The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
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Ah! Dubai, just by mentioning its name, a whole bunch of preconceived ideas come to my mind. Yet, have I ever been there?
A destination prized by influencers and reality TV stars, when we talk about Dubai we mainly think about luxury, parties, buildings and especially the particularly rich men at the center of it all.
Women, on the other hand, we imagine that they have few rights regarding their clothes, career (if they do have any) and that their whole life is centered around their men or boss.
In short, hell on earth in terms of rights and freedom for a feminist.
As for safety, with so many men in the street, it's impossible to walk around in peace, isn't it? In France, in the big cities, it's already something to walk alone without being approached or harassed, so in Dubai...
You will have understood it personally, I was quite prejudiced about Dubai. Prejudices that are rather unfounded given that I've never been to the Emirates. So what if it was completely the opposite?
That's what I asked Nadège, host at La Voyageuse, living for 9 years now in Dubai after a professional opportunity.
And as I remain convinced that I am not the only one to have these thoughts on the city, I share with you the words of our host who opened my eyes and gave a completely different version of this city.
A: "As an expatriate, how do you feel about living in Dubai? How did your friends and relatives perceive your departure and your life there? Are there any prejudices that are often mistaken?"
N: "Yes, they told me, you won't be allowed to drive, you'll wear a veil, you won't be able to wear a swimsuit on the beach'". There was a lot of prejudice at the beginning. Our relatives had no problem seeing us leave, because traveling is not a problem, but going to settle in Arab and Muslim countries was a problem for them, even if it was never a problem for us.
Speaking of prejudices, I have a little anecdote. When you move to Dubai with a big company, you often have the right to a day of what is called "cultural awakening" to make you aware of the culture of the country.
So my husband and I received a Lebanese man who was supposed to tell us more about Dubaï.
Suddenly, he asked us to show him the watch we were wearing.
At that time, neither my husband nor I had one. He then explained to us that it is important to buy a watch. It reflects the level of the company we represent. So you have to have external signs that show that this company is wealthy.
However, when we arrived in Dubai, we quickly realized that wearing a watch does not change anything at all ... We still get a very favorable welcome as an expatriate".
A: "Many women are apprehensive about a trip to Dubai, how are women considered there? Can we go out in the street in peace?"
N: "I lived in Paris for 6 years when I was younger, it really made me feel armoured, I even became very aggressive because we are harassed all the time, I was 25 years old, I couldn't take a trip in the subway without having a whistle, a misplaced hand, it was hell.
I think the delinquency rate in Dubai is 0.05%, I have never felt safer than here.
In Dubai I went out, I went to nightclubs in mini shorts and heels, I came back in cabs, drunk dead at the back in peace, far from the Uber experiences in Paris. I have someone who drops me off in front of my house to make sure I got home safely, he doesn't make any detours and I don't pay any more.
It's the same for sports, you can go running at 11pm in a park or on the beach without a worry."
A: "Generally speaking is it easy to move around Dubai and as a woman?"
N: "The city is not very big it must be 45 km long with between 2 and 4 million inhabitants it is not a huge city. It is bordered by the desert on one side and by the sea on the other, it is a city in length, there are different neighborhoods where you are not very often on foot.
To move there is a subway in which we can eat sitting on the ground if we want because it is so clean. There are even carriages reserved for women if we want. I can also travel by cab, it doesn't cost anything like oil is cheap, so we travel very often that way. Even the children take a cab if they have a phone, everything is registered on the app.
A: "Are there things that are prohibited or to be avoided so as not to get into trouble?"
N: "We don't go around topless in Dubai, although I can run around in shorts without any problem and some tourists often wear thongs on the beach. On top of that, it is forbidden to take pictures on the beaches. This is mainly for the safety of tourists. They are very much held by the society so they really try to protect us from anything that could be bad to our comfort.
Otherwise we respect a lot the rules, no "French kiss" in Dubai in the street, a smack on the mouth or walking holding hands is not a problem at all, but indeed we do not show our affection in an obvious way in public.
I won't walk around in a mall during the day with a tank top either because it's always very air-conditioned and also because when we do our daily shopping we don't get half-naked. I can put a skirt and a tank top, no one is going to say anything to me, but it can happen that a guard tells me to put a cardigan. Generally there are signs at the entry which explain all that.
When we visit the mosques it's the same, we have to be dressed appropriately."
A: "Concerning tourism: we see Dubai as a big city, very rich with many buildings but what can we do there? Are there special places to go out, leisure or unusual activities to discover outside of luxury tourism?"
N: "I had a lot of friends who had prejudices and who came to Dubai because the weather was nice. They left delighted. Maybe because I know how to make people love the city ;-).
Luxury tourism I don't know, personally I don't do it, but the city itself is very nice, even if it's just to walk around, look around, or see the skyline (the one down my house is just so beautiful).
There is also the Burj Khalifa which is the highest tower in the world. You have to visit it to discover its beauty but also the ingenuity of the construction. That we can go up so high is still something very well done in Dubai, it's made for us to love the city.
During the day, at the foot of the tower, there is a fountain show that is crazy. In the evening it is accompanied by music and light projections on the Burj Khalifa.
Only in this part of the town, we can spend two days there between the biggest mall of the world, the tower, the shows, the incredible gastronomic or simpler restaurants, that's just in one of the districts but we can also go in the desert, we can ride quad bikes, jet ski, we can also go swimming and try paddle. There are really many activities."
A: "But all that, it's a little bit part of luxury tourism, isn't it? You have to have a big budget to be able to afford this kind of activities."
N: "For budgets it really depends. If you want to go to a park it's going to be the equivalent of one euro, the beaches are free but then you have clubs that can be paid (but you usually get free food and drinks). There are plenty of opportunities in Dubai, there is even a site called Groupon.ae where there are a lot of good deals. Afterwards for the tower you have to pay about 50 euros but it's worth it."
A: "What would you say to a woman who is reluctant to travel alone to Dubai?"
N: "I would tell her not to hesitate to travel for safety reasons, I even think that in the Emirates, Abu Dhabi was recently ranked the safest city in the world.
Afterwards, if it's for ideological reasons, there are plenty of places you don't go."
A: "What if we get out of Dubai and go to the UAE? Is it still safe?"
N: "Yes, it's always as safe everywhere. In the emirates, it is the same principle for everyone who makes a mistake, he goes through the prison box directly before being expelled. The laws are clear and applied, the principle of police custody does not exist in Dubai.
Concerning safety, there are really safety guards everywhere and it is only those we see. The police also walks around everywhere."
A: "So finally, do you consider yourself safe as a woman in Dubai?"
N: "No problem as a woman. In the hospitals we have competent staff, I don't know what else I could need. Finally, if there is no insecurity for children (which is the case here) there is no insecurity for women.
Sincerely I had and I still have activities which would be at risk in France, to go back home in a mini skirt in a cab after a night out, to run when it is dark night or to leave my bag on my trolley in a store without keeping an eye on it.
The same when we leave the airport everything is organized, we follow the cab sign and it takes us to our destination, it's so simple and so safe, we just need to know the address".
A: "A last word about Dubai?"
N: "Dubai is crazy you know, it's great. I would also say that if someone hesitates to travel to Dubai and that she is a member of La Voyageuse, she shouldn't ask herself any questions because in Dubai I can receive her and it will be an incredible experience".
<h2>A new eye on Dubaï?</h2>
Nadège's point of view allowed me to broaden my vision of this destination that we hear so much about.
But there are certainly many other opinions, perhaps they are not the same.
What about a local woman, born in Dubai and living there forever? Does she share this vision of the super safe and beautiful city? Does she have the same rights as an expatriate?
All these questions remain unanswered to me. After my unlikely girls trip in Bulgaria which also defied my prejudices, maybe I should just go and check for myself by organizing a short stay in the UAE!
And you, do you have a country or a city that you think you know but have never visited?