new labour restrictions and regulations, recently introduced penalties for hiring maids and cleaners off the black market have made many Dubai residents think twice about hiring house help illegally. Instead of risking hefty fines for employing black market home help, a considerable number of expats are instead turning to registered cleaning agencies.

Hiring a part-time cleaner from a reliable agency relieves you from all the headaches associated with applying for sponsorship visas. Using a reputable cleaning company not only enables you to take the worry out of hiring a cleaner, but gives you peace of mind, with the knowledge that your home is being looked after by someone with professional cleaning experience.

How to search for a home cleaner in Dubai

If you’ve decided that hiring a part-time maid, or even a one-off cleaner is the best way forward, the next step is knowing where to find a local cleaner that you can count on. It’s easy to flip through newspaper classifieds or online message boards, but if almost every maid agency and residential cleaning agency in Dubai claims to be the best in the business, who should you trust?

Trustworthy cleaning companies should employ well-trained and friendly cleaning staff, who have all the necessary permissions to work in Dubai. Ideally, you should be looking for a service that can offer you an easy-to-use booking system, a transparent pricing structure, a secure method of payment, and have a customer support team at the ready, just in case you have any questions. Not all cleaning companies have the same standards of cleanliness, so try to stay clear of companies that have bad reviews, that don’t seem to be interested in receiving customer feedback, or can’t offer you proper receipts.

It’s important to choose a home cleaner that you feel comfortable with, who will not only leave your home sparkling from top to bottom, but can be trusted with your valuables. If you’re still getting used to the idea of employing home help, it may be best to search for a company that ensures that all of its staff have been personally interviewed, tested for their cleaning knowledge and experience, and are able to communicate in a language you’re comfortable using.

Consider hiring a Helpling

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Helpling’s part-time cleaners have all passed a strict interview process

If you’re looking to hire a part-time cleaner, either for a weekly, fortnightly, or once-off clean, consider hiring a Helpling. Helpling is an online service that matches your cleaning requirements to experienced Dubai cleaners, who are fully licensed to work in the UAE. In just a few clicks, you can arrange for a Helpling cleaner to assist with your home cleaning needs, whether it be mopping, scrubbing, sweeping, or ironing. Enter in your cleaning needs, alongside your address and desired time and date, and Helpling will do all the rest.

NEXT WEEK: A great alternative option for childcare – Grannie Au Pairs!

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