Friday, April 08, 2011

So tell me.....(Expat Life in Dubai)

One factor that makes expats stand out from other social groups is how invasive we are about the private lives of other people, friends, acquaintances, colleagues.

It matters not a fig that we want to know everything about them ranging from their house rent to what car they drive and even how  much they earn. We do not consider it rude, we think it is normal conversation. Actually, how much others earn is the spearhead of expat conjecture and enough of them are not even uncomfortable asking someone bluntly: how much do you make.
Faloos, cash, packet, sal, man, how much did you make a deal for?
That is the one thing about being expats. They can ask the most invasive questions without a qualm.
Then, in case they feel you haven’t gotten the message, they’ll say basic and perks, what’s the figure.

Why should you give them any figure? The ones incapable of taking a hint then move into what one call the ‘package’ mode. Tell us your house rent cum furniture cum perks cum car allowance; is it over twenty grand a month?
All this out of the blue, like a normal ice-breaker, how are you this evening, how’s the golf going, how much are you getting?
But it is kindergarten stuff when compared to the big league where the question changes form and becomes third person. Like if you are not in the room. How much do you think he’s getting? This debate is often transparently camouflaged by concern, genuine interest and affection, all these sentiments being totally made spurious by the rampant curiosity that churns beneath the surface and the grand hope that the person has a rotten deal and it is less than yours.  The moment the question is flung at a group, there is a chorus of responses, their figures directly proportionate to the professional ‘threat’ value of the person concerned. If it is too high, someone will surely say, no I don’t think it is that much. If the figure suggested is comfortably low, then someone will say, perhaps a couple of thou and more.
At such moments of discussion there will be a pastry-like selection of inputs from those around.
I don’t think he gets any commission I know someone in his company, very low scales.
He’s bluffing, you can see by the house rent, his basic couldn’t be more than seventeen, seventeen five.
Hard to believe he’d come on just fifteen flat considering how well he was doing at home.
No way he’s getting over eighteen, his last job he was on nine plus accommodation.
His boss is a pal of mine and he doesn’t get twenty five, so how can this fellow, believe me, he’ll settle for sixteen, market is not good.
Expats need to hear that the package has inherent flaws, the company giving it is unreliable, there is a chasm between the promise and its fruition and only then, having obtained some consoling sliver of doubt to cling to, will they let the topic go.
It is nice to feel good about feeling good when someone is doing bad. Then you can afford to be generous and say bright, cheerful things like he’s a good man, sad he has to settle for less, deserves more.
But if he gets what he deserves then everyone will be miserable.
The good part is that these are all your friends talking…imagine if they were your foes.
It is probably a reflection of our general insecurity that there is so much comfort in other people’s problems or limitations.
Even a job loss or a resignation is viewed with suspicion. There has to be some ulterior reason, some motive for the departure even if it is the normal course of things. Our minds will not accept such development as part of the course of things. Someone has reached retirement, someone has decided to return home. No, there has to be something unsavoury or what one calls the ‘inside story’ otherwise we won’t rest easy.
And if there is no reason to be found we will manufacture one, just spread a light rumour and it will pick up speed on its own.
That way we feel better about our lot and the departures give us not just comfort but heightened security. At least we have a job.
By the way, how much do you get?

Blast From the 80s in Dubai!

It was the e-prank of 2008. A friend would e-mail with cheery message and a link to something cool they'd found online or something relevant to a conversation you'd had. But, when clicked, unsuspecting victims would be taken straight to YouTube and to Rick Astley in all his hip-swaying, white trenchcoat-wearing, dancing-under-a-dimly-lit-bridge glory.

RickRolling saw millions of gullible souls across the world reintroduced to Astley's 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You Up, generally with hilarious consequences, especially in offices where targets hadn't turned off their speakers. But, while the premise of the gag was to interrupt days with an unprovoked slice of pure, unadulterated 1980s cheese, most people who were "Rickrolled" didn't instantly close the window, banishing Astley from their screens. Because, despite his dubious quiff, even more questionable body movements and a segment in which he sports some frankly unforgivable double denim, the song isn't really all that bad. In fact, despite the outpouring of ridicule this statement might evoke, it's actually a pretty good pop record.

Although society may now deem that Astley tracks must only be played in a controlled ironic environment, the truth is that his output - and that of other bouffant hair-doed 1980s stalwart - isn't half as terrible as people make out. There are plenty out there for whom the occasional - or even regular - dose of cheery, excessively coloured, drum-machine backed, Casio-keyboard pop is considered something of a guilty pleasure, something to be enjoyed in the car on the way to work or in the shower. But, unless they're at the sort of horrendous 1980s-themed events that see fat, balding middle managers squeezing themselves into grey school shorts, it's practically illegal to embrace such music in public.

Thankfully, there is a brief amnesty in the form of this weekend's Here and Now concert at Dubai's Meydan Racecourse. Thousands of "guilty pleasure seekers" will no doubt be flocking to see Belinda Carlisle, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Boy George, The Real Thing, Paul Young and Kid Creole and his remaining Coconuts relive the decade that the history books would have us chuckle embarrassingly at.

Kids may - and do, regularly - scoff, but get them to sit back with Heaven Is a Place on Earth, Karma Chameleon or Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy (actually, perhaps best stick to the first two), and have them explain how current chart-toppers such as Jessie J, Ke$ha or the mass-produced pop mulch that squeezes through The X-Factor meat-mincer is anywhere near as good. It's not. And any argument they have should be shot down because you're older and are therefore right, OK?

Sure, the 1980s might have brought us the horrors of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, but the biggest names to have emerged from their assembly line are now considered near untouchable members of music royalty. Try criticising Kylie in public and coming away unscathed.

And when you consider the less cheesy club scene side of the musical coin, the 1980s still holds its own. Listen to the underground but increasingly mainstream "sound of the twenty-tens", namely dubstep, which has the distinctly annoying habit of building up to a climax only to ultimately disappoint by slapping listeners in the face with a deep rumbling bass line rather than a solid drum beat. Now compare this with house and its countless offshoots that were keeping people up till the early hours three decades ago and dare suggest that things are better now. (Actually, we're getting on a bit now so you probably could get away with it).

In any case, the fact that musicians who had their day in the 1980s - and not even the biggest ones - can still fill stadiums (or even enormous racing courses) is testament to their quality and longevity. It's unlikely the likes of N-Dubz will be touring the globe in 20 years' time and if Justin Bieber isn't featuring in "Where Are They Now" shows by then, something will have gone very wrong.

Head down to catch Carlisle this weekend with your head held high and guilt-free. You needn't even wear a balaclava.